A survey of cityscapes would testify that urban development polices and programmes have not been sufficiently inclusive. The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation concedes that even the City Development Plans funded through the flagship programme Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) have not adequately addressed the concerns of the urban poor, especially the slum dwellers. This, the Ministry believes, has more to do with the lack of reliable data than anything else. As a corrective, it has gone in for an extensive enumeration of the slums in various cities and set up a committee to take another look at the numbers relating to affordable housing. Efforts to improve and update the data are undoubtedly necessary, but to frame the issue entirely as a matter of inaccurate statistics will be to miss the point and deflect responsibility. The Ministry’s progress report shows that of the 14.5 lakh dwelling units sanctioned under JNNURM that are expected to be completed by 2012 only about 1.3 lakh units have been built so far. The Eleventh Five-Year Plan estimates too show the supply of housing units for the poor is inadequate. Such delays cause cost overruns and affect affordability.

Countries such as the United Kingdom that faced similar problems have put in place a range of construction improvement initiatives and process innovations. Since 2005, public sector construction agencies in the U.K. are expected to reduce the pre-construction time leading up to the award of contract by 25 per cent. These measures are estimated to increase the delivery of units four-fold and bring in savings of the order of 10 per cent of the annual construction capital costs. It is time the government agencies in India opted for radically improved construction standards, enhanced technologies, and efficient management practices. Much remains to be done on the policy front too. The government assumes that its directive to reserve 20-25 per cent of developed land in private and public housing project for economically weaker sections would deliver results. However, this provision has been so diluted that it has contributed very little to affordable housing, as evidenced by the ground reality in several cities. The experience in quite a few countries shows that unless such a stipulation is applied to smaller development projects also — not just to the larger ones — the supply of affordable housing will not increase in any significant degree. Without a total overhaul of the housing agencies and their mechanisms of supply at the level of the States, affordable housing will remain a mirage.


An action plan for the future November 19, 2009

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