U.N. expert calls for India to ramp up action to help slum dwellers

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – India’s ambitious target to build 20 million new homes for the nation’s poor is failing slum dwellers and those living on the city’s streets, Leilani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, has warned.

She said India, which has the world’s largest number of urban poor and landless people, is trying to address the “scourge” of inadequate housing through its ‘Housing for all’ policy that vows to provide homes for all families by 2022.

But opponents fear this construction programme focuses too much on driving economic growth with a concentration on new houses rather than the need to upgrade and provide services to existing communities in city slums or living on the streets.

“For every luxury unit created, an untold number of households may be evicted and rendered homeless,” Farha told a conference at the U.N. office in Delhi, calling for a moratorium on evictions and obligations to address homelessness.

“I am extremely concerned for the millions of people who experience exclusion, discrimination, evictions, insecure tenure, homelessness and who lack hope of accessing affordable and adequate housing in their lifetimes.”

Farha made her comments after a two-week tour through India which included visits to Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. During her trip, she spoke to a range of city residents, including the homeless people described as “pavement dwellers”.

An estimated 65 million people, or 13.6 million households, are housed in urban slums, according to the 2011 Indian census which estimated an additional 1.8 million people in India were homeless.

Farha said the Indian government’s push to encourage development of more housing nationally threatened to become what she described as a “a zero-sum game”.

“Its drive to become an economic giant through real estate investment and development of infrastructure is creating homelessness and housing disadvantage,” she said.


A Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation study in 2012 estimated that the urban housing shortage affected some 18.7 million people, with 96 percent of citizens in this group earning an annual income below $3,000.

The ‘Housing for all’ scheme has been cited to potentially boost the country’s economy by 3.5 percent by 2022, according to the Fitch group rating agency, India Ratings.

Farha said India’s ‘Housing for all’ project aims to build 20 million dwellings with toilets, water and electricity by 2022 which would be provided for 100 million low income households.

She said this had a positive impact on residents gaining security of tenure for the first time.

But Farha said the programme did not cover people living on India’s city streets with no national law reform plan, policy or programme to address urban homelessness, which left women particularly vulnerable.

“I met many women who had fled violent households and with few housing options, were left destitute living on the side of a road,” Farha said.

“Women face multiple layers of discrimination with respect to access, control and ownership and inheritance of housing, land and property.”

The Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) says the government’s vision of a slum-free India can succeed only if the focus is on upgrading existing housing for communities rather than constructing new units.

But the Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty, Venkaiah Naidu, said the ‘Housing for all’ programme addresses the shortcomings of earlier schemes and would be more “workable”.

Farha will present a detailed report of her India findings in March 2017 to the U.N. Human Rights Council which appoints independent experts or special rapporteurs to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.

(Reporting by Manipadma Jena, Editing by Paola Totaro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)


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