Shelter: A big challenge for rural India
A decent place for living is the third most basic need of a person after the needs of food and clothing. Owning a house ensures certain degree of economic as well as social security to a citizen. It also determines the intellectual growth and has a bearing on the overall development of a nation. Providing a just sufficient shelter remains one of the most serious challenges India is facing today.
The problem of inadequate housing is more acute in the rural areas where bulk of the BPL population lives. Thus, this section will focus on the requirements of housing in rural India, present government initiatives and most importantly the technological requirements for constructing low-cost sustainable houses. At the end deliberations are made on the possible future course of action for ensuring shelter to as many people as possible. Throughout the discussion, a person without a permanent house (as defined in Census of India 2001), is referred to as homeless.
Homelessness is a growing problem across the world in addition to the poor standard of housing of millions of people. The world’s homeless population is estimated to be around 1 billion people. The growth of homelessness is greatest in Africa, Latin America and Asia. These are also areas where the global population rate is growing the fastest. In India, around 1% of the total population is without a home (2001 Census). Approximately 60% of the homeless population is from the rural areas. In terms of housing units, the housing shortage is estimated to be 148.33 lakh houses as per the 2001 Census (Figure 1). The housing shortage has increased @ 0.89 million houses per year during 1991-2002.
Further, the Working Group on Rural Housing for the 11th Five Year Plan estimated the total rural housing shortage during 2007-12 at 47.43 million houses. Of these 42.69 million or 90% of the total shortage pertains to BPL families. It is a matter of grave concern that even in advanced states like Gujarat and Maharasthra the extent of housing shortage is still very serious.
Fig 1: State wise shortage of housing in rural areas
Source: Census of India, 2001
The Government of India has been taking all necessary steps to meet the shortage of rural housing for quite some time. The earliest known initiative was for rehabilitation of refugees immediately after the partition of the country. After that there were other initiatives in the area of rural housing. However, rural housing initiatives in its true sense and vigour in India began with the Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) which was launched as a sub-scheme of RLEGP in 1985-86. From April 1989, it became a sub-scheme of the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana (JRY). Since 1996, however, it was delinked from JRY and made an independent scheme.
The National Housing and Habitat Policy, 1998 states: “At present the rural housing and to a large extent informal housing, do not benefit from the outcome of research and development. Efforts will be made to disseminate information about new technologies and provide training to construction workers in the use of new technologies. In this regard a mission approach may be adopted”.
The initial objective of the scheme was to provide dwelling units free of cost to the members of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and freed bonded labourers living BPL. In 1993-94, its scope has been extended to cover non-scheduled castes and tribes and later on scheme have also been extended to families of servicemen of the armed and paramilitary forces killed in action. Around 3% of the houses are reserved for the disabled persons living BPL.
Achievements of IAY so far: Since the time of inception, the number of houses constructed under the IAY has increased constantly over the years (Figure 2). During the financial year 2006-07 around 14.5 lakh houses were constructed and the achievement is 93.6% of target.
Fig 2: Number of houses constructed under the Indira Awaas Yojana
Source: 2001 Census
Technological components in IAY: In the IAY provisions are there that if the beneficiaries’ desire, government departments can provide technical assistance or arrange for coordinated supply of raw materials like cement, bricks etc., but it is not innate in the scheme itself. As funds are routed through District Rural Development Agencies (DRDAs), they can contact specialized institutions for innovative technology, material, designs and methods of constructing or upgrading houses to durable and disaster-resistant lodgings. Also State governments may give guidance on cost effective environment friendly technologies, material and designs for rural houses. Around 85 Rural Building Centres (RBCs) were set up by the Ministry, to enable in different parts of the country access to appropriate technologies and capacity building at the grassroots level. Though the scheme has been discontinued from 2004, these centres are expected to continue to support technology transfer and produce cost-effective material.
Recent developments in IAY: Since August 2005, the scheme has been brought under the ambitious Bharat Nirman Programme and set the target of constructing 60 lakh houses during the period 2005-09. Recently, the unit cost of IAY houses has been increased from Rs. 25,000/- to Rs. 35,000/- w.e.f. from 1st April 2008 (F. No. J-11060/1/2008-RH (Pt), Government of India, MRD, dtd August 8, 2008).
Shortcomings in IAY:
- Only 15 lakh houses are created/renovated annually through IAY which is much less than the expected as the base housing shortage is 148.33 lakh plus the incremental shortage of around 9 lakh per annum.
- Beneficiaries should be selected without the influence of any person.
- Even the recently enhanced unit cost is not sufficient for constructing a basic minimum house.
There is a need for developing a more efficient network of delivering low-cost appropriate housing technologies.
