The Irony of the Housing Question

04 July 2015
RECENT reports have revealed that while homeless people crowd the pavements of almost every big city and overcrowded, unhygienic slums serve as home to millions, there are many millions of houses lying uninhabited across urban India. Anshuman Magazine, chairman and managing director of property consultancy firm CBRE South Asia, said in a recent article that “around 12 million completed houses” were “lying vacant across urban India”. A similar point has been made by Akhilesh Tilotia in his book “The Making of India – Game changing Transitions”, where he has stated that India has more homes than households or families, writing that while India’s households increased by 60 million – from 187 million to 247 million – between 2001 and 2011, the number of houses went up by 81 million – from 250 million to 331 million – over the same period. In urban areas, there were 38 million new homes for 24 million new households.

Despite this, there is a huge shortage of housing in urban India. The latest official Economic Survey says there is a shortage of nearly 20 million homes in India. Many of these houses lying vacant 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.

As per the 2011 Census, 13.7 million households in Indian cities live in slums. The number of people living in these slums is around 65 million and forms around 17.4 per cent of the urban population. Other estimates put the slum population living in Indian cities at a much higher level. If the homeless and the slum dwellers had to rise in a wave of fury and forcibly occupy the millions of uninhabited houses as well as the opulent and sparsely inhabited palaces and mansions of the Ambanis and other corporate kings and Bollywood stars, the housing problem would have been squarely dealt with.
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The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.