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Marooned on the outskirts of the law, more than one billion people worldwide live in urban slums and squatter settlements, mostly in the global South. Law, extra-legality, and illegality commingle in urban slums to produce spaces and subjects at the margins of legal orders and formal economies. Three enduring and inter-related features of capitalism-accumulation by dispossession, a reserve army of labor, and an informal sector of the economy-produce and sustain urban slums. The genesis and persistence of slums and slum-dwellers testify to the iron fist of the state working in concert with the hidden hand of the market in the service of accumulation of capital. Over the last thirty years, neoliberal restructuring of economies and reordering of the responsibilities of states have accentuated this process. As a result, slums in the global South have grown exponentially.

An examination of public policy and pronouncements of the judiciary in India, as they related to slums and slum-dwellers, calls into question traditional understandings of the law, citizenship, and responsibilities of the state. Mainstream remedial prescriptions for housing for the urban poor increasingly rely on market forces, falling woefully short of their goal, and often accentuating the problem. The incipient right to the city provides a productive framework to re-imagine the concept of citizenship, and to guide public policy and popular action to ensure adequate housing with dignity for the urban poor and marginalized.