Calling for a national housing law that is based on national and international human right commitments, Leilani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, has asked for a moratorium on forced evictions and demolitions in India.
Commenting on the frequency of forced evictions in India, a country that has the largest number of urban poor and landless people in the world, the Special Rapporteur said that the practice is sought to be justified by citing the economic development agenda of the government. Moreover, both the Central and state governments fail to collate any kinds of data on the number of households evicted each year even as estimates by civil society groups show that the as many as 2.50 lakh people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in urban areas between 2010 and 2015. “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,” said Farha.
Talking about the policy blindness towards homelessness, she spoke about how even the recently launched Central government’s ‘Housing for All’ Scheme excludes such populations from its purview. “There is no national law, policy or programme in place to ensure homeless people have access to medium and long-term housing options,” she said adding that homelessness should be addressed with a view to eliminating it by 2030 in keeping with of targets underlined in the Sustainable Development Goals.
About 13.75 million urban households i.e. 65 to 70 million people live in informal settlements as per 2011 census. Cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata account for more than 50 per cent of total slum households. However, according to the Special Rapporteur, the 2011 census, which pegs the homeless population at 1.8 million is a gross under-estimate as researchers have said that the numbers are over 3 million people. In addition to identifying and addressing the structural causes of homelessness, she said that Central and state governments should collate disaggregated of the persons who are evicted by age, gender, disability, caste and religion.
She added that between 2010 and 2015, India’s urban population has grown at a steady 2.4 per cent annually even as the rural average has been only 0.7 per cent annually. This points towards a trend of migration and forced displacement to urban and peri-urban centres. With an estimated real GDP growth rate at over 7.3 per cent for 2016 which is predicted to grow at a similar rate over the next decade, Farha said that India has the economic capacity to ensure the right to adequate housing to its most marginalised and vulnerable groups.
Following her visit to cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru over the last ten days, she termed the living conditions of the slum residents and homeless are “inhumane”, and “an affront to human dignity”. The Special Rapporteur also called for enactment of a legislation to curb all forms of discrimination with regards to the provision of housing in India, both on rental or ownership basis, on grounds such as religion, ethnicity, gender, caste or class.
Right to adequate housing: Crucial facts
* The average size of household in India is estimated at 5 members, with variations between rural and urban settings.
* Mortality rates are 6 or 7 times higher among homeless populations as compared to others.
* 13% of rural households live in ‘kaccha’ houses which are one-room makeshift dwellings with no ventilation or sanitation facilities
* The shortage of rural housing is 40 per cent.
* 90% rural households that are in need of housing are below poverty line families.