Thursday, January 12, 2012


This very right needs to be constitutionally enforced

Fulfilling the basic housing need of hundreds of thousands of Indian citizens still seems to be a distant dream. In the backdrop of ultra-luxury homes and high lifestyle living, India, unfortunately, still has 85-90 million people who have nothing that qualify as housing. A report by the 11th five year plan working group states that India suffers with housing shortage of 140 lakh units. We, as a nation, still have not been able to provide decent housing to more than half of the population thus robbing an opportunity of proper growth and decent living environment.

Many nations have ‘right to adequate housing’ in their constitution but ironically India doesn’t define it as a fundamental right and is only interpreted under Article 21 of the Constitution that guarantees protection of life and personal property. Rajasthan is the only state which has policies that clearly affirms the right to housing as a basic human right. At the national policy level, we still lack comprehensive policies towards right to housing and none of the newly laid plans are holistic in nature. Moreover, the programs such as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), the National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy (NUHHP) and various other state housing policies are littered with corruption and red-tapism. Most of the residential projects under these schemes suffer from either cost overrun or time overrun or, as in most of the cases, suffer from both. Even if a few projects get completed, they are sold at much higher prices or else are put on rent by poor people at higher prices. Since, there are rarely any checks after allocations; most of these flats later get encroached by the local land sharks and conniving brokers. The lobbying and scam have reached to an extent that even auctioning (or lottery) of affordable housing for poor people are manipulated and are sold to real estate property dealers behind the veil through hoax allocations.

There are plenty of instances globally to showcase the importance of a well defined law towards ensuring right to housing. Sweden has made it mandatory for local municipalities to provide a home to everyone while the Cuban government has schemes on low-cost housing for poor. Singapore has also chalked out the Housing and Development Board which will focus on clearing the slums and resettling the dwellers into low-cost state built housing. Similarly, France rolled out its HLM project which is fundamentally rent controlled housing and is being used by more than 20 per cent of the French citizens. Following the same lines, countries like Canada, Hong Kong, China and many others have introduced norms of providing subsidised housing to first-time buyers.

A constitutionally enforced housing law in India will not only bring about the much needed social revolution but will also burst the artificially created real estate shortage. All this will not only deter officials from selling subsidised lands and flats to property sharks but would also bring down property prices to realistic as well as affordable levels. The law must also force the government to keep aside a part of budgetary allocations for repair and construction of state controlled rented apartments. On the hindsight, this very right seems discreet but then right to housing will make all the other fundamental rights more credible. No rights, be it the right to life or the right to education, can reach its culmination without a proper shelter.



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