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Govt of India 'failure': 39% urban houses for poor vacant; quality, distance main issues

By Rajiv Shah

A new report on a Government of India scheme meant for housing to the poor, floated in May 2020 following the massive migrants crisis that gripped the country, has said that 39% of the 93,295 units in the 52 existing projects for providing cheap rental housing, surveyed in India’s 11 cities, are vacant. Called Affordable Rental Housing Complex (ARHC) scheme, meant to provide “formal, affordable and well-located housing to urban poor and migrant workers’ communities”, it was announced as part of the Rs 20 lakh crore Atmanirbhar Bharat relief package by the Modi government.
The report, “Workers’ Housing Needs and the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHC) Scheme”, authored by Mukta Naik, Swastik Harish and Shweta (Tambe) Damle, and based on surveys carried out by researchers of the Centre for Policy Research, the Working People’s Charter and the Indian Institute of Human Settlements in Hyderabad, Indore, Bhopal, Mumbai, Nagpur, Nashik, Delhi, Ghaziabad, Guwahati, Mysore, and Bangalore.
Under the ARHC scheme, existing vacant housing under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), including Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) and Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme (IHSDP) would be “allowed to be repurposed for ARHCs.”
The communities represented in the survey seeking these houses belong overwhelmingly to vulnerable groups -- SC, ST or Muslim households. And within these communities, the report says, “There is a significant presence of Women-headed Households (WHH) and Transgender-headed Households (THH), that are often even more vulnerable.”
About 21% and 47% households surveyed identified themselves as short- and long-term migrants respectively, and 32% as permanent residents. Those surveyed worked as street vendors, waste pickers, daily wage labour (including in the construction industry, transportation services, such as cycle-rickshaw, auto-rickshaw and e-rickshaw operators), safai karamcharis (cleaning and sanitation services), domestic work and home-based work.
Many of them living in slums, they refused to take advantage of the ARHC scheme because of the failure to furnish identity documents to meet “state-specific eligibility criteria in order to be part of beneficiary lists.” According the report, about 12% of the units are vacant because this issue.
The report further says, “About 19% of the vacancy is attributed to court orders and rulings”, one of the most important ones being the vacant units at Mahul in Mumbai, where the Bombay High Court has asked the State government to stop rehabilitation of project affected persons and shift the existing residents to alternative safer accommodation. “This order was passed on account of evidence that the housing was of poor quality and the area dangerously polluted”, the report adds.
According to the report, 38% of the units remain vacant because “allottees are not willing to move into these houses”, pointing out, the hesitation to move to public housing is “linked with construction quality and access to basic services at the level of the housing project.”
The report says, “A mapping of the projects tells us that many surveyed projects, that remain vacant are indeed located at the periphery of cities.” It explains, “This partly explains why even projects built a decade or more ago remain vacant. For example, in Delhi, the surveyed projects are 18-25 km away from the New Delhi railway station. In Bhopal, they are about 10 kms away. In Mysore and Indore, too, it is clear from the maps that the projects are quite far from the city centre.”
Pointing out that nearly one third of the projects do not have any access to public transport, the report points out, of those households who have not opted for the scheme, nearly 85% currently travel “less than 5 km to commute to their workplace.”
Then, says the report, “Construction quality is a serious issue in public housing projects. About 39% of the units are poorly constructed and another 37% have issues related to breakage and seepage. In terms of architectural design, while about 66% of the surveyed units reported that all rooms in the unit receive adequate natural lighting, 35% of the units reported only a 10 feet distance from the adjacent building.
Further, while about 92%, of the units have access to adequate piped supply of water, the situation, the report says, “is not so rosy with sewerage and solid waste management. While 69% have piped sewerage with a functional treatment plant, 22% have no functional sewerage at all and open dumping is reported as the current practice.”
“Similarly”, the report says, “34% and 30% units experienced regular and irregular collection of solid waste by the municipality respectively; while 18% had no functional municipal system and a private fee-based system instead.” Further, “A little less than half of the sample experiences frequent drainage and flooding issues and another 23% experience drainage failures occasionally.”
Then, says the report, “About 15% of the units cannot be accessed by a fire truck, either because of narrow access roads or because of obstructions and blockages on access roads. Nearly half the sample report little or no access to parks, open playgrounds, and public spaces. Moreover, the majority of households depend on small shops and are impacted by the absence of markets in the vicinity of the project.”
The report regrets, “The guidelines do not reflect a granular understanding of links between migration and urban poverty, and do not have explicit provisions to ensure the coverage of vulnerable migrant populations.” It adds, “These concerns are exacerbated because the ARHC envisages a private sector player, the concessionaire, as the key actor involved in refurbishing, allocating and maintaining rental housing units.”
According to the report, “The incentives for the concessionaire are clearly the expectation of retrieving investments and turning profit in a 25 year period. How will concessionaires address the trade-offs between vulnerability and affordability in a profit-oriented delivery model? This is unclear and unaddressed at this time.”

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