Friday, August, 12,2022


Starting with the UNHDR of 1948, the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Vancouver Summit of 1976, which laid the foundations of the United Nations Human Settlements Program or UN-Habitat, and the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements in June 1996 which ‘endorsed the universal goals of ensuring adequate shelter for all and making human settlements safer, healthier and more liveable, equitable, sustainable and productive’, India has affirmed its commitment to ‘adequate shelter and services as a basic human right and has been in the forefront of global dialogues on shelter and housing. This was followed up with a firm commitment in 2015 to comply with the SDGs by 2030. The eleventh Sustainable Development Goal gives a call ‘for building sustainable cities and communities — a key part of which is high-quality affordable housing’.

Fortuitously, the eleventh SDG coincided with the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) announced in the same year, which set itself a very ambitious target of Housing for All by 2022. Even though the gap between expectations and performance is substantial, and we are nowhere close to the target, it is, without doubt, the most effective affordable housing intervention in the country. It is also imperative that we place the PMAY in perspective as this was the twenty-first attempt on addressing this issue – and has tried to learn from the multiple failures and (some) successes of the previous interventions.


In the immediate aftermath of Partition, land parcels were allotted to migrants in several towns of Punjab (which then included Haryana) and Delhi as well as in the suburbs of Kolkata. The focus was on individual ownership with basic common infrastructure provisioned by the local authorities. Under the first five-year Plan, subsidised housing for industrial workers in new townships was taken up, followed by schemes for LIG, MIG, plantation workers, Rental Housing for state government employees, slum clearance, sites and services, Indira Awas, JNURM, homeless workers in rural areas, night shelters for pavement dwellers (illustrative list). In fact, the Planning Commission and the Union government offered a new version of the extant schemes every passing year, but the core issue - the mismatch between the demand for affordable housing for new migrants to urban centres which were the magnets of growth, and the supply which was restricted to government interventions – was not addressed because the political economy continued to be in the ‘license permit mode’. Moreover, the slum dweller and the informal settler were treated either as encroachers to be removed from public lands or as beneficiaries to whom patronage was to be extended in limited doses. Therefore, there was a big gap between our policy statements in international forums and action on the ground. Urbanization was never really recognized as a Growth Driver, and employment generation and infrastructure programs were funded in the rural areas to ‘arrest’ migration to the cities. True, development authorities like the DDA in Delhi started offering Self Financing schemes from the seventies, but one had to be a regular employee of a government department, or an Income Tax paying professional to avail of these, and the slums /informal colonies continued to grow.

It is important to make a distinction between slums and informal colonies. Slums are occupied by the poorest of the poormaids, drivers, plumbers, washermen, cobblers and other selfemployed professionals at the Bottom of the Pyramid, and usually on public lands – whether of Railways, Port authorities, or areas earmarked for parks by municipal authorities, or on embankments, whereas informal colonies are ‘unauthorised colonies on private agricultural lands’ or erstwhile industrial estates in which the land use pattern has not been changed. However, there is an element of ownership and a property right, and ‘these informal settlements’ are generally occupied by the lower or middle classes who have the resources to make ‘pucca buildings’.

Another distinction that needs to be made is between housing needs for the rural and urban poor. While in rural areas, land is (still) not a major issue, and funds are required only for the building material, with labour component coming in from the MGNREGA, the main issue in urban areas is that of land. Thus, in rural areas, the panchayat can offer community land, and the state can provide the resources: in the urban areas, the land costs are so high, that there is no option but to grow vertical, and this calls for a partnership between the state, the market, financial institutions, civil society and the stakeholders themselves.

Before we proceed further, let us also spend some time on understanding the Big picture and the complexities of this sector. As per the last census (2011) the country had 246.74 million households of which 78.86 million were categorised urban. At least twenty percent of this population were living in Malin Bastis (MBs) or Jhuggi Jhompri (JJ) clusters – and the figure for Mumbai was as high as 40%. While is true that after the launch of PMAY in 2015, there would have been some relief, this is quite close to the picture on the ground. At the same time, there were over one million unoccupied flats in urban areas.


SANJEEV CHOPRA The writer is Distinguished Fellow, USI Delhi and Historian & Policy Analyst. Also former Director, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie

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