This article is written by Sahil Aggarwal, currently pursuing B.A.LLB. (Hons) from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. This article explores the initiative of ARHC launched by the government in-depth and emphasizes the importance of more focus policies for the migrants in India.
COVID-19 has impacted each and every life considerably, however, it will not be an overstatement that the most affected community of people in India still remains the migrant workers who treaded on long roads and highways bare-footed, in order to reach their homes in slums, informal colonies or peri-urban areas. In this respect, many governmental, as well as non-governmental organizations, extended their efforts to help the migrant worker community. Accordingly, the Government of India initiated a scheme for developing Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs) for poor and urban migrants. In this article, we will explore this scheme in detail.
Pandemic and its toll on migrant workers
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the government made a sudden proclamation of a nation-wide lockdown from 24th March 2020. The lockdown, divided into multiple phases, got extended multiple times, in order to break the chain of transmission of the coronavirus. However, the news stoked panic among millions of migrant workers in India’s multiple states. The workers from the unorganized sector and circular migrants working on irregular contracts were rendered suddenly helpless and without work. They reached bus stops and highways in large masses with the hope to reach their distant rural and ill-maintained homes. Although the purpose of lockdown was to secure ‘social-distancing’, yet there was no way left for those workers since they would not have fulfilled those conditions in their temporary, cramped urban homes without work, income, or social protection. Their response to the lockdown for preventive confinement over the next few days and weeks, perhaps, surfaced the insecurity, uncertainty, and precarity of the migrant workers, that was not resolved by the previous government schemes successfully.
However, the response of the present government amidst pandemic is important to be looked into. Due to mass exodus, the Central government, as well as the state governments, provided for transport, food, accommodation, financial aids, etc. Amidst these, the Central government made an announcement for a scheme for migrant workers and urban poor to provide ease of living at an affordable rent, namely, the ‘Affordable Rental Housing Complexes Scheme 2020’ (ARHC Scheme). The scheme was a part of the umbrella theme of Atma Nirbhar Bharat. We will look into the scheme in further sections.
Housing issues and the Migrant workers in India
In order to understand the requirement of housing policy, we will first need to look into the context in which it was purportedly brought in. The latest government data on the migrant worker comes from the 2011 Census. According to the Census, there were 4.5 crore migrant workers in 2011. However, according to the Working Group Report on Migration 2017, the Census underestimates the migrant worker population. Female migration is recorded as movement due to family since that is the primary reason. However, many women take up employment after migrating which is not reflected in the number of women moving for work-related reasons.
Moreover, in the Economic Survey, 2016-17, it was also shown that the Census 2011 underestimated the temporary migrant labour movement. Despite being such a substantial part of our population, the migrant labour did not find relief from the policies formed earlier, as they failed to equip them with crucial amenities like health, housing, security, etc. The impact of such hardship was significantly multiplied and was blatantly visible during the pandemic. Among the significant challenges faced by the community, the Census 2011 included a lack of affordable housing and basic amenities in urban areas for them. Moreover, while the Census identified 45% of the urban population constituted by migrant workers in India, in 2015, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs identified that the migrant formed the largest population in urban areas in need of housing in the cities.
The idea of affordable rental housing for the migrants and poor labourers has been observed as one of the lowest steps in the housing ladder. There are multiple reasons for preferring affordable renting as a desirable means for providing accommodation like in case of unavailability of enough savings to avail mortgages, its compatibility with the labour mobility, for the purpose of saving financial resources which would further be invested in other investments, and most importantly, it could allow the possibility of access to safe, sanitary housing and reduce risk. These reasons make the affordable rental household a convenient choice for the economically weaker sections of which migrant workers form a significant part.
Previous policies in the housing sector for migrants
In India, there have not been many policies that significantly dealt with the idea of housing and shelter for low-income migrating workers. In 2007, the Government introduced the National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy (NUHHP), which was one of the first central policies that addressed the housing needs for migrant workers, however, it did so in a remote manner. The NUHHP aimed at ensuring ‘affordable housing for all’. However, the policy did not provide specifically for the migrant workers, yet, it made an attempt to increase the supply of rental housing for them. It focused on the urban poor, which as indicated earlier was significantly constituted by the migrant workers, in terms of permanence of residence, registration with social security schemes, recognition under economic groups based on their income and other factors.
Later on, the Model State Affordable Housing Policy for Urban Areas, 2013 was introduced which aimed to complement the Rajiv Awas Yojana by creating rental housing units and dormitories for the migrants. However, it could not contribute substantially to the status of housing facilities for migrant labour. In this respect, one could say, that there has been no comprehensive attempt to provide housing benefits to these parts of the labour community. In Smart Cities Mission, 2015, the aim was to develop the cities while providing housing facilities to all, thus its main purpose remained to strive for better infrastructure in India. It made no mention of economically weaker groups for availing the benefits under this policy.
This overview accounts for the lack of focused housing policy in India with respect to the migrant workers, in this context the ARHC scheme was introduced as a sub-scheme under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, which is arguably the biggest housing policy initiative in the country. The latter aims to provide 20 million housing units by March 31, 2022, both in urban as well as rural areas. As mentioned earlier, the COVID-19 had induced millions of migrant workers to return their homes, because of the insecurity and lack of proper housing and amenities in the urban areas for them.
