Urbanization should solve the problems of urban housing too

Urbanization should solve the problems of urban housing too

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As formal housing options become increasingly inaccessible to the poor and middle classes, the urban housing situation will deteriorate further. India is, therefore, heading towards a housing crisis of huge proportions

Urbanization in India is picking up pace and at this rate nearly half the population will be shifted to cities and towns in next 10-15 years. This is not India specific phenomenon and world over urbanization is happening rapidly.

Urbanization is a double-edged weapon – it has both good and adverse implications. Therefore, urban planners need to balance out economics and equity judiciously and take into account the requirements all the sections of the society.

It’s inevitable that in cities both rich and the poor have to co-exist. While rich has the wealth to create jobs, poor has to provide labour needed to make enterprise successful. Though this is an ideal situation but we rarely see it happening in reality. Though a city will not be able to survive without the services of the poor often its setup does not consider their needs. A city becomes truly livable when it aims to serve all sections of the population.

One of the biggest problems faced in cities is that of mushrooming slums. It’s not that people love to live in slums but they do so as they have no other choices. Efforts to rehabilitate slum dwellers has met with limited success. On many occasions failure is due to lack of knowledge about the ground reality by the planners. One of the most important factors a slum dweller will consider while choosing a place to live in is the proximity to work place. Therefore, a slum dweller who lived in slum in the central of the city would rarely agree to be shifted to outside the city even if he is given free ‘pucca’ house. Even if they accept the free ‘gift’, they may sell it or give it to relatives and return to their original places. Therefore, almost all the plans of the government to remove slums have met with little success. Indeed, land allotment is key to improving urban designing. This, in turn, will have the potential to address the complexities of urban poverty and generate more opportunities for the urban poor.

Good health, education, safety, privacy, human dignity, access to basic services, credit and opportunities for mobility – all these factors have their origins in good and adequate housing. Meanwhile it’s also true that large percentage of the urban population cannot afford adequate housing. Prohibitive land and construction costs, lack of transparency in dealings, high maintenance cost, lack of and high cost of amenities like transportation, schooling, sanitation, market, etc., make houses unaffordable for the urban poor and the lower middle classes.  Thus, most of the housing stock getting created is informal, which is sub-standard and adversely affects the urban society. Nearly 25% of the Indian population lives in slums.

As formal housing options become increasingly inaccessible to the poor and middle classes, the urban housing situation will deteriorate further. India is, therefore, heading towards a housing crisis of huge proportions.

No doubt, in order to proactively address the housing requirement of eligible urban households including slum dwellers, the Government of India through the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) had launched the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Urban (PMAY-U) Mission on June 25, 2015 to assist States/ UTs both financially and technically. The “In-situ” Slum Redevelopment (ISSR) component under PMAY-U Mission mandates use of land as a resource for providing houses to slum dwellers across the country. This approach aims to leverage the locked potential of land under slums to provide houses to the eligible slum dwellers by bringing them into the formal urban settlement. Though the PMAY-U is moving ahead fast, we haven’t heard much success stories in slum rehabilitation programmes. Therefore, the government need to do introspection about the programme and remove the lacunae in the policies immediately.

Historically, violence and upheaval are more common in cities than in the countryside. Frustrations that fester among the urban poor are readily exploited by political extremists. If cities do not begin to deal more constructively with housing problems and poverty, those problems may begin to deal more destructively with cities. Therefore, we need to tackle these problems more systematically, pragmatically and urgently too.