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Urban Housing:REALISTIC SLUM POLICY CRUCIAL, by Dhurjati Mukherjee,5 October 2009 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 5 October 2009

Urban Housing


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The World Habitat Day, this October 5 was yet another grim reminder of the plight of the millions of homeless and the Government’s dilemma of how to make the country slum-free in the coming five years. Will the Urban Development Ministry’s latest scheme – Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana – with an initial budget of Rs 5,000 crores and aimed at constructing 10 lakh affordable houses meet targets?  

The much-publicised scheme envisages extending financial support under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to States that “are willing to assign property rights” to people living in slums. On its part, the Centre will encourage States to increase the supply of land and construct 10 lakh houses in the first phase by giving a grant of Rs 50,000 for every dwelling unit or bear 25 per cent of all civic services proposed in the housing project.

It is understood that to get the Central grant, projects should have houses ranging from 300 sq. ft. to 1200 sq. ft. plinth area built at affordable rates on land provided by the State Government. A minimum of 25 per cent houses of 300 sq. ft. will be compulsory for the economically weaker sections (EWS) in each project to be allotted. Further, to minimize the cost of construction, the scheme aims to come with layouts which mix EWS/Low Income Group (LIG) with Medium Income Group/ High Income Group (MIG/HIG) and commercial set-ups and cross subsidizing plans.   

The Yojana will ensure that the urban poor can access loans under interest subsidy scheme which provides five per cent subsidy on loans up to Rs one lakh. Moreover, States have been asked to cut stamp duty to a maximum two per cent for LIG and 0 per cent for EWS category to reduce the cost of houses.

These are no doubt welcome steps. But the problem is so acute with available resources being limited that development authorities have not been quite successful to cope up with the challenge affecting the EWS and the LIG sections constituting over 50 per cent of the population. In 2007, the National Housing & Habitat Policy found the total shortage in the country to be around 24.71 million dwelling units out of which 21.78 million units (around 88 per cent) constitute the shortage for the EWS and 2.89 million units (around 11.7 per cent) shortage for the LIG. In addition, there is the problem of the shelterless, who reside in pavements, squatter settlements etc.

The total investment required for meeting the housing shortage at the beginning of the 11th Five Year Plan was estimated at Rs 147,195 crores and the investment required during the Plan period stands at Rs 214,123 crores. The proposed plan of providing ‘Housing for All’ by 2010 or even by 2015 would become virtually impossible with which the Government is unfortunately not much concerned. Schemes such as the National Slum Development Programme (NSDP), Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana (VAMBAY), Indira Awas Yojana, the JNNURM and the 2 Million Housing Programme (2 MHP), which have reportedly focused on the EWS and the LIG sections, have not till date been able to meet the desired targets.    

The UN Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural in its most recent review (2008) pointed out that India has to “address the acute shortage of affordable housing by adopting a national strategy in a plan of action on adequate housing and by building or providing low-cost housing units, specially for the disadvantaged and low-income groups, including those living in slums”. It also brought out another dimension of the problem relating to displacement and forced eviction and urged the Government to take immediate measures to effectively enforce laws and regulations and “ensure that persons evicted from their homes and lands be provided with adequate compensation and/or offered alternative accommodation”.  

It has to be accepted that evictions have been increasing and estimates reveal that the total number of families affected in the 64 cities where the JNNURM is currently being implemented is over one million. In Delhi alone, between 2000 and 2006 around one lakh families were forcibly evicted while a massive eviction drive in Mumbai between November 2004 and March 2005, the State government destroyed 92,000 homes in 44 areas.  Moreover, in several cities people living in squatter settlements have been evicted without any due process and pushed to the city outskirts. 

Thus apart from construction of houses, slum upgradation is indeed a stupendous task as around 35 per cent of the urban population lives in such settlements, unauthorized colonies or on pavements. A UN Habitat report a few years ago found out that more people live in Mumbai’s slums than in the entire country of Norway. Worse, only 7-8 per cent of slum households have direct access to water and private toilets.  

The work of resettlement, upgradation or construction of houses for the poor have no doubt, to be financed by the Government but it would be better if the implementation is left to voluntary organizations for better results. Article 54 of the Habitat Agenda (1997) noted that Governments at the appropriate levels should carry out certain key functions. These include: One, promote self-help housing within the context of a comprehensive land-use policy.


Two, integrate and regularize self-built housing, specially through appropriate land registration programmes, as a holistic part of the overall housing and infrastructure system in urban and rural areas, subject to a comprehensive land-use policy. Three, encourage efforts to improve self-built housing through better access to resources including land, finance and building materials. Four, develop the means and methods to improve the standards of self-built housing.


Five, encourage community-based and NGOs in their role of assisting and facilitating the production of self-built housing. Six, facilitate regular dialogue and gender-sensitive participation of the various actors involved in housing production at all levels and stages of decision making. And, lastly mitigate the problems related to spontaneous human settlements through programmes and policies that anticipate unplanned settlements.

These need to be adhered to in finalization of a realistic slum policy (by modification of the earlier draft) and incorporating suggestions received from various voluntary organizations. All slums, whether recognized or unauthorized, have to be upgraded with minimum basic facilities so that it is worthy of living and proper rehabilitation given to all evictees. This work is more of a priority than construction of new houses for the economically weaker sections.      

The right to housing is now being debated the world over as it guarantees the right to live in security, peace and dignity. And the right to shelter involves not just adequate shelter but related rights such as access to safe drinking water and sanitation, security of land tenure and protection from forced evictions. But trends indicate that the economic policies being followed in most Third World countries, including India, are working against the interests of the weaker sections.

Creation of slummish settlements is not just a problem by itself but a manifestation of a larger problem. A problem of unjust and inequitable land holdings and that majority of the urban poor live in less than 1/10th of the city space that too in pockets blighted and extremely marginal. When will all this change?  -- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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