HOUSING RIGHTS

 

I. Overemphasising the economic function of the city:
During the last one decade there has been an over emphasis on the ‘city’ as constituting only as a site of economic production. Most of the policy narratives view city as where the Gross domestic product is being produced and consumed. Cities are being seen as engines of growth and linked with the economic trajectory of the country. This has an implication on housing as city is a place of habitation, which does not get emphasised in the policy as well as the narrative of market actors. Housing cannot be imagined or realised without engaging with the discourse of the city and its development trajectory.

 

The cities are being transformed into exclusionary enclaves with no physical and mental space for the housing concerns of the poor. More and more, cities are becoming less and less accommodative; particularly towards the poor’s housing and livelihoods.

 

 

II. Land as commons or a commodity:
The question of housing is integrally linked with the question of land in urban areas. Over years, Indian cities have seen concentration of land in the hands of fewer and fewer actors. In the past it was with individuals or families, then over a period of time government emerged as the biggest landlord and in the present times it is real estate developers and financial institutions that are engaging in speculating and profiteering from land. Due to this change in dynamics of land, it is no longer viewed as for the use of housing for the urban poor. Even where ever there is some land under possession of the poor, it is being taken away under the pretext of development projects or rehabilitation schemes.

 

Housing for poor can only be realized if land as a resource is seen from the point of being a common and not a commodity. Otherwise the agenda and objective of profiteering takes over the social objectives of land. Presently the housing schemes and missions talk about provisioning of housing to the urban poor without giving a thought to the land question and the existing policy discourse around land is not very encouraging in regard to needs and concerns of the urban poor.

 

Many of state initiatives (Maharashtra and Gujarat) treat land as a resource that can be used while providing for housing of the poor. Under this model, land is being used as a leverage to mobilise finances to cross-subsidize the housing of the poor. The moment land is conceptualised as a commodity, even with for the purpose of being used for the poor; its nature changes and the objective of profiteering subdues the stated objectives.

 

 

III. Housing as a need or a commodity:
Around housing there exist three discourses. The first discourse is one that conceptualises house as a fundamental need and also a prime responsibility of the state regarding its provisioning. The treatment given to housing in this discourse is that of a public good. The second discourse treats housing like any other commodity that is available in market and thus an opportunity of profiteering and meant for only those who have the means to own it. Votaries of this discourse are of the view that the role of the state is to facilitate and provide for an enabling environment for the market forces in the process of commoditization of housing. The third discourse is the one that tries to take a middle path between the first two approaches by professing that housing as a commodity should be produced and consumed in such a way that it is affordable and accessible. This approach does not challenge the market fundamentalism rather follows the path of ‘making market work for the poor’.

 

The first discourse was shelved off long back in the eighties due to the emergence of market fundamentalism in the overall economic approaches to society. Presently most of the policy narratives revolve around the second and the third discourse which justify housing as a commodity and delink it from its social character.

 

 

IV. Labelling dwelling as an encroachment:
Another unfortunate shift in the discourse around housing is that, the dwelling of the poor is being looked and dealt through the narrow lens of law with which house is converted into a procedural object. This perspective around housing has been an import mostly by number of judicial pronouncements in the last few years which have been for the consumption of the burgeoning new middle class and media. This discourse does not take into account the harsh reality faced by the urban poor while they have to live in a slum, rather considers it to be a privilege as they while staying as ‘encroachers’ are staying for free, utilizing services like water and electricity for free. Further, the poor do not want proper and formal housing as it does take away the privilege of free amenities from them, is the argument and thus we get to hear the stories of poor ‘selling’ out the dwelling units that have been allotted to them under various government housing schemes.

 

In such a context, talking about right to housing is viewed and labelled as talking about ‘encroachers’; is seen to be a question of law and public order and also an ethical question, since according to votaries of such an approach, this would lead to collapse of the modern society.

 

 

V. How to conceptualize house: space to live in, space to live on or both?
The policy conceptualization and treatment of housing has been myopic and distorts the reality since it looks at housing as an exclusive space of residence. The town planning laws as well as the building bye laws follow the fixed land use systems. While the reality of housing of urban poor is the intersection of space that is used for staying as well as work. For the land has not fixed use rather it has mixed use value that too which develops over period of time and according to needs. The experience of house as a space and its use is a dynamic process. The place of stay functions as place of work and at times the place of work doubles as place of stay also.

 

The building bye laws as well as the housing schemes that result in creation of housing stock do not acknowledge this fact. The result being that the housing interventions rupture the interconnections between work and stay, due to which most of such interventions fail or are not able to make meaning to the lives of those for whom they are meant to be.

