The increase in urban population has led to problems of land and housing shortage, congested transit, and severely stressed civic infrastructure. Under the JnNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission), 65 Indian cities had an opportunity to bridge this infrastructure gap and also to resolve some of the housing problems for the urban poor through the BSUP (Basic Services for the Urban Poor) component of the central government funded Mission.
During the 11th Five Year Plan, the Planning Commission estimated the housing requirement in the Indian cities to be around 26.53 million dwelling units by the end of 2012 of which 88% were required to cater to the economically weaker section (EWS) and another 11% to cater to the lower income group (LIG). To understand why this gap exists, one must look at the history of policies towards housing for the urban poor in the country. An examination of the history reveals that this gap in housing for the poor largely emerges from the failure of state-led programs to build housing, and the lack of private players that have come forward to fill the gap.
India being a socialist state at its founding, the government had taken on the responsibility for building much of the legal housing available for the poor. The government appropriated large pools of excess lands to be used for public purpose under the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCRA). In the past most state governments relied on the in-situ tenement construction method, but with the advent of the World Bank’s shelter projects, the emphasis moved to the sites and services approach, which involves selling plots of land to beneficiaries in integrated sites with basic facilities at a concessional rate.
Some of the state governments realised that slums were too difficult to manage by the urban local bodies and created parastatal bodies like housing and slum boards to look into issues concerning slums and the urban poor. These parastatal agencies have themselves had a mixed record of providing housing for the poor. The TNSCB (Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board) started by building tenements in-situ, but since the mid 1990s, has been clearing slums and shifting the people to resettlement ghettoes on the outskirts of the city causing a commotion in the lives of these underprivileged people. The SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) in Gujarat and Maharashtra has tried to use private sector partners in improving slum conditions, but these programs have been plagued with corruption. Delhi has an urban shelter improvement board under which there are separate programs for the urban poor. In 1986, Calcutta had a Basti Improvement Programme (BIP), in which tenure security was given to two third of the central city’s slums based on the John Turner model which was quite successful in the South American countries.
In recent years, state governments have been moving away from acting as direct providers of housing for any class of people, including the poor, and have tried to rely more on incentivizing the private sector to provide housing. After the formation of the TNSCB, the Tamil Nadu Housing Board has stopped catering to the EWS and LIG category arguing that their land holdings are in prime locations in the city and could be used for projects that would generate more revenue than slum housing. Rajasthan has tried a mixed approach in their affordable housing policy, pushing both government and private sector builders to create more housing for the poor. They have directed government agencies to reserve at least 50% of all constructed houses for the EWS/LIG category, and, under the directives of development control regulation, have asked private developers to reserve 15% of their development for these categories. The state governments of Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab have worked on luring the private participation in this sector through increasing FSI for affordable housing builders, fast tracking approvals, providing Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) to builders, allowing 10% of the land for commercial use, and even acquiring land at reasonable rates and then giving it to private players for construction.
Private participation in affordable housing has been most successful where community based organizations have been involved. In Ahmedabad, NGO’s like SEWA (Self employed Women Association) and SAATH have worked with private builders to build housing specifically for the EWS, LIG and lower MIG with houses ranging from Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs10 lakh. This model works only if there is a large volume of housing as the margins are lower and the emphasis is on timely completion of the project.
Despite these institutions and laws in place, the gap in housing for this segment continues to remain unfulfilled because the government failed to meet its own commitments for housing in any of these programs.
To deal with what is becoming a crisis situation, the government created another scheme called Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY). Under the RAY guidelines, all the urban local bodies are expected to map and take a census of all the slums in the city and create strategies to improve existing slums and prevent future ones. The RAY was progressive in many ways: it asked cities to map slums, whether or not they were recognized or notified. It is a necessary step towards giving slum dwellers a right to live in the city. If implemented correctly, the RAY could lead to a great deal of positive change in the city, but the program has so far been slow to take off. In the meantime, without access to adequate affordable housing, the poor in slum areas face lack of access to basic services, and are in constant danger of forced evictions.
Written by Roshan Toshniwal