Minimising the housing divide

Notwithstanding growing disparities of material status in India, there is a framework to mitigate the country’s socioeconomic problems and create a common development platform for rural and urban areas. This is called the Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas (PURA). The realisation of PURA’s transformative potential depends on public policies that recognise that its design goes beyond the mere creation of economic infrastructure and employment opportunities in rural areas. It also aims to develop social infrastructure.

Market interventions

To further this paradigm, access to good housing, including housing amenities, should become a priority. Unfortunately, housing in rural areas is one sector that has consistently suffered from the lack of meaningful market interventions, including supply of developed land and financing for housing. This is not to say that India never pursued effective poverty alleviation measures, but that the interventions it carried out have hardly worked in minimising urban-rural divides. Due to incompatibilities in supply and demand, millions of Indians dwell in unsecured housing. This was largely driven by shortages in the supply of housing and a lack of redevelopment of collapsible or dilapidated units.

Officially, the incidence of this form of housing-related poverty is in the order of 25.85 million (82% in rural areas and 18% in urban). Menial occupation workers and low-income earners have been facing these forms of poverty the most. Thus, development interventions must focus on rural and urban areas with due consideration for new construction and redevelopment of existing, life-threatening units.

Dilapidated units have contributed towards a high level of housing amenities deprivation, especially because they cannot safely be connected with electricity or solar energy, latrines, and drinking water, owing to associated structural risks. This scenario has resulted in multiple deprivations of 45% of rural families without electricity, biogas and LPG; over 69% without household latrines; and over 82% of families without treated water for drinking at household levels. Thus, the composite deprivation is in the order of over 58%. However, the regional picture depicts two contrasting scenarios of lower and higher levels, respectively, in 19 and nine independent States. The lower range of deprivations is at 20.68-52.65% and higher range at 60.19-74.81%. These results only speak to the priority in the political agenda, the exhibition of political will, and the economics of resource allocation in the administration of anti-poverty policies. In such a scenario there have been higher rates of internal migration both due to dissatisfaction with housing arrangements and the prospect of better housing elsewhere.

The way forward

If India is to have a real chance to minimise the housing development divide, it requires an integrated housing development strategy for the rural context, to be implemented in “mission mode”. Such a mission should have, first, a definite time frame. Second, it requires political will as expressed in party election manifestos. There must also be accountability in terms of implementing such a mission agenda on a continuous basis, with social audits at multiple levels of governance. Third, a realistic resource allocation is required given the cost of redevelopment and new housing units besides other development costs of drinking water supply, household latrines, energy, and drainage connectivity. Fourth, penetration of the market, including the cooperative sector for the supply of critical inputs such as land and finances, is the need of the hour. Public-private-partnership projects should be encouraged on public or government-owned lands, with fiscal and other incentives. Land owners should be encouraged to develop incentive-based affordable housing projects. Last, the people facing housing poverty must be made partners. Micro finance and self-help groups could be roped in to this end.

M. Mahadeva was with the Research Faculty of Economics at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 2:37:48 AM |

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