Housing Laws and Policies In India

Session Report
Srinitya Kuchimanchi

With a specific focus on social, legal and policy issues, a Two Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness & Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, the  LPPYF (Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship) was conducted by IMPRI, Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, from June 12 to August 11, 2023. Covering numerous issues ranging from international provisions, constitutional laws, Housing laws, SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) to gender justice and international human rights, it sought to equip fellows with both the theoretical insights and the technical capabilities required to implement the former with a field research project to enhance their learnings. 

On the 18th day, the first discussion began with opening remarks by Dr. Vibhuti Patel. Professor Vibhuti Patel began the discussion by referencing earlier sessions and presentations that covered a range of topics including social security, Right to Information (RTI), Right to Education (RTE), income support during crises, the challenges faced by women survivors of violence, Goa’s Children’s Act, Uniform Civil Code (UCC), the Juvenile Justice Act, and the roles of administrators, specifically Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, in providing support.

These discussions provided a holistic backdrop for addressing housing laws and policies in India. Dr. Vibhuti Patel then introduced the theme and the speaker, namely ‘Housing Laws and Policies in India’ taken up by Bilal Khan (President, Kamgar Sanrakshan Samman Sangh, Mumbai)

Housing as a Right

Bilal Khan began his presentation by highlighting the fundamental concept that housing is a basic human right. This idea finds its roots in international declarations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. He emphasized that housing is not merely about providing a physical structure; it is essential for facilitating livelihoods and ensuring a dignified life. He went on to discuss the key components that define adequate housing which have been enumerated below. 

  • Security of Tenure: Adequate housing should guarantee a safe and dignified living environment. This involves ensuring that individuals or families are protected from forced eviction and enjoy legal protection of their rights to occupy their homes.
  • Availability of Services: Adequate housing must provide access to essential services, including electricity, water, and sanitation. These services are vital for maintaining a decent quality of life.
  • Affordability: While the concept of affordability is often left undefined in India’s housing policies, it remains a critical factor. Affordable housing should cater to the financial capabilities of diverse income groups, ensuring that housing options are within reach for all.
  • Habitability: Housing should not only be safe but also environmentally sound. It should be located in areas suitable for human habitation, free from environmental hazards.
  • Accessibility: Adequate housing must be accessible not only to sources of livelihood but also to essential services within the city. This includes proximity to public transportation, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and other basic amenities.
  • Cultural Adequacy: Mr. Khan stressed that considerations of local culture and practices must be integrated into the design and planning of housing infrastructure. Housing should align with the cultural norms and preferences of the community it serves.

Current Housing Initiatives

Moving from the conceptual framework of housing as a right, he then highlighted the current housing initiatives in India. He noted that as of today, the focus remains primarily on welfare schemes, with the Housing for All mission launched in 2015 being a noteworthy effort in the same direction. This mission aimed to provide housing for 1.12 crore households by 2022. However, approximately 30-40 lakh units are yet to be completed pointing towards gaps in the implementation of the mission. 

Mr. Khan detailed the four components of the Housing for All scheme including the SRA Model which involves the redevelopment of existing informal settlements, where the slum community is rehoused in high-rise or commercial buildings. Part of the land is utilized for commercial housing, which helps offset the cost of providing housing for the poor. However, a significant number of individuals do not meet the eligibility criteria for these programs, leading to glaring inadequacies in reaching those most in need.

Another component is the promotion of Affordable Housing through Credit-Linked Subsidy which aims to encourage affordable housing through financial incentives. However, it faces challenges due to the absence of a clear and universally accepted definition of “affordability,” leading to uncertainties regarding its effectiveness.

Two other factors also include affordable Housing in Partnership with Public and Private Sector, which involves collaboration with both public and private sectors to enhance the affordability of housing and the subsidy for Beneficiary-Led Individual House Construction Enhancement which is designed for individuals who already own a piece of land with property and seek to upgrade their existing homes. However, the lack of a precise definition of affordability continues to create ambiguity, affecting expectations and outcomes. Moreover, the latter is not applicable to the urban poor, as most of them reside in informal settlements on public land and, thus, do not qualify for this assistance.

Challenges in Addressing the Housing Crisis

Mr. Khan raised important questions about the effectiveness of the Housing for All initiative in truly addressing the housing crisis in India. One of the primary challenges lies in the concept of affordability. Even if defined, there exists a significant segment of the population with no purchasing power, and their needs must be factored into housing policies and initiatives.The SRA model, while it has its merits, disqualifies a significant number of individuals, leaving them vulnerable to eviction and homelessness. The scheme’s eligibility criteria need careful reconsideration to ensure a more inclusive approach.

In addition to these challenges, the limited scope of Slum Improvement Acts presents challenges. These laws are designed to upgrade and improve slum areas but are restricted in their jurisdiction. For example, in Maharashtra, they are only applicable to land owned by the municipal corporation and revenue departments, excluding land under the jurisdiction of entities like the railway, defense, and even forest departments. The objective of these acts is not to provide housing but to rehabilitate specific communities, often using the vacated land for other development projects.

Housing as a Right in India

While the Supreme Court and various high courts, including the Delhi High Court, have recognized housing as a fundamental right, the ground reality often paints a different picture. Housing is frequently treated as a commodity rather than a basic human need. Mr. Khan related that the poor bear the brunt of major development projects with minimal rehabilitation efforts. Those residing in informal settlements face stigmatization, lack of facilities, and the constant threat of demolition.

He emphasized the urgent need for policymakers to be sensitized to the housing needs of the poor. It is crucial to centralize the needs of marginalized communities in the policymaking process to ensure that justice and dignity are extended to all, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

In conclusion, Bilal Khan’s presentation shed light on the critical issue of housing in India. He emphasized that housing is not merely about physical structures; it encompasses a broad spectrum of factors that contribute to a dignified and secure life. While India has made strides in housing initiatives, there are significant challenges, including the need to define affordability, the limitations of existing models, and the exclusion of certain segments of the population.

Acknowledgement: Srinitya Kuchimanchi is a research intern at IMPRI.

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