Making housing policies ‘smart’ is need of the hour

The flagship urban development projects, while aiming to develop a city in almost every aspect, tend to overlook the dark side of the city where the slums and squatters lie. A paradigm shift is required to curb the problem of increasing slums. There is a need for smart initiatives to devise better solutions

India is on the path of development and increasing urbanization plays a significant role in its economic, social and cultural growth. However, urbanization comes with a package of side effects which unless tackled wisely can lead to various urban problems. Magnitude of urban population, unplanned spread of urban areas, and lack of appropriate infrastructure are some of the key urban problems that Indian cities are facing presently.
Mushrooming of slums and haphazard evolution of unauthorised coloniesis a common picture in Indian cities. The increased pace of urbanization coupled with industrialization has led to the growth of slums.
There are a number of factors that trigger the establishment and spread of slums, such as, lack of availability of developed land for housing, unaffordable land and built up property for the urban poor, huge number of rural migrants entering the cities in search of employment opportunities, and more. The population of urban India had crossed 285 million a long time back in 2001 and by 2030 it is expected that 50 per cent of the country’s population will reside in urban areas. There is an urgent need to address the housing problem and come up with feasible solutions.
One of the solutions is to relocate slums by providing affordable housing for which Central and State governments had already taken steps and came out with various schemes but none of them addressed the problem to its core. Most of these schemes offered them houses in the outskirts. It is evident that people come to cities for livelihood and linking housing and livelihood is the key requirement that was not addressed in erstwhile schemes of the governments.
One of the probable and effective solutions to prevent establishment and spread of the slums is the development of ‘Smart Villages’. Empowering villages by providing facilities like electricity and water supply, proper sewage network, better educational and training institutions and so on could be taken up. So, the concept of smart cities and smart villages need to work in tandem. Essentially, it calls for development of agricultural sector by integrating it with smart initiatives which in turn will generate job opportunities and will also enhance the education and skills among the rural populace. Government authorities need to understand complex issues of urban land availability and livelihood needs of the poor to devise out appropriate solution for this growing problem.
Adaptive or curative approach is needed for devising effective solutions for the slum problem. Curative approach basically inculcates upgradation of physical, social and economic services and security of land in slum areas. One of which can be ‘Rental housing’. This scheme is a type of housing tenure and was proposed by Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA) in 2007 with an aim to provide housing to the urban poor. However, as per the norms of the scheme, the property is owned by a government authority, which may be central or local. These housing projects may be owned and managed by the state, by non-profit organizations, or by both. Such a scheme can also be seen as a potential remedy to housing inequality. There is a need for a paradigm shift in the approaches adopted to tackle slum problem. Rather than using punitive approaches such as schemes that relocateslums, methodologies that cure the issue such as implementing of schemes that involves redevelopment of slumscan be an effective measure of integration with in the existing city system. This is surely easier said than done owing to complexity of land ownership and policy regime but I am sure, in the age of smartness, our governments will be able to come out with a sustainable solution in which the poor of the city have a greater say and are not left behind.

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