Government Should Treat Housing as a Human Right, Not a Marketable Commodity

A large housing project in Hyderabad. Credit: Adityamadhav83, Wikipedia commons

File picture of a large housing project. Credit: Adityamadhav83, Wikipedia commons

 While the government’s objective of “housing for all” is a commendable goal, the excessive focus on the private sector is a major limitation, according to the Housing and Land Rights Network, a Delhi based NGO.

 “Instead of ensuring that adequate housing is a human right, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) continues to treat housing as a marketable commodity. The scheme does not include a definition for ‘affordability’ or include provisions to ensure that the most needy benefit. The most marginalized section, the homeless, has been omitted from the promise of ‘housing for all,’” the HLRN has said in a report issued in advance of a UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development, known as Habitat III, to be held later this year.

“Given the current design of PMAY, it is unlikely that the national urban housing shortage of almost 19 million homes will be met.” PMAY is a central government scheme launched in June 2015 under which 20 million houses will be constructed in 500 cities. The scheme consists of four components: slum redevelopment, credit-linked interest, affordable housing and beneficiary-led individual house construction or enhancement.

HLRN’s report, titled Housing and Land Rights in India: Status Report for Habitat III has been endorsed by 56 social movements and organisations from across India, and submitted to the Indian government and the UN.

Urban housing shortage

The report points out estimates which suggest that urban housing shortage at the end of 2012 was 18.78 million homes, 95% of which was housing for the economically weaker sections (EWS) and low-income groups.

“This shocking shortage is not due to the population pressure on cities, but because the commercial development of housing for the urban elite has occurred on an unrestrained scale and at the expense of investment in housing for lower income groups. In many cities, land that was allocated for EWS housing has instead been diverted to more profitable projects,” the report says.

Development, in the urban context, has often meant “forced evictions for those who are already marginalised. For the sake of “urban renewal”, “beautification” and “slum free cities”, families are evicted from their homes and colonies.”

In rural areas, “involuntary land acquisition occurs on a large scale” for infrastructure projects, industrial development and Special Economic Zones, which have led to massive displacement. According to the report, “between 65 and 70 million people have been displaced because of “development” projects since independence. Of these, at least 40% are indigenous and tribal people and 20% are Dalit.”

The HLRN report makes several policy recommendations (to both the Indian government and the Habitat III conference) that include the need for a moratorium on forced evictions; improved state accountability; developing a human rights-based national law on housing and land rights; adequately defining “affordable housing” and developing “mixed-use” neighbourhoods instead of moving the urban poor to margins of a city.”

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