If you ever go to New Delhi, try taking a drive through the sub-city of Dwarka and you will see miles and miles of built homes with nobody living in them. You can see a similar sight in large parts of the National Capital Region (NCR) around New Delhi.
In fact, Anshuman Magazine, chairman and managing director of CBRE South Asia Pvt. Ltd., in a recent article pointed out that “around 12 million completed houses” are “lying vacant across urban India”.
A similar point is made by Akhilesh Tilotia in his book The Making of India—Gamechanging Transitions, where he states that India has more homes than households. As he writes: “India’s households increased by 60 million to 247 million from 187 million between 2001-2011. Reflecting India’s higher ‘physical’ savings, the number of houses went up by 81 million to 331 million from 250 million. The urban increases is telling: 38 million new houses for 24 million new households.”
And despite this, there is a huge shortage of housing in urban India. As the latest Economic Survey, a document which is released every year a day before the annual budget of the government of India, points out: “At present urban housing shortage is 18.8 million units [i.e. homes].”
So what is happening here? Many of these homes have been bought as investments by people who have “extra” money to invest. A substantial portion (no one knows how much) of this is black money on which taxes haven’t been paid. Hence, homes have been bought but nobody is living in them.
Further, the dynamics of real estate sector in India have so evolved that builders like catering only to the richer segment of the population. Also, the price levels have now gone even beyond this section of the population.
But the shortage in housing is at the lower income levels. “95.6 per cent [of housing shortage] is in economically weaker sections (EWS) / low income group (LIG) segments,” the Economic Survey points out. Tilotia points out that: “70% of the urban housing shortage arises from the bottom four deciles of households whose ability to pay is severely constrained.” He estimates that unmet needs in India are at price points of Rs 0.5-Rs 1 million. The real estate companies due to various reasons are not interested in satisfying this unmet demand.
A recent research report by real estate rating and research firm Liases Foras points out that the average price of a home in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, as of March 31, 2015, was Rs 1.3 crore. The numbers for Bangalore and Delhi are Rs 86 lakh and Rs 74 lakh respectively. Given these high prices, it is not surprising that the housing demands of a large segment of population are going largely unmet.
Hence, it is not surprising that as per the 2011 Census, 13.7 million households in cities live in slums. The number of people living in these slums is around 65 million and forms around 17.4% of the urban population. As per the Census, Visakhapatnam with 44.1% of its population living in slums comes right at the top. Mumbai, with 41.3% of the population living in slums comes in third. Kolkata with 31.9% of its population living in slums is eight on the list.
Further, the number of people living in urban slums may be understated. This is primarily because the 2011 Census was carried out only in what are known as statutory towns. These are towns which have some sort of an elected local body.
A Times of India newsreport points out that India has a total of 7935 towns. Of this 4041 are statutory towns. The remaining do not have an elected local body. Nevertheless, they fulfil the criteria of being urban, and the Census classifies them as census towns. The census towns were not considered for counting slums. These towns have a total population of more than 5 crore and substantial part of that population is living in slums.
Further, other estimates put the slum population living in Indian cities at a much higher level. A 2012 newsreport quotes S. Parasuraman, director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai as saying: “Nearly 60 percent of Mumbai’s slum population lives in 8 percent of land.” The Census number as mentioned earlier is at 41.3%. These differences apart, what this clearly tells us is that with so many people living in slums, India has a huge urban housing shortage.
So what is the way out of this? The government needs to start doing something about it sooner rather than later. Maybe it can learn a thing or two from the South Korean government, which in the late 1980s built around 2 million homes of which around 0.9 million were built around the capital city of Seoul, as Tilotia points out.
In order to do this, the government will have to first and foremost sort out the mess that currently surrounds the process of land acquisition. Further, these homes will have to be built on the periphery of cities, backed up by a good transportation system, so that people can travel to work. The outdated floor space index laws controlled by real estate lobbies (which are often fronts for politicians) will need a thorough re-look. These laws essentially deal with how much area can be built-up, given the size of the plot on which a building is being built. So, if the FSI allowed is 2, then on a plot of 1000 square metres, the building being built can’t have a built-up area of more than 2000 square metres.
If all this is not done there will be more trouble ahead, as more and more of Indian population moves to Indian cities, in the years to come. As the Economic Survey points out: “Nearly 30 per cent of the country’s population lives in cities and urban areas and this figure is projected to reach 50 per cent in 2030.”
What this means is that if affordable housing doesn’t become the order of the day, the slumification of India will continue. And that is not a happy thought.
(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
The column was originally published on BBC.com on May 21, 2015