New York, April 11: While the skyscrapers and growing satellite city projects in India are fast emerging as markers of of development, the new towns pose serious health risks to the poor, a study has found.
The Indian government has set an ambitious plan to build 100 new towns with a million people each by 2020.
The planners of the new towns do not take into account the informal settlements that invariably crop up beside these new cities and supply their labour force, the study has found.
When cyclones or monsoons occur, the poor suffer flooding along with diseases like cholera, hepatitis and dysentery.
“Clearly, we need to expand the scope of planning for these new cities to include the communities where the poor will live,” said Andrew Rumbach, an assistant professor at University of Colorado Denver.
The study focused on Salt Lake, a fully mature new town on the outskirts of Kolkata.
“Kolkata’s current perspective plan calls for more than a dozen new town projects to be planned and developed on the city’s periphery, settlements that may eventually house more than four million residents,” the study revealed.
With a population of 300,000, Salt Lake is an affluent city, home to many of Kolkata’s elite.
It sits in an area of frequent flooding but drainage systems, underground sewers and elevated pumping stations mean it rarely suffers from natural disasters, Rumbach noted.
But two major slums – Dattabad and Kestopur – border the city and are home to many of construction workers, domestic help, food vendors and others who work in Salt Lake.
Rumbach interviewed 598 workers. The majority lived in slums and were employed in Salt Lake.
He found that most lived in cramped or crowded conditions which help spread diseases like influenza, cholera and tuberculosis, especially worrisome following heavy rain and floods.
“During flood events, open drains quickly overflow, contaminating nearby homes and open spaces with grey water and human waste,” Rumbach emphasised.
While the designers of Salt Lake anticipated the flood risks, they and planners of other new towns did not anticipate the thousands of low-income workers who would move to the area to work in the city.
“These workers are excluded from working in the township itselfÂ…so the increased hazard exposure associated with the low-lying terrain dramatically increases their risk to natural hazards,” the study said.
“To reduce risks associated with new town development, planners must take these vulnerable groups into account,” Rumbach said in a study, to be appeared in the journal Habitat International.