Aiming to influence the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), to be held in October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador,the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) has prepared a status report on housing and land rights in India. Excerpts:
A Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage estimated that the national urban housing shortage at the end of 2012 was 18.78 million houses; 95 per cent of this shortage (17.96 million dwelling units) was for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Lower Income Groups (LIG). A 2015 study projects that the urban housing shortage is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.6 per cent for 10 years, and will increase to 34 million units by 2022. A 2010 study projects that migration to urban centres will continue and over 70 per cent of migrants are least likely to afford a house at market prices.
The report forecasts that households who cannot afford a house could reach 38 million by 2030, with more than 30 per cent increase in Tier I and Tier II cities. Tier IV cities will also witness an acute shortage of affordable housing as these cities will account for 60 per cent of the gap between affordability and the market rate.
Housing shortage, in terms of the gap between demand and supply, is not so much due to the pressure of population on the city but is a consequence of unrestrained commercial development of housing for the urban elite at the expense of investment in housing for EWS.
In the absence of affordable housing options, millions of urban residents, mostly workers in the informal and unorganized sector, are forced to live in extremely inadequate conditions on the streets or in grossly underserviced and low quality housing in settlements that are often referred to as ‘slums’ in official discourse. As per the Slum Census 2011, India recorded a 37.14 per cent decadal growth in the number of ‘slum’ households. Almost two-thirds of statutory towns in India have ‘slums’ and a total of 13.75 million households live in them.
Organizations working on issues of urban poverty and housing, however, believe that the actual number is likely to be much higher, especially if other forms of sub- standard housing are taken into account. Census 2011 data reveals that 36 per cent of households in informal settlements do not have basic facilities of electricity, tap water, and sanitation within house premises. As per Census 2011, over 27 per cent of urban residents live in rental accommodation, most of which is informal.
Most low income residents do not enjoy security of tenure over their land and housing. In many cities, land allocated for EWS housing is diverted for profitable projects, while legislative tools are used to condemn the poor as ‘illegal.’ The continued use of terms like ‘slum’ and ‘encroacher’ constitute the framing of urban governance issues in a manner that not only discounts the significant contribution to the economy by members of urban households living in poverty, but also reveals a strong prejudice against them, which is reflected in policy formulation.
Between 2010 and 2015, information collated by HLRN reveals that at least 49,000 families or over 234,000 people in urban areas have been evicted forcefully from their homes. This number only reflects cases reported to HLRN; the actual figure, therefore, is likely to be much higher. Such actions that result in destruction of housing stock by the state not only serve to exacerbate the national housing shortage but also question government claims to provide ‘housing for all.’ HLRN also estimates that in the year 2014–15, social activism, civil society advocacy, and timely intervention from courts, saved over 47,000 families—who received threats of eviction—from losing their homes.
Eviction Impact Assessment studies carried out by HLRN and its partners in Baljeet Nagar, Delhi, and Topsia, Kolkata, reveal significant material and non-material losses as well as a deterioration of health and well-being, and loss of education and livelihoods in the aftermath of the evictions. In Baljeet Nagar, each evicted family suffered a loss of over Rs 150,000 while in Topsia, the average loss per family, just for material goods, was over Rs 50,000.
In the majority of instances of forced evictions in India, the state does not provide rehabilitation to the affected families on grounds that they are ‘encroachers,’ ‘squatters,’ ‘illegal,’ or ‘ineligible.’ Most states have a ‘cut-off’ date before which the individual/family should have been living in the city in order to qualify for resettlement benefits. Each affected family has to furbish a list of requisite documents in order to be considered ‘eligible’ for resettlement. Most families are unable to fulfill the requirements because their documents have to regularly be renewed and also because they often lose vital documents during the eviction process; thus they do not receive resettlement benefits.
For the small percentage of families—approximately 15–20 per cent—considered eligible for resettlement, the state provides alternative plots or housing in undeveloped colonies, generally located on city peripheries and at great distances from affected persons’ places of work, education, and healthcare. A study of three large resettlement sites—Savda Ghevra, Delhi; Kannagi Nagar, Chennai; and Vashi Naka, Mumbai—reveals multiple human rights violations of the residents as well as long-term impacts of failed resettlement, including loss of education, livelihoods, income, and health.
Issues such as tenure insecurity resulting from short-term conditional leases; absence of basic services; and, the lack of safety for women, are reported from most resettlement sites across the country, including in Bawana, Narela, and Holambi Kalan in Delhi. In Gujarat, over 15,000 families displaced from various projects, including the Sabarmati and Kankaria Riverfront development, and road-widening projects, have been inadequately resettled and continue to witness deprivation, violence, and conflict.
Paradoxical growth paradigm
The economic growth paradigm in India has resulted in a paradoxical situation of shortage and surplus in the housing sector. While India faces a national urban shortage of almost 19 million houses, Census 2011 also reported 11.09 million vacant houses in urban areas. These are mostly houses purchased for speculative purposes. Rampant speculation in the housing market has contributed to an increase in housing prices even when demand for housing falls.
Almost Rs 47 trillion was invested in the real estate sector between 2008 and 2014. Speculators tend to buy property during the construction stage, causing the developer to raise prices to enable early investors to make gains. Developers also tend to create the impression that housing units have been ‘sold out’ (without actually selling all their stock), while real estate agents attempt to sell this stock at higher prices by creating a situation of artificial scarcity. This practice is most prevalent in the Delhi National Capital Region.
The National Housing Bank monitors housing prices in India through an index called ‘Residex.’ The index indicates that housing prices in 2014 had more than doubled since 2007 in Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Bhopal, Kolkata, and Mumbai; in Chennai, prices had more than tripled. To maintain stable demand in the housing market, private developers are reducing sizes of houses without decreasing the cost per square foot. Between 2010 and 2015, the average size of a residential unit reduced by 26 per cent in Mumbai, while in Bengaluru, Chennai, and Kolkata, sizes reduced by 22 to 24 per cent.
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