An excerpt from the report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination prepared for the Human Rights Council’s Thirty-fourth session (27 February-24 March 2017):
India is at a critical juncture in term of protection of the right to adequate housing, which is currently at a tipping point owing to the country’s accelerated urbanization, population growth and resultant growing inequality. Over 58.6 million households do not have access to adequate housing in urban and rural India. Taken in combination with the extensive need for reparation of dilapidated housing stock and the unmet provision of essential services such as ventilation, electricity, water, sanitation and waste management, the challenges are considerable. If the critical situation of those who are landless, homeless, inadequately housed and displaced is to be taken as a serious human rights priority, there must be a vigorous effort without delay on the part of all levels of government to put the right to adequate housing at the centre of the agenda.
Special Rapporteur acknowledges the leadership of the central Government in putting in place ambitious schemes aimed at addressing the rising demand for adequate housing. Clearly there is political will to bring the Housing for All and other schemes to fruition in forthcoming years, and to guarantee that positive outcomes are enjoyed by a broad segment of the population. The Special Rapporteur also had the opportunity to assess the impressive plans and programmes put in place by the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and by the Delhi Authorities, and she became aware of the intricacies and complexity in terms of coordination and cooperation between the states and the centre, and between various departments and institutions. The Special Rapporteur recognizes that every state in India grapples with a vast number of people and issues, comparable with large countries in the world, while still being committed to the essence of federalism.
However, the Special Rapporteur is concerned that short-term schemes will not be sufficient to address the housing situation of those who are most disenfranchised and discriminated against with respect to housing. As a next step, and in keeping with the political commitments made under the New Urban Agenda, 55 India needs an overarching, visionary and coherent piece of legislation based on human rights. A national housing law that aims to address growing inequalities and offers a long-term road map is essential. In addition, the economy of India is and will continue expanding, which suggests that it will continue to have the necessary resources to implement the right to adequate housing across the country.
In the Special Rapporteur’s view, the existing schemes seem to emphasize and focus primarily on homeownership as the key housing model to respond to the current needs of India. However, even when well regulated, that model may be ill-suited to ensuring adequate housing for those most in need, including women, religious minorities, and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. In the light of the diverse housing needs across the country, the Government must consider investing more in alternative housing policies that better suit those who have scarce or no resources: people who are homeless, living on pavements and informal settlements and those who face traditional practices of exclusion and discrimination, as well as members of the growing middle-class in urban areas who are not able to access affordable rentals owing to the lack of availability.
Recognizing and implementing housing as a human right in existing programmes and in new legislation would also set India on track for meeting its international commitments to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (particularly target 11.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals) and the New Urban Agenda. 85. In the light of those conclusions, the Special Rapporteur makes the following recommendations to the central and state governments:
(a) Adopt national legislation with explicit recognition of the right to adequate housing without discrimination on any ground. The legislation must be based on national and international human rights standards and commitments;
(b) Address homelessness as a human rights priority with a view to eliminating it by 2030, in keeping with target 11.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals. In that regard:
- The structural causes of homelessness in urban and rural India must be identified, including in relation to access to land and housing, affordability and the lack of specific measures in favour of people without an income;
- Homeless shelters must be understood in the context of a housing continuum that includes a range of longer-term housing options considered by local and subnational governments for the homeless population;
- The National Urban Livelihoods Mission guidelines must be implemented for the construction of shelters, ensuring that shelters for different and particular population groups like families, women leaving violent relationships, street connected children and youth are established;
(c) Institute a national moratorium on forced evictions and demolitions of homes. Enact legislation to guide forced evictions that stipulates that forced evictions can only occur in the most exceptional of circumstances, once all other alternatives have been pursued, in strict compliance with international human rights law. Third party actors should also be regulated and monitored in that regard. Where states already have such a moratorium in place, the central government must comply. When evictions are required as a result of valid health and safety risks, governments must ensure that resettlement takes place in a time-bound manner, ensuring meaningful consultation with those who are directly affected, that fair compensation is awarded and that resettlement housing is adequate, as prescribed by international human rights law;
(d) Survey and provide legal recognition of all existing informal settlements and prioritize in situ upgrading and rehabilitation, with secure tenure for all inhabitants, based on meaningful participation. Provide existing informal settlements, especially where rehabilitation is not planned, with proper latrines, access to water and sanitation and regular garbage collection;
(e) Central and state governments should put in place effective and timely mechanisms to collect and systematically update data on a number of housing-related issues, like evictions, living conditions and homelessness. The data must be disaggregated, notably by age, gender, disability and ethnic and religious origin. That information should be made public and serve as a basis for policy design and monitoring in compliance with human rights law;
(f) Ensure timely, adequate compensation or resettlement and/or alternative housing for persons who are affected by natural disasters, with genuine consultation and participation of the individuals and communities affected;
(g) Enact legislation to curb all forms and practices of de facto housing discrimination against any individuals or groups, in particular religious and ethnic minorities, women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, internal migrants and manual scavengers in relation to their right to housing. Enhance monitoring and protection against discrimination in relation to rental accommodation, access to credit, inheritance and ownership. Specific measures must be found to enforce existing legislation, including in villages and panchayati;
(h) Ensure that all residents of informal settlements have access to the Housing for All scheme. Provide assistance with down payments for those unable to afford the scheme;
(i) Allocate resources for the Smart Cities Mission in order to provide housing in those cities where there are the greatest housing needs and where the most marginalized and excluded would most benefit;
(j) In order to ensure the right to adequate housing and to curb rising prices due to speculation in real estate markets, particularly in metropolitan cities, governments at all levels must ensure that land stocks for constructing social housing, including for the economically weaker sections of society, are used immediately for the purpose for which they were acquired;
(k) Enhance effective monitoring and coordination to ensure that budget allocations for housing, sanitation and water provision at all levels of government are executed in a timely and transparent manner;
(l) The national right to homestead bill of 2013 should be introduced in Parliament to provide land for the poor, the landless and those without a homestead in urban areas. A committee should be established to ensure its compliance with international human rights law. Schemes and programmes for rural housing should include the provision of plots of land, not only construction grants, in order to ensure that the most deprived and poor landless individuals can adequately ensure their right to housing and to a livelihood;
(m) In keeping with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, private entities should be regulated and measures put in place to ensure that they are monitored and held accountable, including with respect to speculation of land and housing, land grabbing, rentals, forced displacement and forced evictions both in urban and rural areas;
(n) Courts must interpret the right to life and equality in a manner that gives effect to and is consistent with economic, social and cultural rights provided for in international human rights law. When applicable, commissioners should be appointed, as in the case of the right to food, by the Supreme Court, with a view to ensuring monitoring, redress and implementation of the right to housing over time;
(o) Submit the pending report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and ensure implementation of the recommendations relating to housing, land, living conditions and poverty alleviation from the universal periodic review. Use the forthcoming universal periodic review to commit to implementing the recommendations contained in the present report.
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