 

 

VI. House as a process or as a product:
In regard to housing of urban poor, one thing to be noted is that for them housing does not comes as a product or as an event but it comes as a process. When I say that what i mean is, for the urban poor house is one of the interface through which they interact with the larger spatial complex i.e the city. The day they arrive in the city, the prime concern is not to find a ‘house’ rather it is to find some shelter or a roof over their head which can also mean adjusting with some acquaintance also. As the person is able to stretch and has been able to establish some foothold over the city that the shelter starts translating into housing. At times, this process takes on years and during one’s life time this may even remain an unfinished project. Housing never comes as a final product or as a spectacular event. Housing as such is a process of increments which are in symbiotic relationship with the dweller’s trajectory in the city. Housing is something that allows people to do many other things.

 

Unfortunately the present housing interventions see housing as a product, totalling missing out on the process aspect to it and due to which either they fail or are not able to make meaning for those for whom they are meant.

 

 

VII. Housing or a Dwelling unit:
Although the central government especially the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and most of the state governments through their respective departments have been carrying out number of programmes, schemes and projects that claim for provisioning of housing. The fact remains that the end product of these initiatives is, at best a dwelling unit which is characterized by specifications like so and so square feet, a room and an alcove, a balcony etc. In this framework housing just remains built up area.

 

 

VIII. Judicial Impediments/ Betrayal by the Judiciary:
While many judgements have upheld the right to housing and have expanded the constitutional right to life to encompass right to housing, there have been some rulings in the recent pass, which have disregarded the basic right to housing and shelter that has been interpreted to be a crucial part of an individual’s right to life.

 

In Chameli Singh and others v State of Uttar Pradesh the Supreme Court stated, “Right to shelter when used as an essential requisite to the right to live should be deemed to have been guaranteed as a fundamental right . . . Want of decent residence, . . . frustrates the very object of the constitutional animation of right to equality, economic justice, fundamental right to residence, dignity of person and right to live itself.”

 

Supreme Court in Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan said that “the right to residence and settlement is an illusion to the rural and urban poor” and “though no person has a right to encroach and erect structures or otherwise on footpaths, pavements or public streets…, the State has the constitutional duty to provide adequate facilities and opportunities by distributing its wealth and resources for settlement of life and erection of shelter over their heads to make the right to life meaningful”

 

In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) judgement expanded the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution to include within its scope, the right to livelihood, which in this context translated into the right to be allowed to remain on the pavements. The Supreme Court held that “an equally important facet of the right to life is the right to livelihood because no person can live without the means of livelihood. If the right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the constitutional right to life, the easiest way of depriving a person of his right to life would be to deprive him of his means of livelihood to the point of abrogation”.
 

Over period of time there has been a marked regression in the area of the right to shelter, compounded by the bringing of PIL cases to the courts by other classes of residents seeking eviction of slum dwellers as part of the protection and enforcement of the their rights to the city.

 

In the year 2000 in the infamous Almitra Patel case Supreme Court (Js BN Kirpal) held that “rewarding an encroacher on public land with free alternative site is like giving a reward to a pickpocket”.

 

In a judgment by Bombay High Court bench(Js Rebello and Js Chandrachud, 2006) the judges held that “those who pay their taxes also have a right to life, including living in a clean environment and with proper infrastructural needs. Their rights cannot be defeated merely on the pretext of housing those who continuously continue to occupy public and private lands for residence…the state which has a constitutional duty to protect all the citizens cannot wear the mantle of robin hood, by depriving the tax payer of his right by protecting and rewarding law breakers”.

 

 

IX. Housing as a Strategy for Displacement or Relocation:
In the present scenario, housing and its provisioning is being employed as a strategy. The strategy to displace or relocate people. Most of the rehabilitation projects whether under central government sponsored or state government projects are put forth as housing projects but the real objective is to displace the urban poor from the desired spaces and to relocate them on the peripheries. In many of the cities where housing stock has been generated under central government sponsored schemes, the number of houses that have been constructed is much more than the initial requirement. Meaning that according to the local authorities, now they have a ‘surplus housing stock’, due to which now projects are being conceptualized and formulated that will create ‘people in need of housing’ and thus they will be allotted such houses that have been already constructed. Few examples of such cities are Mumbai, Surat, Indore, Raipur.

 

Housing has been a strategy of the working class to establish their foothold in the same, but the same is being used against them and one of the recent tactics of the state has been the construct of ‘homeless’ and night shelters as an intervention. Under this intervention, the houseless have been presented as to be homeless and their right to housing is being taken away by presenting night shelters as the solution which dilutes their foothold in the city.

 

 

Rights

The right to adequate housing has been widely recognized and accepted as a pat of the right to life by international community as well as in India. Despite having ensconced the right to housing as a part of the larger right to human dignity, right to equality, social and economic rights, the basic provisions, which form the spirit of right to housing are blatantly violated all across the country. The objective of the initiative is to monitor and stop illegal/ forced evictions and network with other organizations to evolve a joint action campaign ensuring ‘right to Housing’ is at forefront.

 

 

 

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

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