Long before the Central government introduced any scheme for rural housing some state governments had rural housing programmes. Currently, around 15 States/UTs like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have their own schemes, whose scope extends much beyond those of the IAY. These states through their own schemes have together constructed 27 lakh houses in rural areas during 2001-05.
Quite interestingly, some states like Kerala have three ceilings of assistance – Rs. 35,000 and Rs. 50,000 (SC category) and Rs. 75,000 (ST category). There are also certain notable features of the State run schemes which are worth mentioning; like Andhra Pradesh follows the Principal Bank Branch System (PBBS) in handling of finances and release of funds to the beneficiaries.
In addition to the government undertaken fully subsidized IAY, there are other national as well as regional financial institutions which provide loans in concessional rates. In this section the emphasis is on the institutions of finance associated with rural housing.
Housing and Urban Development Corporation Limited (HUDCO): HUDCO provides housing loans mainly to Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) whose monthly household income is less than Rs. 2,500). Another specialty of HUDCO is assistance for reconstruction of rural houses in natural calamity affected areas. In rural areas, the three types of schemes financed by HUDCO include:
- EWS rural housing schemes for landless persons
- EWS rural housing schemes for land owning persons and
- the Village Abadi scheme including house repair
So far HUDCO has disbursed an amount of Rs. 5,807 crore for the purpose of constructing 86.11 lakh dwelling units across the country (as on 31/03/2006).
National Housing Bank (NHB): The NHB does not finance rural housing directly; instead it is an agency which promotes housing finance institutions at the local and regional levels. It has been providing financial support in the form of equity and refinances to cater to the housing credit needs of all segments of population through primary lending institutions like commercial banks, housing finance companies (HFCs) and cooperative institutions. Basically its function is regulatory in nature.
Development of low-cost but quality housing material, suitable housing designs etc. play an important role in ensuring housing security to millions of people. Here, some imprtant institutions working in developing suitable building materials and designs are highlighted.
Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee: CBRI is a premier institute of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, engaged in developing quality building materials, structures and foundations. The institute has developed a number of technologies for making housing materials like clay bricks, machines for making materials like brick making machine etc. Most of these technologies are under commercial use and some are ready for commercialization.
The institute also offers training in different areas of building science and technologies like:
- Waterproofing of Buildings
- Low cost construction technologies for hilly regions
- CBRI pre-cast building component technology
- Repairs and strengthening of earthquake affected houses
- Low cost building materials & technologies
- Rural housing and sanitation
- Brick production technologies
National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD): The activities of the institute include carrying out research, consultancy and training in different areas of rural development, including housing. A recent initiative by the institute is the establishment of a National Rural Building Center within the Rural Technology Park. This center showcases the technologies of constructing region-specific affordable houses with ecofriendly local materials rather than conventional concrete and steel (http://www.nird.org.in/rtp_mhouses.pdf).
Advanced Materials and Processes Research Institute (AMPRI), Bhopal: The institute has developed a number of innovative, cost-effective alternative building construction materials using industrial wastes like Fly ash and organic fibre like Sisal fibre as reinforcement in polymer matrix. Composite doors and panels posses properties which are comparable to natural wood and thus could be used as a wood substitute for doors, windows, ceilings, flooring, partitions and furniture. The cost of the product is lifetime cost, which is inclusive of its maintenance cost. The salient features of the products are:
- High strength and durability
- Termite, fungus, rot, rodent and corrosion resistant
- Cost effective
- Versatile technology for building industry
Some of the technologies are:
- Industrial Wastes - Jute reinforced polymer composites (Wood substitutes): Jute reinforced polymer composites products were developed using industrial wastes such as Red mud or Fly ash in which natural fibre was used as a reinforcement materials and polymer was used a binder. The wood substitute product has been approved by Central Public Works Department, Ministry of Urban Development, Govt. of India for use in all types of buildings. The product has the following properties:
- Three times stronger than wood
- Weather resistant and durable
- Corrosion resistant
- Termite fungus, rot and rodent resistant
- Fire retardant, self-extinguishing nature
- Clay-fly ash bricks: Less breakage, better shape, use of waste materials, saving of fuel, help in improving environment. The strength of the fly ash bricks is as high as 140kg/cm2; water absorption is less than 18% and shrinkage less than 10%.
- Mine tailing in developing bricks: Mining wastes and tailings were utilized for development of alternative building materials. The characteristic of copper tailing bricks: density 1.8gm/cc, water absorption 17.7% and compressive strengths 260 kg/cm2.
- Pre-cast concrete solid/hollow blocks: Prepared using fly ash, stone dust, coarse aggregate and cement. These blocks have compressive strength 40-60 kg/cm2 and water absorption below 12%. Most importantly these can be prepared easily as well as quickly.
