by Anusha G Rao
According to the National Statistical Office, the Government of India, 96% of urban households have pucca houses in India. Development of urban infrastructure directly impacts livelihood, economy, and social infrastructure: including human development, education, sanitation, health, family welfare, women development and allied matters and finally state security. According to the 2011 census, 31% resided in urban areas and by 2050; this figure would increase to 60%. 60% of the GDP of India comes from cities and towns. Addressing certain urban housing problems thus becomes important in order to improve the conditions of the urban population, migration to towns, to improve the economy and the GDP, tourism, attract investments and in turn boost industry and its development.
URBAN HOUSING PROBLEMS
Some of the urban housing problems include sanitation, sewage, water, health, and pollution at the ground level. These issues thus require governments both at the central and local levels to develop holistic and affordable housing. However, the amount allocated for addressing these core issues is 3.24 lakh crores i.e.,1.6% of the budget in 2019-20, which has increased by a meagre 0.1% since 2018-19.This is the least amount dedicated to health and allied issues amongst other social infrastructure development problems including education, women empowerment, protection of SC & ST and allied matters. The ‘health’ list includes medical, public and family welfare, water supply and sanitation. 
However, some of the other core issues faced by Economically weaker sections of the country are that of forced evictions, lack of proper disaster management, which in turn affects the housing, forced land acquisitions and lack of resettlement and rehabilitation, lack of access to justice (legal aid) and the common view of slums as ‘illegal ghettos’ and slum dwellers as ‘backward and restrictive to development’.
CONSTITUTIONAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS PERSPECTIVE
The Supreme Court has time and again reiterated that the Right to housing is a human right under Article 21 and 19(1)(e) of the Constitution and has ordered the Centre to uphold its international obligations towards providing the same to citizens. In order to not just assume international and constitutional responsibility of right to housing under UDHR and Article 21 & 19(1)(e) of the Indian constitution, but also cause holistic development, it is essential to address these issues from a human rights perspective, in order to not just provide shelter but also to bridge the gap between different wealth groups, prevent non-discrimination and provide a safe, secure and peaceful society. However, due to lack of political will, funds, corruption, implementation problems, etc. there has been a constant failure and ignorance in addressing issues through the ‘human rights perspective’ and thus non-inclusion of amendments and changes in existing laws and government schemes.
The Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) was launched in June 2015 for the purpose of addressing three-fold urban housing issues- water problem (including lack of access to tap water and sanitation & sewage issue), pollution and lack of well maintained open spaces in 500 cities across India with a population of one lakh or more. 50% of the project cost for a population upto 10 lakh and 1/3rd of the project cost for a population less than 10 lakh would be financed by the Central Government, based on the annual State Action plan which is to be drawn by the State Government. The funds to be released depends on the population due to the fact that a less dense area would be self-sufficient and could be financed by the State. The recent changes in this scheme include Municipalities & Urban local bodies and the Private-Public Partnership (PPP) model.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS WITH RESPECT TO CORE ISSUES ADDRESSED BY AMRUT
Issues such as health and sanitation, water supply and storage, land works and buildings are covered by the state list. Hence, it becomes important for the state and local governments to execute the project. Since issues such as acquisition of property and forest (environmental issues) are covered by the concurrent list, and for the importance of generating funds, better leadership and co-operation, the participation of both centre and state towards planning becomes essential.
WHY IS AMRUT ESSENTIAL?
AMRUT is essential to address the growing urban population, especially with inter-state and rural to urban migration. Addressing issues of urban infrastructure is essential to attract investments which in turn would boost the country’s economy and attract tourism. Finally, the concept of ‘co-operative federalism’ would be given due credit and thus address the holistic development requirements of water, sanitation, pollution and urban transport problem.
LOOPHOLES IN THE SCHEME
Some states like Bihar and Assam have not completed project as of now and have not utilised the PPP model in any of the on-going projects despite the regular release of funds. The project has a very slow implementation with less than 50% execution completed in most states. All states in their yearly SAAP reports have mentioned the need for adequate financing over and above the funds released by the Central Government. The same is being addressed through the PPP model, donors, Swachh Bharat grants etc. However, some other reasons for the delay could be lack of political will, given that some states like Bihar have not even realised their second instalment of funds towards the projects, concentration on other projects, overburden, corruption and rise in construction cost.AMRUT also involves only 500 project cities. With rising economic and the COVID-19 pandemic, the loopholes in medical facilities can be seen in smaller towns as well. Hence, faster implementation of earlier projects could lead to new and improved urban infrastructure planning.
