Decent housing is one of the prerequisites for life. The importance of food, clothing and shelter cannot be overstated in ensuring a minimum quality of life. There are a countless homeless people all over the world who live on the streets and India is no exception. Many more live in slums and in miserable and unhealthy housing conditions. There is a shortage of almost close to 19 million houses for Indians in the 12th Plan period and it is the government’s stated objective to secure housing for all.
Urban India has grown rapidly and in a haphazard manner since independence. Our cities are little more than overgrown villages. They lack infrastructure and many basic amenities. Close to thirty percent of India’s population lives in urban areas and there is a pressing need to improve our cities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi envisages the setting up of one hundred smart cities and any boost to the housing sector can really kick start the economy in India itself as a whole. It can provide employment to the lower level labourers and employees and provide them with a livelihood. The housing industry is integrated with as many as 260 industries with both forward and backward linkages.
The crucial factor in housing is to secure land for building houses on a large scale. The government is in the process of enacting a Land Acquisition legislation, which it is hoped will brush away all land woes and provide the most important input for the housing sector. Efforts have been made earlier to evolve satellite cities to the principal city, but the lack of infrastructure in the satellite townships coupled with the poor connectivity to the principal township made moving to the suburbs a very unattractive option. People are hesitant to move to the suburbs and a high portion of the flats constructed away from Mumbai and Delhi remain vacant on account of this reason.
There is no time to be lost in implementing a well thought out housing policy. The need of the hour is standardization in design and construction methods with a high degree of prefabrication. Only this will ensure that houses are built at a fast pace and in keeping with the requirements for housing. Many western countries have standardized housing construction with the use of prefabricated material and there is no reason why we cannot learn from them or import the technology.
Some technologies from Europe and Asia have already been tested and proven in India and this might help to improve on the water intensive construction process currently followed in India. The ban on tapping of ground water in many places in India will also necessitate the need to look at other technologies in house construction. Government can take the lead in the setting up of the prefabrication industries and in the long term, this will help to bring down the cost per unit of housing also. Additionally, the government can provide incentives for the housing sector by way of concession in import duty and tax breaks. Government machinery that oversees the housing sector will also need to be revamped.