Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Rural Housing Policy that is missing!!

A roof over the head is a basic right of every human being. For those who do not have one, it is a
dream. Home does not only provide protection, it also has symbolic significance in a person’s life. In addition to security, owning a house adds to the status, dignity and affects the social, physical and psychological well being of a person.

India, with its predominantly rural populace, faces a unique challenge in addressing adequate housing for all. The XIIth five year plan has estimated the current rural housing shortage at 44 million houses, out of which 90 per cent of the rural housing shortage are in the BPL categories. Yet India does not have a Rural Housing Policy!
Mismatch between the availability of housing stock and number of households is one aspect of housing inadequacy. The other aspect relates to the mismatch between the desired and actual quality. Kuchcha or semi –pucca house with thatched roofs, mud walls, no cooking space and poor ventilation describe the living conditions of a poor man. According to the National Family Health Survey (2000), only 19% of the rural population lives in pucca houses, while the remaining live in kaccha and semi-pucca houses. Poor living conditions have direct bearing on the health of the rural poor.
The Housing Policy of 1998 which is supposed to address the housing needs of both the rural and the urban population has shown considerable bias towards the urban needs.  It is futile to challenge the fact that the needs, aspirations and demography of the urban and the rural are dissimilar.  To ensure parity in development, the housing needs of the rural areas have to be addressed separately which is possible only when India has an exclusive Rural Housing Policy.
Government initiative in rural housing has been through the subsidy based Indira Awas Yojna Scheme (IAY) and similar other schemes. There are also state wise housing schemes targeted to different target groups like the SCs, STs and BPL families, such as, Jharkhand Government’s Birsa Awaas Yojana and Siddho-Kanu Awas Yojna, Rajasthan’s Mukhya Mantri Gramin BPL Awaas Yojana, Tamil Nadu’s Kaliagnar Housing Scheme and two schemes in Karnataka namely Basava Vasathi Yojana and Ambedkar Housing Scheme, to name a few.
All these housing schemes vary in terms of the target audience, implementing agencies, funding opportunities and unit cost of the house. However the participation of all the States has not been equal. In some cases, States do not have separate State level agencies for taking up the Rural Housing Programmes, in other cases, funds taken from HUDCO are passed on as loans to beneficiaries but the cost is ultimately borne on the budget as the recovery rate is very poor.   Similarly the IAY scheme which has been beneficial in several ways, have many shortcomings like inadequacy of space, unit cost, selection of beneficiaries, ownership issues, lack of people’s and other stakeholders participation. Building the capacity of beneficiaries to build their house and enabling them to construct disaster resistant houses have been ignored under the IAY.  The housing programmes have loopholes and have not been able to achieve its targets to reduce the gap between the demand and supply of housing units.
Apart from the physical structure of a house, what people also require are – electricity, sewage system, toilets and safe drinking water. Thus there is a need to have a comprehensive Rural Housing Policy that would address the shortage of dwelling units along with the bleak habitat conditions of rural India by providing decent and affordable housing to the rural poor, linking Housing Finance Institutions and Micro Finance Institutions with the housing programmes, reorganising delivery mechanisms and bringing legal reforms to facilitate access to land titles for the poor. The Policy should focus on strengthening the capacities of the people living in rural areas and ensure that the Panchayats are successfully engaged in implementing the housing schemes. In addition, the housing policy should promote the development of micro enterprises that would open employment opportunities for villagers. The Rural Housing Policy should not only meet the demand of dwelling units but also make sure that these dwelling units are of live-able quality and resistant to nature’s susceptibility. Promotion of locally available environment friendly construction materials and technology should also be an integral part of the Policy.
Investment in rural housing will have a high multiplier effect on income and employment of the rural people, therefore reinforce Government’s strategy towards inclusive economic growth. It is estimated that overall employment generation in the economy due to additional investment in the housing/construction is eight times the direct employment. (IIM-Ahmedabad Study, 2000)
As rightly said by Mahatma Gandhi “India lives in her villages” and “If the village perishes India will perish too”, therefore only an integrated Rural Housing Policy can achieve desired results in building India of our dreams.

Abhishikta Roy

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