House and grouse – The story of successive housing schemes
By Kaushal Kishore*
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has allocated 79,590 crore rupees for the subsidised housing scheme in the newest budget. The Central Government earmarked 54,487 crores for rural areas and 25,103 crores for urban areas. Last year, it was Rs. 48,000 crores for the same. As such, there is an increase of 66 per cent for the affordable and subsidised housing scheme known as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY) which was launched in 2015 to promote the concrete house for the millions of poor families scattered across the states.
Undoubtedly this is the largest housing project not only in the history of India but the entire world. At the same time, this is not the first public housing scheme of its kind. There is a history as old as the independence of India. The process of rehabilitation started right after the partition of united India. Millions of people arrived from eastern and western Pakistan. At least half a million refugee families were rehabilitated in different parts of North India in the next 13 years.
The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, introduced the Village Housing Scheme (VHS) in 1957. In addition to the rehabilitation of refugees, it was another scheme for shelter that was a part of the second five-years-plan of the Planning Commission. VHS continued till the end of the fifth five-years-plan and 67,000 houses were built under the scheme in the rural areas.
Meanwhile, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi introduced the House Sites cum Construction Assistance Scheme (HSCAS) in the seventies. Almost a decade later, in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi launched the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) in memory of his mother. It continued for the next three decades.
The former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh introduced Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission in 2005. Again in 2013, he came up with Rajiv Awas Yojna to make India free of slums by 2022. These three subsidised housing schemes are the legacy of the UPA government led by the Congress party between 2004 and 2014.
PMAY is the newest subsidised housing scheme that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced with the slogan— ‘Housing for All’. Initially, it was intended to be accomplished by the end of 2022 to mark the 75th year of India’s independence. But it has been extended to 2024. The two verticals of the housing scheme deal with the rural and urban areas. It costs 8.31 lakh crores to the State exchequer for the 30 million homes in rural India and 15 million in urban areas. So far it has completed 21.3 million houses in the rural parts and 7 million houses in the urban regions.
So the welfare state again for the umpteenth time promises to replace the old huts with new concrete structures. Article 21 of the Constitution of India has guaranteed a dignified life to every citizen. And the right to shelter is embedded into it. The government’s commitment reflects in the ever-increasing funding to subsidised housing for the last seven years. So far more than twenty million families in half a million villages have been its beneficiaries.
Women heads of the benefiting families have got better attention in this scheme. As the funding is in favour of them with a share in the ownership of the property. ‘Clean India Mission’ equipped each house with a toilet. Supply of piped potable water, electricity connection, cooking gas supply and the Jan Dhan banking facility are the other benefits that converged with the housing scheme.
The government has focused on the subsidised housing scheme to ensure the right to shelter. But it has remained inactive in cases of the ever-increasing vacant properties. According to the census data, India has 11.09 million vacant housing units in urban areas that can accommodate at least 50 million people or half of the total requirements. In certain countries, heavy tax has been imposed on vacant houses to overcome the crisis, in addition to meaningful regulations to address the illegal possession in cases of letting out such an accommodation. India needs serious efforts on this issue.
There are many vacant houses in the national capital territory surrounding Khori gaon. It was possible to use such properties in order to alleviate the sufferings of the victims. The government and the court failed to utilise it. Proponents of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The entire world is a family) and Atithi Devo Bhava (Guests are like God) among its owners were also out of the picture. On the other hand, this generosity has been expanding in certain other countries. Few of them have also introduced incentives in cases of occupying the vacant house. And they continue to show us the mirror.
Paradoxically, the politics of bulldozers is yet another issue associated with the right to shelter. In the due course of maintaining law and order the State has introduced the demolition of the house owned by the accused in a criminal case. Bulldozer is not limited to such criminals alone, innocent slum dwellers in urban areas are subjected to its political use so often.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court of India is yet another authority addressing the citizen’s fundamental right to shelter. It is committed to the demolition of illegal occupation as well. Only a few weeks before the new budget, the apex court passed a stay order to prevent the demolition of Banbhulpura and Mohalla Nai Basti at Haldwani in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Last December, the Nainital High Court directed the Executive to the eviction of fifty thousand people residing on the 29 acres of the Railway land there.
The apex court has proposed to rehabilitate its victims and to ensure their Constitutional right to shelter. Therefore the government asked for two more months on February 7, and the court fixed its next hearing for May 2. The majority of its victims belong to the Muslim community. As such the Hindu-Muslim angle appears to be at play in this case.
The demolition of Khori gaon in Faridabad on the Delhi-Haryana border is not outside the ambit of citizens’ fundamental rights to shelter. Apex court issued a direction to that effect in 2021 to protect the forests of the Aravalis. Although a hundred thousand victims tried hard to get rehabilitated before the demolition, without making an impact. After the demolition, the court directed the State to rehabilitate them and the plan has been prepared for about a thousand families. And houses were also allotted to a couple of hundred among them. But still, none of them is satisfied. The victims often resort to protesting against this injustice.
More than a hundred illegal sites were identified by the forest department along with Khori. But the demolition of illegal construction is limited to that village alone. Encroachment on the rest of the sites still continues. Most of its victims were the urban poor. As such elite versus non-elite appears to be in the play. During the pandemic, all these exercises occurred tarnishing the prestige of the top court. Hence, what is needed is a comprehensive housing policy for the working of a true welfare state.