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Pollution In India’s Slums


By: Thomas Errath

The 2008 thriller Slumdog Millionaire begins in the backdrop of one of the most notorious slums in the world, Dharavi, India. The beginning scene that showcases the shantytown has been etched into our minds with the widespread poverty that it presents. The images depicted in the movie are scaring, but more shocking is that Dharavi is not even the largest slum in the Mumbai Metropolitan Area. India and China have the most slums worldwide and with slums come large amounts of pollution. A recent study was conducted and found that “As of 2011, India is estimated to have a slum population of approximately 93 million people” (Patil-Deshmukh, et al 1). That is nearly a tenth of the entire population who are forced to live in disease-infested rooms, with up to fifteen people inhabiting less than three hundred square feet. Not only do diseases spread rapidly in these slums, but many pollutants reach the water supply that are directly ingested by the population. These slums in India will never disappear because they are allowed to exist by the government, but people need to understand that these slums are a detriment to the environment.

While India boasts a strong growing economy, much of the country is still underdeveloped. There are countless slum districts that all look very similar. Sudip Mazumdar, who used to live in a slum as a child describes it as he drives by, “Naked children defecated in the open… Everything smelled of garbage and human waste” (Mazumdar 1). While one cannot truly understand the living conditions until they see it, his description conjures up frightening images. These slums are wastelands, covered by every inch with small metal huts housing thousands. Inside these slums are not only households, but workshops that make generous amounts for the Indian economy, “600 million on the low end and 1 Billion in upper estimations” (Yardley 1). Those estimations are only for the Dharavi slum, which is only one of many. While this informal economy allows for growth in the economy it also adds to the pollution in these slums. The manufacturing plants are in no way regulated and waste is dumped into the water supply regularly. With India’s extensive river system this wastewater eventually makes its way out into the Arabian Sea.

These slums are not going to go away anytime soon, but speculation must be made for the land if these slums were to cease in existence. Waste from manufacturing plants and garbage has built up for many years in these slums and severely ruined the environment. This damage is irreversible and these large tracts of land will be unusable if these slums go away. That leaves two options, leave the slums and maintain large areas of poverty or uncover years of environmental disregard to the public eye. There is no correct answer, but we should be educated on the environmental impacts of slums worldwide.

Thomas currently attends the University of Wisconsin at Madison with aspirations of studying history and attending law school.  This summer he is interning with Earth Friendly Products.


Anita Patil-Deshmukh, et al. “The Social Ecology Of Water In A Mumbai Slum: Failures In Water Quality, Quantity, And Reliability.” BMC Public Health 13.1 (2013): 1-14. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 July 2013.


Mazumdar, Sudip. “Man Bites ‘Slumdog”. Newsweek. (March 2, 2009). LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2013/08/01.


Yardley, Jim. “In One Slum, Misery, Work, Politics and Hope.” The New York Times 28 Dec. 2011: n. pag. Print.





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