Housing For All: Will the Urban Poor Get A Home?

The corridors of Housing ministry in Nirman Bhavan in the capital is buzzing with activity. Officials walk in as early as 8 in the morning. Back to back meetings, spending long hours at work has become the new normal for the officials. The reason behind the hectic schedule, the ministry is on a tight timeline. It has to build 6 crore houses in the next 6 years by 2022. A mammoth task for sure. But the ministry seems to have made a decent start.

The government has sanctioned around 4.25 lakh housing units in 11 states within 7 months. Another one lakh are expected to be sanctioned by March end. This is being done under the ambitious Housing for All scheme launched in June end last year.

To begin with, 2 crore houses will be built in 500 Class I cities in three phases starting with 100 cities. The scheme will cater to the housing needs of EWS households with an annual income up to Rs.3 lakh. All weather housing units of 30sqmt will be created for EWS households and all weather housing units of 60 sqmt will be built for and LIG households with an annual income of Rs 3.1lakh to Rs 6 lakh.

The scheme, many feel is old wine in a new bottle as it is an amalgamation of housing schemes under JNNURM and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY). But the BJP government’s move to make significant changes to the guidelines and give greater flexibility to states to decide on the size and cost of the houses seems to have cracked the code and set the ball rolling. Furthermore, state level sanctioning and monitoring committees have been empowered to clear detailed project reports and approve projects — a clear departure from the earlier tight jacket approach adopted by the Central government to clear projects under JNNURM.

Former top bureaucrat of Urban Development ministry, Sudhir Krishna had slogged it out as the top guy in the ministry trying to achieve something under the earlier housing schemes. Looking at the progress now, Mr Krishna feels enthused. But he did raise a few red flags. Mr Krishna feels certain sticky issues still remain which could make or mar the government’s initiative.

“What the scheme needs to keep in mind are the following, how can you make people move into these houses. For this you will need proper connectivity and basic infrastructure and security. Please remember, slums are always within the city limits because people can easily reach their work place and even if they do not have proper access to water and power, they always manage it by plugging in to the main connection etc. If you create housing far away from the city and do not provide for basic amenities then once again people will not move and houses will remain vacant. The government also has to keep in mind that once a slum is cleared, care has to be taken that another batch of people do not move in. The key to making housing schemes a success is letting the urban local bodies take the lead and state and Central government provide finances.”

Under Congress government’s flagship scheme JNNURM’s housing component, 13 lakh housing units were sanctioned during the 10 years of the scheme and only about 10lakh houses were built. Of these, at least 2.45 lakh houses are lying vacant.

Having handled implementation of such schemes for over two decades, Dr P R Swarup, DG, Construction Industry Development Council, continues to be pretty skeptical. Dr Swarup feels the government is yet to recognise and take into account the role of municipal corporations and utility providers in this whole scheme of things. He feels these are significant pieces of the housing puzzle and housing schemes are heavily dependent on the capacities of these entities. “Have we looked into their capabilities to deliver basic amenities, I think not. It is like you inviting 40 people for dinner without even checking if your cook can manage to cook for so many people. Have we taken into account the kind of quality work force and technologies that we need to complete this task within the given time frame. Maybe not. I feel the government still has to do its homework”, Dr Swarup quipped.

Looking at things from where it stands now, though the scheme has taken off, the road ahead appears to be long and winding with many ditches yet to be filled. The real challenge for the government will be to get the slum dwellers and low income group people move in to these houses and live there.

Oineetom Ojah


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