It is increasingly being felt that ‘poverty in India is getting “urbanized”, cities are ‘cultivating’ destitution at a scale not seen earlier. Besides, while rural poverty is more widespread than urban poverty, the latter encompasses a host of avoidable hazards i.e. sickness, crime and disintegration of social fabric.

The primary reason for urban poverty is perhaps the increasing trend of migration from villages to cities. As per the last census report, rural to urban migration increased from 42% in 2001 to 56% in 2011. Projections reveal that this trend is likely to continue in the near future and by 2030, 50% of the Indian population will be living in cities. This uncontrolled urbanization has resulted in a proliferation of slums, a significant number of people reside in these urban and peri-urban habitations which are located generally adjacent to foul smelling drains, (stagnating) water bodies (that are a breeding ground for illness) or railway tracks, which begs the question; how ‘livable’ is the living condition in the urban slums?

One may argue that focusing on rural development (including education, employment opportunities, infrastructure etc.) may restrict the rapid and unplanned urbanization by preventing the movement of people from villages to cities. However even if this claim is true it may be looked upon only as a long term solution. A more immediate and urgent issue is the dismal living conditions in the urban slums due to this mass exodus.

The overcrowded cities are unable to provide even the most basic amenities to their citizens. However despite such dire need in the cities, most corporates have a natural bias of serving villages under their CSR program, perhaps owing to the Prime Minister’s vision of model villages or because of their factories/production facilities being close to villages. Recent CSR reports published by independent third parties have clearly stated that several top companies listed in BSE have a 60% rural proclivity; in the process, while rural India benefits from many projects, the situation in urban slums continues to worsen.

Most of these urban communities have a large population staying in a relatively small area therefore undertaking CSR programs in these communities’ results in higher impact. Also given the higher population density in cities, the projects become sustainable quickly and thereby generate long term impact. While rural India continues to need systematic interventions, probably it is also time for the organizations to develop an unbiased approach towards urban slums.

CSR is about giving back to the society wherever it is required the most, in this case, many urban slums need comprehensive social programs for their upliftment. Just because these communities are in an ‘urban locale’ should not be the reason to belittle their concerns or perceive them to be less important.

Should corporates change their focus towards the cities? Time to think about it.

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