India’s luxury investments will ramp up homelessness, UN expert warns

25 Apr 16

India’s government seems “reluctant” to solve its affordable urban housing crisis, with luxury real estate and development projects prioritised over the housing needs of poorer people, a United Nations expert has warned.

 

Amid a government drive to boost economic growth through the development of luxury real estate and mega projects, India is neglecting its massive affordable housing deficit and unlawfully removing the country’s most vulnerable from their homes, it was claimed.

Leilani Farha, the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, warned that housing policy has become a zero-sum game in India, with an “untold” number of households rendered homeless for every luxury unit created.

Last year, the country was assessed to be short of around 19 million urban housing units. Luxury developments on the other hand are increasingly common.

Mumbai, India’s financial centre and one of its most overcrowded cities where well over half of the population live in slums, saw a 30% increase in the supply of luxury housing projects in the first quarter of 2015.

Homelessness is rife, and many of the country’s “pavement dwellers” come from disadvantaged groups.

“India’s legacy of discrimination... remains apparent,” Farha said, with the country’s lower castes, women and religious minorities still stigmatised and living a marginal and vulnerable existence.

Forced evictions that are not in line with international human rights law are also commonplace in the country. They most often target vulnerable populations living below the poverty line, and are seldom done with adequate or any consultation, notice or alternative housing available, rendering hundreds of thousands homeless since 2010.

In 2010, the Housing and Land Rights Network estimated that 250,000 people in Delhi alone had lost their homes as a direct result of the Commonwealth Games.

In 2013 it emerged that one of India’s largest foreign direct investment projects, a $12bn development consisting of steel and power plants, iron ore mines and ports by South Korean company POSCO, threatened to displace 22,000 people and disrupt the livelihoods of thousands more.

Farha spoke of homeless people being forced from the pavement where they have lived to make room for potted plants and over 100 families forced from their homes as the police threatened them with batons in Mumbai.

She said such practice was “regularised” in the pursuit of the country’s economic development agenda, despite international laws stating that forced evictions should be avoided except for in exceptional circumstances.

The government has recognised the housing problem, and committed to an ambitious goal of developing 20 million housing units in urban areas, benefiting more than 100 million people, by 2020.

Farha commended positive action taken as a result, such as a new affordable housing scheme dubbed Housing for All.

 However she noted that human rights standards are not included and that other aspects are also below par. For example, the programme may not be affordable for slum dwellers and its units are too small for large families, risking a return to slum-like conditions in sites where the scheme is implemented.

She added that there is a “serious inconsistency” between this policy and its conflicting plan to drive growth through luxury real state and big development projects, which perpetuates homelessness and housing disadvantage. 

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