By Rajan Samuel
Conventionally speaking, access to ‘roti, kapda and makaan’ (food, clothing and housing) has formed the key metric of assessing human growth and development, especially in a developing nation like India. Though we have achieved considerable success in providing food and clothing to a major section of the population, housing still remains a key challenge. A majority of the population in India, especially those living below the poverty line, continue to have no access to permanent, secure and affordable housing. Lack of access to decent and stable homes has the potential to drive communities of vulnerable populations into a never-ending cycle of economic penury and social exploitation.
The first Budget of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in its second term in office will need to provide priority focus on rolling out mass housing schemes as part of a strategy to bring the deprived sections of the population within the social and economic mainstream. The broader aim of the budget should also be to establish greater connectivity between the policy vision, and on-ground implementation of policies to ensure greater outreach of housing programs.
The housing pyramid is typically classified into the High Income Group (HIG), Middle Income Group (MIG), Lower Income Group (LIG) and the Economically Weaker Section (EWS). The Economically Weaker Section (EWS) of the population is the most vulnerable and generally considered to be at the lower end of the economic spectrum.
According to the National Housing Bank, out of the total national housing shortage, the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) has three-fourths of the housing shortage and the Lower Income Group (LIG) has a quarter of housing shortage approximately.
Support for Vulnerable Communities
The Housing for All by 2022 mission under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) offers financial assistance to people from the EWS category. There is a dire need for a segmentation of the EWS category. Several vulnerable sections of the population such as the extremely disadvantaged Irula tribal community, farmers’ widows, families living with HIV-AIDS, rag-pickers, the transgender community, commercial sex works, differently abled, devadasis and many other communities are presently not extended financial help under the subsidy schemes.
These communities deserve due recognition as a weaker section of the population, and must be given priority for gaining access to affordable housing. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra Mr. DevendraFadnavis has announced that persons with disability will be given a priority in the allocation of houses under PMAY. This example must be followed by other states too.
Housing support services to the doorstep
The Budget should also place priority focus on creating Housing Support Services (HSS) to ensure that benefits of affordable housing reach the lowest rungs of the population. The government should place special emphasis on forming Mobile Housing Support Services which will operate in all 725 districts of the country. These Housing Support Services will be crucial links in the affordable housing ecosystem, to ensure wider success and broader outreach. It can serve the following purpose:
* Dissemination of Information: Providing in depth information on all government schemes and insurance to the end user, to ensure last mile connectivity.
* Access to Technology: HSS can provide assistance concerning house design, access to prefabrication or other alternative technology, rainwater harvesting, setting up tools bank and materials bank (to ensure that the correct materials are made available locally, and used to build durable and permanent houses) for the homeowners.
* Technical Support and Implementation – Provide construction technical assistance, technical training, training on financial literacy and so on.
In addition to being the one-stop-shop for families at the grassroots level, HSS will also have the potential to address the water crisis that India is currently facing. Recognizing the drastic problems of water scarcity and depleting water sources in different parts of the country, in the face of uneven rainfall and extreme climatic conditions, Prime Minister Modi has called for the implementation of a national program along the lines of the Swachh Bharat program, to protect and augment India’s water resources.
According to the C.P.R Environmental Education Centre (a centre of excellence of the Ministry of Environment and Forests), India uses only 10-20% of its annual rainfall. Water conservation and rainwater harvesting should be made mandatory just like the Aadhar cards across the country. Rain Water Harvesting can even be incentivized to motivate people to save and conserve water.
For families living in tribal hamlets, rural and urban areas, a house is not just a roof. It is about dignity, an asset to call their own, and an opportunity to achieve strength, stability and self-reliance to build a better future for their families. A decent home signals a transition from a nomadic lifestyle, towards socio-economic progress and development. Affordable housing is foundational in India’s development because it will eliminate barriers to a better, healthier, more financially stable life.
(Rajan Samuel is the Managing Director of NGO Habitat for Humanity India)