By Bilal Khan*
The Report prepared by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing for the United Nations, which was presented in UN Human Rights Council recently, highlights the extreme scarcity in availability of proper housing to 58.6 million households. A deeper study of the report brings out that among this large community, schedule castes and schedule tribes, homeless people, Muslims and manual scavengers are the worst hit. Access to housing is abysmally below the national average for this segment.
Around the same time when the Report was being prepared, housing rights activists comprising of 70 representatives from 9 different states of India had gathered to share experiences and evolve strategies to solve the housing problem, in a meeting called by National Alliance of People’s Movements and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan on 8th January this year.
Major point of discussion of this Coalition of Housing Rights Groups that met on January 8th, was addressing the challenges posed by rampant evictions, denial of land rights, livelihood opportunities and basic services to poor communities living in informal settlements which goes unchecked in the absence of any legal prudence.
The UN Report and the deliberation of the Coalition, both seek to build upon the orders of the Supreme Court of India in the matter of ‘right to housing’. The Supreme Court of India in 1995 in the Chameli Singh Vs. State of UP matter, emphasised the centrality of the right to housing as precursor to all rights. Successive judgements on similar matters in the Supreme Court, reiterate the similar concerns.
The proof that very little has been done in over two decades by various governments, is borne out from the fact that the need for housing has more than doubled to 58.6 million units (Special Rapporteur report 2017) from 23.90 million in 1991 (Government of India – National Buildings Organisation, Ministry of Urban Affairs & Employment). It also proves that all the governments over the decades had ignored the order and sentiments of the highest court of India.
The UN report as well as the deliberation of the Coalition also concluded that the ‘Pradhan Mantari Awas Yojana’ under the ‘Housing for All Mission’ of the central government of India, will only cater to the demand of one particular section and recognized the possibility of discrimination in implementing the policy.
One important thing that emerged from the experiences shared by the Coalition was that what very often is overlooked while estimating the shortage of housing is the connection between housing and livelihood. Livelihood is a key factor which defines the need, affordability and character of housing. So, any solution that seeks to protect housing right should consider livelihood as the integral part of the problem.
As far as ‘Smart Cities Mission’ of the central government in the ambit of housing is concerned, the inference of the Coalition was that the mission is highly exclusionary in its approach which will give minimum space to the poor, reduce citizenship into consumers, highly expensive and the principle of democracy will be compromised at every level of planning and implementation of the mission.
One of the strongest recommendations of the Report is a need for a national legislation that will address problems relating to housing rights. This very recommendation in the Report is in resonance with the demand that was raised by the Coalition at the end of the deliberation. The Coalition finally concluded that a campaign would be chalked out at a national level in near future to demand a law which would protect the housing rights keeping livelihood as its integral part.
* Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai