Housing and Urban Policy in India

The policies of urban development and housing in India have come a long way since 1950s. The pressure of urban population and lack of housing and basic services were very much evident in the early 1950s. In some cities this was compounded by migration of people from Pakistan. However, the general perception of the policy makers was that India is pre-dominantly an agricultural and rural economy and that there are potent dangers of over urbanisation which will lead to the drain of resources from the countryside to feed the cities. The positive aspects of cities as engines of economic growth in the context of national economic policies were not much appreciated and, therefore, the problems of urban areas were treated more as welfare problems and sectors of residual investment rather than as issues of national economic importance.

In the First Five Year Plan (1951-56), the emphasis was given on institution building and on construction of houses for Government employees and weaker sections. The Ministry of Works & Housing was constituted and National Building Organisation and Town & Country Planning Organisation were set up. A sizeable part of the plan outlay was spent for rehabilitation of the refugees from Pakistan and on building the new city of Chandigarh. An Industrial Housing Scheme was also initiated. The Centre subsidised Scheme to the extent of 50% towards the cost of land and construction.
The scope of housing programme for the poor was expanded in the Second Plan (1956-61). The Industrial Housing Scheme was widened to cover all workers. Three new schemes were introduced, namely, Rural Housing, Slum Clearance and Sweepers Housing. Town & Country Planning Legislations were enacted in many States and necessary organisations were also set up for preparation of Master Plans for important towns.
The general directions for housing programmes in the Third Plan (1961-66) were co-ordination of efforts of all agencies and orienting the programmes to the needs of the Low Income Groups. A Scheme was introduced in 1959 to give loans to State Govts. for a period of 10 years for acquisition and development of land in order to make available building sites in sufficient numbers. Master Plans for major cities were prepared and the State capitals of Gandhi Nagar and Bhubaneswar were developed.
The balanced urban growth was accorded high priority in the Fourth Plan (1969-74). The Plan stressed the need to prevent further growth of population in large cities and need for decongestion or dispersal of population. This was envisaged to be achieved by creation of smaller towns and by planning the spatial location of economic activity. Housing & Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) was established to fund the remunerative housing and urban development programmes, promising a quick turnover. A Scheme for Environmental Improvement or Urban Slums was undertaken in the Central Sector from 1972-73 with a view to provide a minimum level of services, like, water supply, sewerage, drainage, street pavements in 11 cities with a population of 8 lakhs and above. The scheme was later extended to 9 more cities.
The Fifth Plan (1974-79) reiterated the policies of the preceding Plans to promote smaller towns in new urban centres, in order to ease the increasing pressure on urbanisation. This was to be supplemented by efforts to augment civic services in urban areas with particular emphasis on a comprehensive and regional approach to problems in metropolitan cities. A Task Force was set up for development of small and medium towns. The Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act was enacted to prevent concentration of land holding in urban areas and to make available urban land for construction of houses for the middle and low income groups.
The thrust of the planning in the Sixth Plan (1980-85) was on integrated provision of services along with shelter, particularly for the poor. The Integrated Development of Small and Medium Towns (IDSMT) was launched in towns with population below one lakh for provision of roads, pavements, minor civic works, bus stands, markets, shopping complex etc. Positive inducements were proposed for setting up new industries and commercial and professional establishments in small, medium and intermediate towns.
The Seventh Plan (1985-90) stressed on the need to entrust major responsibility of housing construction on the private sector. A three-fold role was assigned to the public sector, namely, mobilisation for resources for housing, provision for subsidised housing for the poor and acquisition and development of land. The National Housing Bank was set up to expand the base of housing finance. NBO was reconstituted and a new organisation called Building Material Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC) was set up for promoting commercial production of innovative building materials. A network of Building Centres was also set up during this Plan period. The Seventh Plan explicitly recognised the problems of the urban poor and for the first time an Urban Poverty Alleviation Scheme known as Urban Basic Services for the Poor (UBSP) was launched.
As a follow-up of the Global Shelter Strategy (GSS), National Housing Policy (NHP) was announced in 1988. The long term goal of the NHP was to eradicate houselessness, improve the housing conditions of the inadequately housed and provide a minimum level of basic services and amenities to all. The role of Government was conceived, as a provider for the poorest and vulnerable sections and as a facilitator for other income groups and private sector by the removal of constraints and the increased supply of land and services.
The National Commission of Urbanisation submitted its report. The Report eloquently pointed out the reality of continuing and rapid growth of the urban population as well as the scale and intensity of urbanisation, the critical deficiencies in the various items of infrastructure, the concentration of vast number of poor and deprived people, the acute disparities in the access of shelter and basic services, deteriorating environmental quality and the impact of poor governance on the income and the productivity of enterprises.
In the backdrop of this report the Eighth Plan (1992-97) for the first time explicitly recognised the role and importance of urban sector for the national economy. While growth rate of employment in the urban areas averaged around 3.8% per annum, it dropped to about 1.6% in the rural areas. Therefore, the urban areas have to be enabled to absorb larger increments to the labour force. The Plan identified the key issues in the emerging urban scenario:
  • the widening gap between demand and supply of infrastructural services badly hitting the poor, whose access to the basic services like drinking water, sanitation, education and basic health services is shrinking
  • unabated growth of urban population aggravating the accumulated backlog of housing shortages, resulting in proliferation of slums and squatter settlement and decay of city environment
  • high incidence of marginal employment and urban poverty as reflected in NSS 43rd round that 41.8 million urban people lived below the poverty line.
The Planning Commission suggested modification of the Housing policy to incorporate affordable housing program for the BPL category. Considerable efforts were made during Ninth and Tenth Five Year Plans to enlarge the resource base and initiate innovative institutional mechanisms to augment hous ing delivery in urban areas. Focused efforts were also initiated to cover the poor and vulnerable groups of society to enable them to access basic shelter related services. Fiscal concessions coupled with legislative measures were also initiated to encourage increased investments in housing by individuals and corporate.
The National Common Minimum Program (NCMP) has stated that housing for weaker sections in rural areas will be extended on a large scale. The Tenth Plan, therefore, had suggested provision of free housing only to the landless SC/ST families and shift to a credit-cum subsidy scheme for the other BPL families.  The repeal of the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976 has been a significant step towards reform in the urban land market. Following the repeal of the central legislation, a number of state governments have also repealed the state-level law.
In order to improve the quality of life in urban areas, the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012) has stressed the need for improved housing stock through urban renewal, in situ slum im provement, and development of new housing stock in existing cities as well as new townships. Furthermore, the Bharat Nirman Program has also recognized and accorded due priority to the need to end shelterlessness. The program has set a target to construct 60 lakh houses from 2005 to 2009. The housing component under the Program is being implemented in parallel with Indira Awas Yojana scheme. For the Eleventh Plan, the focus is on targeting the poorest of the poor while targeting the remaining housing shortage with other interventions.
Analytical Significance
In India, as the housing problem of the poor is very acute there is an urgent need for pro-poor models like HMF. As per the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012) estimates7, as of 2007 the total urban housing shortage in India has been 24.71 Million units of which as high as 99.84 percent belongs to EWS and LIG categories. Thus, the housing problem of the 99.84% percent of the urban shelter-less population (EWS and LIG) still persists and is by and large unsolved. Given the utmost significance of housing schemes for the low income masses representing over 99 percent of the total shelter-less in India, this study which seeks to suggest strategies to promote housing microfinance as a tool for tackling the housing problem of the poor, assumes cardinal significance. The study is particularly relevant when ‘like all emerging economies, India too has been impacted by the crisis and by much more than what was expected earlier’