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HOUSING FOR ALL BY 2022

- Swaran Paul Arakal | Legal Trainee | T&E Q6

“Property is surely a right of Mankind, as real as Liberty”

-John Adams, 2nd President of the United States of America

Introduction:

The Government of India in June 2015, approved an ambitious initiative, through which it targets to provide affordable housing by building 2 crore (20 million) affordable houses by 31 March 2022 for the urban poor. This initiative, named as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna aims to cover the entire urban area comprising of 4041 statutory towns with the preliminary focus being on 500 Class I cities, which will then be expanded in three phases as follows:[1]

1) Phase-I (April 2015 – March 2017) to cover 100 Cities to be selected from States/UTs as per their willingness;

2) Phase – II (April 2017 – March 2019) to cover additional 200 Cities and

3) Phase-III (April 2019 – March 2022) to cover all other remaining Cities.

This initiative was questioned and has attracted several criticisms from various quarters for being an unimaginative and poorly thought-through plan that is unlikely to deliver worthwhile results. In light of some of these questions and criticisms, this article presents the case, through the lens of India being a Welfare State, about how solving the housing problem can advance broader economic development agenda.

Judicial View on Housing Rights:

After Independence, when the Constitution was drafted, Right to Property was included in Article 19(1)(f), and therefore was a fundamental right. However, this high pedestal turned out to be a roadblock on several instances to the Government, because the provisions made it tedious for the Government to move forward with its socialist agenda of land reforms and other schemes.

Subsequently in the year 1978, the 44th Amendment to the Constitution of India was passed. As a result, Article 19(1)(f) was deleted from the Constitution. However, it found another place as it was shifted to Chapter IV of Part XII, in the form of Article 300A thereby making it only a constitutional right. Article 300A now reads as follows: No person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law.

On various occasions the courts when adjudicating upon the right to housing of a citizen, judges have often stressed the ‘indivisibility of human rights’ thereby also recognizing several other ancillary rights such as Right to Food, Clean Water etc. In Ajay Maken v. Union of India (2015),[2] the High Court of Delhi held that:

“…The right to housing is a bundle of rights not limited to a bare shelter over one’s head. It includes the right to livelihood, right to health, right to education and right to food, including the right to clean drinking water, sewerage and transport facilities.”

The above stand of the Delhi High Court is in line with the views of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing and the General Comments of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, wherein it was elaborated that Adequate housing is not merely the provision of shelter in the form of four walls and a roof but also includes fundamental elements necessary for individuals, groups, and communities to live adequately, and with peace, safety, security, and dignity.[3] Therefore, the human right to adequate housing is also intrinsically linked to a variety of other rights, which include those that are required for the fulfillment and maintenance of an adequate standard of living. This again finds its foundation in Article 11.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), which declares that:

“…The State Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing.”

It is also significant to note, that in a judgment preceding Ajay Maken Case, in the year 1997, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has in fact directed the State to construct affordable houses for the poor in the case of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan and Ors,[4] by stating that, “the State has the constitutional duty to provide shelter to make right to life impactful”.

Subsequently, going a step further in the year 2010, in another landmark judgment passed by the High Court of Delhi, the Hon’ble Court, “recognized the right to housing for all, including pavement and settlement-dwellers, and also gave procedural directions for its implementation which, in the absence of statutory provisions, could be used as precedent in similar cases”, in Sudama Singh v. Government of Delhi.[5]

Therefore, considering the aforementioned judgments, it is safe to say that the judiciary does not view low-income urban residents as “encroachers” or “trespassers,” thereby giving primacy to the jurisprudence on the right to adequate housing, by not ignoring the positive duties of the state to ensure inclusive urban planning and provide affordable housing for all.

Need for promotion of Housing in India and its relation to the Economy:

In addition to above mentioned aspects, let us delve into the Economic aspects and wider issues surrounding housing and the need for its promotion. Lack of housing options or the shortage of the same, has the potential to destabilize an economy. A short supply of housing can restrict economic growth because it tends to block the labor market mobility, which in turn can increase cost of running a business and also worsen inequality. Therefore, unless the State includes the existing lower income urban residents living in informal dwellings in their growth plans, economic inclusion will not be a direct byproduct of economic growth of the State.

Currently contributing about 6-7% to the GDP of the country and with the potential to contribute to about 13% by the year 2025, it can be safe to say that housing markets and housing construction will serve as an engine of growth.[6] It is noteworthy that constructing mass housing has never been a feature of economic growth strategies, regardless this sector has made a sizeable contribution to the GDP of the country. Housing construction also has the potential of creating employment in urban economies of our country, specifically the unskilled labour.

The amount of employment generated by investment poured into housing in comparison to sectors however should not be the only focal issue. This is because the housing considerations of an employee is a factor, which also weighs heavily in a while any decision to relocate or expand is taken by a Business or an Employer. Therefore, the presence of a good housing system near or on the periphery of urban areas can attract businesses because of their relative affordability and when enhanced, their quality. Also, skilled workers when migrating from another place, are also concerned with housing standards, and will naturally be attracted by the presence of a good housing system.

In India, home is used not only as a place to live for the low-and middle-income settlements, but also has the potential to be a source of income through rental arrangements etc. Also, wealth is transferred to future generations through inheritance, aiding them in exploring and financing other investment avenues and shoring up money that would otherwise have been spent on housing again.

One of the key advantages of the Real Estate sector is that it is majorly a domestic sector, and as such is not heavily influenced by external factors. Therefore, it can be helpful too to achieve short and long-term objectives to boost the economy. It is not just a shelter or a place to live but instead an opportunity that must be taken seriously in our economy in light of its economic significance as discussed above.