CONVERGENCE OF AMRUT & SMART CITIES MISSION & OTHER ALLIED SCHEMES
AMRUT and the SMART cities mission have similar goals. The financing for smart cities is done through Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV), with Rs. 194 crore of initial funding by the Central Government, whereas in AMRUT, 50% of a project is financed by the Central Government and the rest by the State and Urban local bodies. Execution of SMART city projects is mainly done by the State Governments through PPP model, which is similar in AMRUT projects. The sheer size of AMRUT projects and funding by central government are to address the mission goals in a given project area and smart cities mission could address a more specific issue in a smaller area or project zone. The organisational structure is similar in both schemes, which is headed by the Joint Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Affairs. However, in Smart city projects, a National Director would be appointed to carry forward various projects. Thus, one could conclude that AMRUT and SMART city missions are complementary to each other.
There could be an overlap between AMRUT and other schemes such as urban transport. The Swachh Bharat mission enlists water treatment and waste management as its goals which could also be shared by AMRUT. Here, the only difference between AMRUT and the other schemes are that of funds and that the latter covers a ‘niche’ area of urban issues. However, this convergence could lead to confusion, lack of funds and additional work. With the COVID situation, AMRUT’s mission goals should be revamped in order to essentially ‘rejuvenate’ urban infrastructure.
DOES AMRUT ADDRESS ALL CORE ISSUES OF URBAN HOUSING? IS THERE A NEED TO REVAMP THE MISSION GOALS OF AMRUT?
Forced evictions are temporary or permanent removal of persons, families or communities against their will from their homes or land which they occupy, without the provision of and access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection.Recent data shows that the government has demolished 41,700 homes, evicting over 2 lakh people in urban and rural areas in 2018. 11 million are under the threat of displacement, over 5400 families have been ousted in order to widen roads or for highway or road construction and in 2017, over 94,000 slum dwellers were ousted due to the notion of them being ‘encroachers and obstructers to development’. The actual number known or unknown might be even higher. It is not known whether resettlement has been provided or not, since they are not traceable.
Reasons for forced evictions maybe disasters, removal of slums, development of infrastructure through land acquisitions etc. Slums were always considered as ‘illegal ghettos’ needed to be ‘ousted’ in order to ‘beautify’ the cities despite the Supreme Court’s observation that slums are not illegal and when evicted, they should be given alternative resettlement.
India has lost around $80 billion affecting especially the lower middle income group from 1998 to 2017 and over 15,800 lives have been lost due to fire accidents in India in 2018. In 2017, 26,834 houses were damaged just in UP due to floods.
It is important to note that while core issues of water, sanitation, etc. are to be addressed, forced evictions, lack of resettlement, damage due to disasters, forced land acquisitions, the encroachment of slums and lack of adequate resettlement and rehabilitation are also pressing matters, ignorance of which could be serious human rights violations and violations of international treaties and agreements. AMRUT and the allied schemes could address the above issues in a staged manner, whenever specific need arises. However, there is a need to include a robust, cost effective and quick legal mechanism since the victims often belong to the lower middle class group. Hence, states should either set up tribunals to address these issues or entrust them to existing tribunals or fast track courts such as the RERA or the National Green Tribunal. Additionally, states must ensure adequate legal aid to the victims who approach tribunals.
While analysing the post COVID situation, AMRUT should revamp its missions to include nutrition and health. Access to nutrition has already resulted in higher GDP in 2019-20. Hence, the inclusion of these factors could contribute to growth in the economy and also strengthen the social security of common citizens.
CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATIONS
Affordable and sustainable housing directly impacts the economy and social infrastructure of our country. Any government housing scheme should be able to apply a ‘human rights perspective’ for the overall holistic development of the society and not just view the problem of housing as ‘constitutional responsibility’. There is a need to revamp AMRUT to address the problems of forced evictions & land acquisitions, slums, disasters, lack of proper rehabilitation and resettlement and lack of access to justice to victims. Community groups comprising of NGOs and residential groups (citizens) could propose ideas and provide feedback towards the working of these schemes. Research on how other states like Surat and Pune transformed its hygiene and sanitation during the plague and H1N1 respectively could be done. Innovation hubs could be utilised to draw industry specific R&D related to various health or housing issues.
With the global COVID-19 pandemic, AMRUT needs to prioritise issues of health- sanitation, sewage, nutrition, hygiene, protection of sanitation and medical officers. A multi-sectoral approach of providing health cover could be given to marginalised communities, especially the migrant groups under the PMJAY. According to the Economic Survey of 2019-20, as of 14-01-2020, the 28,005 Ayushman Bharat health and wellness centres across the states could be utilised as primary health care centres and address the small issues like infections, fevers, X-Ray and other testing across India.
Housing for all becomes a dream only when it brings sustainability, economic diversity, quality livelihood, a better country and a safe future.
Opinion expressed by the authors are personal.
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