Representational Image
Representational Image

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was a time of innocence, a time of confidences. — Simon & Garfunkel, Broken Ends. Fifty years is almost a life-time — it is the life of a person gone by in dreams. That was when the government first promoted the concept of affordable housing. It was a dream first articulated through a slogan Roti, Kapda aur Makan (loosely translated — food, clothing and shelter). Many peopole believed in that slogan. And when a successor government came out with a policy for affordable housing, people thought that their dreams were finally being given shape. That dream has lingered on even with the government that was ushered into power in 2014. All the governments have betrayed that dream. The time for innocence is possibly over.

The last time the government tried to put a number on the quantum of houses needed in India was in 2012. At that time, the figure was pegged at around 18.78 million (see table). Since then, no government has bothered to address this situation squarely and seriously. Even numbers of houses constructed each year cannot be found. The websites of ministries are only about schemes and promises, about plans and projects. But there are no numbers about achievements. Truth remains one of the biggest casualties. Take some figures that are bandied around. One website blithely puts the figure at around 1.5 million per year. How fanciful!

Another website (http://www.answers.com/Q/How_ many_new_houses_are_built_each_year) is a little more careful. It states, “In 2005 1.6 million housing units where built. This includes single and multifamily units. In 2010 around 330,000 housing units where built…” There are no numbers thereafter. In 2013, the Government of India and National Housing Bank borrowed US $100 million to fund their Low Income Housing Finance project. “The money will be loaned to low income residents who wish to purchase or renovate a home — “India Signs Loan and Project Agreements with World Bank for US $100 Million for Low Income Housing Finance Project” (Press release). Press Information Bureau, Government of India. 15 August 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2014 (https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Housing_in_India).

In fact, but for these rare snippets, there is just no data available. There is no explanation provided. Take for instance, the government’s own “Housing – Statistical Year Book India 2017”. The data given in Table 28.1 for housing ends with data for the year 2011 (http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/statistical_year _book_india_2015/Table-28.1_3.xls). So what were the babus employed for compiling data on housing doing? Surely not collecting salaries for an extended five-year vacation? But talk to experts, and they will tell you that there is no real seriousness when it comes to providing affordable housing. Watch the table alongside. Given India’s population, there are at least 13.57 million more people added to the country’s numbers each year. Divide this number by five (the most optimistic estimate of the average size of household) and you get 2.7 million households which now need to be housed.
It obviously means that unless you can plan for constructing 4 million houses each year, the government will never be able to clear the backlog of 35 million houses (the 2012 shortfall of 18.78 million houses plus an incremental 13.67 houses during the past six years). So why does the government not do it? One argument often given out is that housing is a state subject. But that is a facile argument. When it came to GST, did the government not manage to get the states to sit together and hammer out a solution?

The actual reason appears to be the amount of ill-gotten money that can be made through black-marketing of real estate. Sometimes it is cash, sometimes it is in exchange for a vote bank (read about the real causes for slums — http://www.asiaconverge.com/ 2018/05/citizenship-votebank-northeast-and-work-permits/), and sometimes it is for siphoning out even existing funds allocated for housing. That is where the government and the real estate mafia think alike, and often work in collusion.  In fact, it is surprising that the government has not used affordable housing to consolidate both popularity as well as to provide jobs in a major way. It should remember that this is precisely what Iran did (http://www.asiaconverge.com/2015/11 /housing-lessons-from-iran). It was through sensible affordable housing that Iran gave the youth their dreams, provided employment, and prevented the most terrible fallout from US sanctions. India had a magnificent example before it. It is sad to see how the government muffed it up.

One hopes that the new government that assumes power at the centre will show greater sagacity in finally implementing affordable housing. India needs the jobs. The people need decent housing. And the country needs to start building on its human capital urgently (http://www.asiaconverge.com/2018/10/poor-hci-rankings-and-a-soaring-stockmarket/) .
The sooner, the better. The writer is consulting editor with FPJ.

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