- Sisal fibre reinforced - fly ash cement roofing sheet: This product is an alternate of carcinogenic asbestos cement sheets. Its strength is comparable with asbestos cement sheets. It is repairable and economical. Its can be made manually or mechanically and thus have great potential for use in rural areas. These products can be used in Roofing, Partitions etc.
Besides, there are a number of other institutes like the Centre for Sustainable Technologies at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; other laboratories of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research like Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (IMMT) (formerly RRL, Bhubaneswar) and also a number of NGOs like Autryville Foundation, Tamil Nadu and Vivekananda Kendra in West Bengal engaged in developing alternate sustainable building materials.
While the various Research and Development organizations are developing new and innovative alternative building materials, there are other established public machineries like National Building Construction Corporation Limited (NBCCL) and Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMPTC) which are entrusted with specific mandates.
National Building Construction Corporation Limited (NBCCL): NBCC was established in 1960 as a wholly owned Government enterprise with the following objectives:
- Implementing management practices that encourage value-added, innovative construction services delivery.
- Ensuring the long-term viability of the Company through prudent financial management and the provision of efficient and effective services.
- Conducting operations in a way that help protect and promote the natural environment.
- Continuing participation in the Governments initiatives for development of remote areas.
Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC): The BMTPC was set up in 1990 in order to bridge the gap between research and development and large scale application of new building material technologies, with the following objectives:
- To promote development, production, standardization and large-scale application of cost-effective innovative building materials and construction technologies in housing and building sector.
- To promote new waste-based building materials and components through technical support and encouraging entrepreneurs to set up production units in urban and rural regions.
- To develop and promote methodologies and technologies for natural disaster mitigation & management and retrofitting/ reconstruction of buildings including disaster resistant design and planning practices in human settlements.
- To provide S&T services to professionals, construction agencies and entrepreneurs in selection, evaluation, up scaling, design engineering, skill-upgradation, and marketing for technology transfer, from lab to land, in the area of building materials and construction.
What is perhaps required is the creation of a demand for the technologies developed by research organizations. Off course the technologies should be worthy and should meet the required standards and contribute towards the purpose of providing low-cost and sustainable dwellings. The government can easily create such a market through the instrument of “Public Procurement” which has been practically overlooked over the years. The EU expert group headed by Mr. Aho has recommended similar measures of public procurement in different sectors like pharmaceuticals, energy, transport etc. to create a market for innovative products in Europe.
As per the IAY guidelines, the houses are to be constructed by the beneficiaries including decisions on the type of house to be constructed and the selection of construction material. There is no mandatory specification of material or houses and this does not encourage any sort of linkage between the technology developers and technology users i.e. the IAY beneficiaries. The government may ensure the public procurement by linking it with publicly funded housing schemes like IAY and the task may be entrusted to institutions like NBCC, BMTPC, DDA and other state housing boards or even registered private housing associations. These organizations/associations should be made to adhere to certain procurement criteria, much like the implementation of European Commission Public Procurement directives in the United Kingdom (http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/ec_procurement).
This creation of demand through public procurement will push enterprises into taking up ventures in low-cost innovative building materials, which in turn will push the R&D institutes to be more innovative. This will further lead to increased R&D investment and mobilization of resource, including Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The developed products will be pulled, in turn, through the public procurement system.
What needs to be ensured is the standard of the building materials and technologies, because most low-cost technologies do not meet BIS criteria – a reason for their non-acceptance in government construction. In the field, appropriateness of many of the technologies has been questioned on grounds of cultural acceptability. For example, in Orissa tribal’s have not occupied IAY houses because they are hot and too small and the rules do not allow construction of ‘traditional houses’ using thatch, wood, mud and local materials. There is also a problem of certifying durability as per PWD code. As a result even govt buildings are not constructed using the low-cost technologies. Actually, technologies are not so location specific and are few in numbers and perhaps achievements in low-cost technologies are not really so great. Also contractors for obvious reasons are not enthusiastic. What is lacking is a new technology based business model for executing the proposed ‘push and pull’ strategy.
This push and pull strategy would have to address quite a few issues like making an innovative India; providing shelter to the needy and livelihood generation through entrepreneurship development.
- Report of the Working Group on Rural Housing for the 11th Five Year Plan. Available at http://planningcommission.nic.in/aboutus/committee/wrkgrp11/wg11_rdhou.doc
- EUR 2005 — Creating an Innovative Europe — Report of the Independent Expert Group on R&D and innovation appointed following the Hampton Court Summit and chaired by Mr. Esko Aho. January 2006. Available at http://europa.eu.int/invest-in-research/