The policy thus came, in this context while identifying the reasons for such reverse migration. It observed that migrant labour mainly migrated for the purpose of seeking better employment in urban areas. In order to increase their savings, they compromise their living conditions and find their abode in the slums or informal colonies. This not only resulted in an increase of slums but also induced many mental and physical health problems because of the bad hygiene in slums. Therefore, affordable rental housing formed the focus of the scheme as it not only promotes inclusive urban development but also prevents the growth of slums. However, it is only the time that can tell the effectiveness of this scheme.
A glance at ARHC scheme
The scheme purports three major objectives:
- It seeks to address the ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan by creating a sustainable ecosystem of affordable rental housing solutions for urban migrants.
- The scheme resolves to achieve ‘housing for all’ by providing affordable housing. These will also ensure the availability of civic amenities near their place of work.
- It aims to create a conducive environment by incentivizing Public/ Private Entities to leverage investment for creating affordable rental housing stock.
In Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), a total of 13.93 lakh houses were sanctioned, of which 12.24 lakh houses have been completed till date. However, around 1.08 lakh houses are still vacant under these schemes. The ARHC scheme proposes to include the houses available in different cities for affordable rental houses for urban migrants and the poor. The policymaker also realized that there was a large portion of vacant land available which is not being utilized for Industries, trade associations, manufacturing companies, educational and health institutions, etc. The scheme proposes that these entities may be provided with an opportunity for the construction of ARHCs. For this purpose, the scheme emphasizes the need to create an ecosystem with the appropriate policy initiatives by the states as well as the central government.
Approach and Strategy
The scheme will follow a 3-E Strategy for the implementation of ARHCs by adopting effective and efficient mechanisms. The 3-E strategy is described below:
- Empowering States and Union Territories – the scheme will authorize the state and union territories’ governments to convert existing funded vacant houses into ARHCs by engaging a concessionaire for a period of 25 years.
- Ease of doing business – The scheme will include a single window and a time-bound approval system, and incentives and benefits will be provided with suitable policy initiatives.
- Ensuring sustainability – the scheme will seek to develop institutional partnerships and create a conducive environment to invest in rental housing.
The approach for implementation of the ARHCs scheme has been designed in two models:
- Model-I – It will aim to convert existing Government funded vacant houses in cities into ARHCs through Concession Agreements for 25 years. As provided earlier, the houses lying vacant after being constructed under JnNURM and RAY will be included in the process. Necessary Social infrastructure like health centres, Anganwadi, creche, the community centre will also be developed.
- Model-II – It will focus on construction, operation, and maintenance of ARHCs by private entities like Industries, Industrial Estates, Institutions, and Associations, on their own vacant lands. These projects must ensure basic civic infrastructure facilities like water, sanitation, sewage/septage, drainage, road, electricity, etc. including necessary social/commercial infrastructure. Project design may include an innovative system of rainwater harvesting, waste management including wastewater treatment, renewable resources with a special focus on solar energy.
ARHC as a policy
It has been suggested that the Indian Housing market and state interventions through various policies have failed to produce a variety of types of secure tenures to meet the housing needs of labour in the urban economy. It has been observed that these policies have quintessentially remained ownership driven. This is because of the high priority accorded to the ownership of the houses in terms of investment in assets for the majority of people. In this light, the affordable rental housing sector did not find the sufficient focus that it should have got earlier. This is, perhaps, because of the unsafe and substandard rental housing in the slums that are still incapable to fulfill the needs of the people residing in them. The ARHC policy fills the gap in terms of a policy for migrants that focuses on creating rental houses. In this context, this comes as a welcome move, more so because of the emergence of short-term migration, especially by men, that now forms a considerable proportion of migration in India.
Interestingly, the idea of rental houses is finding an increasing space in policy formulation. For instance, the National Urban Rental Housing Policy recommended the formulation of a Draft Model Tenancy Act with the aim to regulate the renting of premises efficiently and transparently and also to balance the interests of owners and tenants by establishing an adjudicating mechanism for speedy dispute redressal. In 2019, the Draft Model Tenancy Act was introduced which emphasizes transparency in the rental housing market. However, there are some issues as well, for instance, it has been provided that the national level governments might face a huge challenge in order to monitor the rental markets, simply because of the sheer size of the informal market and limited data availability. For this purpose, perhaps, in the ARHC scheme, the Central government has relied considerably on the States/UTs to overlook and implement the policies related to rental housing.
However, there have been multiple loopholes that the ARHC scheme holds, for instance, in the scheme, the government-funded vacant housing would be given out as ‘concessionaire’ to private firms, meaning thereby the private firms may not have the liability of returning any profit to the government while recovering the costs of managing the units through rents collected. Hence, in some respects, the scheme still contains some loopholes. Nevertheless, this new initiative would get its results soon.
To sum up, it can be said that the ARHC scheme is welcomed, particularly because of a specific focus on the migrant workers who not only contribute to the nation’s economy but also deserve the basic right to live with dignity in secure and sustainable houses. Indeed, the COVID-19 has disrupted the livelihood of the migrant workers’ community to the greatest extent. In this context, the policy creating the rental accommodations keeping in mind the economic requirement of savings and other benefits is certainly desirable. However, policies or schemes are rendered useless, if they are not implemented with integrity and honesty. Nevertheless, it is expected that the policy may improve the position of the migrants.
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