Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

[op-ed snap] Urban spaces need better designed homes and an egalitarian housing policy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Urban Housing; Urbanisation


Homelessness is on the rise and has been for the past half a century. Eight years ago, after the 2011 Census, the demand for new housing was at 25 lakh units. With demand rising exponentially and increasing migration numbers, the current requirement for shelter stands at 30 lakh units.

Challenges in providing housing

  • Ineffective programs 
      • Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana aims to provide cheaper houses quickly to low-income groups, with substantial interest subsidies on housing loans. The previous scheme, Awas Yojna, has been attempting the same since 1985 without much success. 
      • State housing boards have similar unachievable goals.
      • Every year, more houses are constructed; yet, every year the demand increases.
  • Idea of ownership
    • In the early 1950s, new houses in most cities relied on the bungalow model. The home’s ownership, independence, and property rights were paramount.
    • 70 years later, despite a 100-fold increase in city population density and land values, little has changed from that ideal.
    • The provision of shelter is still wracked by the archaic ideal of ownership and still stuck to the impracticality of old space and design ideas.
  • The unwillingness of a homeowner to rent out when the legal rights grossly favour tenants. 

Four factors need to be evaluated in the search for a new model

  1. put a halt to the growing privatization of the city – do away with more private ownership of land and buildings. The current situation creates unfortunate divides between private colonies, flats and government housing — contributing to insecurity and gated colonies
    1. Isolating quality of the Indian city has been reinforced by divisions of profession, ethnicity and economic status
    2. Cities with officially recognized subdivisions — Bengalis in their own enclave (Chittaranjan Park), lawyers in Niti Bagh, Jews in Jewtown and Parsis in Parsi Colony
    3. By discouraging homeownership, the city becomes more open and accessible to a greater number of new residents
  2. Stringent urban land reforms would be the first step in that direction
  3. Making housing part of city infrastructure projects, the government takes away land and construction from private builders and creates diverse pockets of housing in different parts of the city.
  4. Ensuring citizens have easy access to subsidized rental housing without legal rights of ownership. Rental units would allow residents to live close to the office and employment, keeping the neighborhood changing and dynamic.
  5. It is imperative that a system of tax incentives and new rental regulations be used to achieve that goal
  6. The imposition of a high un-occupancy tax on buildings that are vacant will help to inhabit almost a third of private housing that remains empty in most cities. 
  7. Stricter construction restrictions are put in place; the government should see housing as a social service and not a business venture
  8. Expanding the supply of low-income housing
  9. Current densities of residential space need more efficient modifications – smaller multifunctional and compact unit makes more sense. Given the high land values, unless there is an increase in floor area ratio (FAR) and a decrease in a home’s occupancy footprint, economies of scale will never be achieved in city residential areas
  10. Subsidies on efficient space planning, environmental considerations, and design that create shared community spaces should be encouraged and rewarded.
  11. Civic governance structures need to be separate from politics. 
    1. Brazil’s intervention in its Favelas or slum tenements upgraded individual houses after a rigorous survey of families, providing design improvements, ventilation, storage space and utilities where needed. 
    2. Singapore replaced their poorer tenements altogether with a basic high rise of low-cost low-income housing integrated into the fabric of the city. 


Housing in India is both inefficient, poorly constructed, thoughtlessly designed, and conforms to outmoded ideas that still hark to the bungalow prototype. Unless more thoughtfully-designed homes, with newer materials and technologies, and a more egalitarian housing policy become part of future government programs, it is these citadels of waste and decay that will remain the public face of the city.

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