The key to furtherance of other programs of National Interest:

Housing is a basic human need, and still 35.2% of India’s population lives in slums.[7] More than 50% of the population has no access to clean drinking water and resultantly close to 2 Lakh people die every year.[8] It has also been reported that 41 million urban dwellers practice open-defecation.[9] Often the poor, from the rural areas migrate to the urban areas in search of livelihoods, but the truth is urban poverty can be as devastating as the rural poverty they tried to overcome, if not more.

The poverty-stricken population of India, whether in an urban or rural set-up have short life expectancy and high rates of child mortality.[10] It can be safely said that the preventive strategies are more far-reaching and more cost-effective than curative strategies with diseases of poverty like dengue, polio etc. Also, in light of the recent Pandemic, we witnessed how strenuous and nearly impossible it can be for the government health to reach every nook and corner of the slums and other informal households. A proper home and a safer community to live in, always will offer better prospects for prevention, cure and care for many of these diseases. Also, the population movement, from rural to urban areas in low-income areas tends to bring people closer to formal medical care. A poor living in an urban area is much more likely to receive better preventive and curative care than a person living in a rural area. Also, the regularity of natural disasters in certain regions that are prone to cyclonic storms and seasonal flooding, mandates that housing solutions need to have better standards to protect lives and homes from future natural disasters. Therefore, investment in housing could play a pivotal role in development. Moreover, several schemes launched by the government in the recent 5-7 years could be better achieved and future programs can be better targeted, with a proper housing system in place.

Authors Opinion:

“Salus Populi Suprema Lex”

The above-referred maxim means that welfare of the people is the paramount law. Save Article 300A of the Constitution of India, India does not have an explicit law that solely and explicitly deals with and safeguards the basic human right to adequate housing. There exist Laws that deal with land acquisition, land revenue, tenancy etc. But they govern over the rights of home and land-buyers. Then there are multiple municipal laws to “clear slums, encroachers and squatters” to divide and keep clear city spaces. There are also provisions to govern property and real estate development, but nothing in order to respect, protect, and fulfil the right to adequate housing as a basic human right.

Several International laws, which India has ratified and formally recognized guarantees the right to housing as a basic human right. It is, therefore, binding on the Government of India to implement its international legal obligations by ensuring that its welfare schemes and housing-related interventions are grounded in, and reflect the ‘human right to adequate housing’ framework, and it can safely be said that the Ambitious Plan of Housing for All by 2022 is a byproduct of that vision.

In addition to the social benefits several international institutions such as the World Bank, which initially opposed investment in housing, have had a shift in their stance and have now become strong advocates of using housing as an economic development tool. Therefore, housing can no longer be viewed as just another element in economic development strategies and must be viewed beyond its social and welfare considerations and as a part of economic developmental strategies.

Conclusion:

The important function played by housing in driving economic growth, transforming the quality of life and safeguarding basic human rights should not be viewed as distinct roles to be governed by distinct policy agendas. The present Government’s ambitious “Housing For All” vision surely is a step in that direction and can be a significant opportunity to adopt this approach. If the problem of housing is continued to be neglected and viewed as an unproductive investment and a waste of resources, we run the risk of missing another golden opportunity of tapping into the potential of housing as a significant contributor to economic development. Therefore, unless a concerted response is engineered to improve policies for housing, our economy runs the risk of not reaching its true potential, but instead will only lead to compounding of several environmental and health hazards that may have to be tackled.

Housing the currently vast population deprived of a formal housing setup, is just one piece of the economic development conundrum faced by our country, but on its successful resolution and maintenance, there are several ancillary factors that would have an effect on the way the country's policy is shaped. An adequate housing policy will not only further in the fulfillment of the duties of the State towards its citizens by virtue of being a Welfare State, but it will also have a significant ripple effect on the National Policies aimed at alleviating them and therefore should always be looked at in the context of not only its social benefits but also the economic benefits.

[1] HOUSING FOR ALL, Scheme Guidelines (2015) by Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (Government of India) available at https://pmaymis.gov.in/PDF/HFA_Guidelines/hfa_Guidelines.pdf (last visited 28/05/2021.

[2] W.P. (C) 11616/2015, High Court of Delhi.

[3] THE RIGHT TO ADEQUATE HOUSING (Fact Sheet No. 21/Rev. 1), by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights available at https://www.ohchr.org/documents/publications/fs21_rev_1_housing_en.pdf (last visited 28/05/2021).

[4] (1997) 11 SCC 121.

[5] 168 (2010) DLT 218.

[6] Krish Raveshia, 2021 Outlook: Is It Wise to Invest In Indian Real Estate Market In 2021?, THE BUSINESS TODAY (January 3, 2021) available at https://www.businesstoday.in/opinion/columns/2021-outlook-is-it-wise-to-invest-in-indian-real-estate-market-in-2021/story/426808.html (last visited 28/05/2021).

[7] World Bank Collection of Development Indicators available at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.POP.SLUM.UR.ZS?locations=IN (last visited 29/05/2021).

[8] Manas Ranjan Hota, India’s water crisis: Is there a solution?, THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS (September 23, 2020) available at https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/science/indias-water-crisis-is-there-a-solution/2089860/ (last visited 29/05/2021).

[9] World Bank Collection of Development Indicators available at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.BASS.ZS?locations=IN (last visited 29/05/2021).

[10] Asaria M, Mazumdar S, Chowdhury S, et al. Socioeconomic inequality in life expectancy in India, BMJ GLOBAL HEALTH available at https://gh.bmj.com/content/bmjgh/4/3/e001445.full.pdf (last visited 29/05/2021)

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