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Housing Challenge

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Many ‘malin bastis’ in Dehradun have the sword of a High Court order seeking their demolition hanging over them, delayed only due to a government ordinance. This issue requires a genuine solution if Doon is to be truly a ‘smart city’. It must be noted that, if there was land and purchasing power available with the poor, they would not be living in dismal and dangerous conditions in the first place.

Dehradun has been growing exponentially as an economy, particularly after formation of a separate Uttarakhand. There is a plethora of services being provided by a large number of migrant workers. They manage a living somehow with their skills, but housing is undoubtedly a serious problem, particularly as land is tremendously expensive. Being a valley, there is no hinterland where they can live and commute to work. Also, the nature of employment for many is such that they cannot live too far from where they work. This is particularly so in the case of women.

There is now the challenge for government to identify plots of ‘un-encroached’ land and build cheap but comfortable housing for many thousand families. It is not an impossible task, for the MDDA has built well planned and viable colonies for lower income families in the past. First and foremost, appropriate land should be identified preferably within the bastis themselves, that can be developed into well designed multi-storey complexes having all the amenities. Architects and engineers can be put to the task of designing housing that could be provided to the poor at a very low per unit cost. Some of India’s best architects have worked a lot on such housing and their expertise needs to be tapped.

Then there is also the issue of funding such constructions. The community that is being rehabilitated should be asked to invest a small amount to impart a sense of ownership, while a number of other sources can be tapped. Apart from using public and CSR funds, charitable organisations and international institutions established for just this purpose ought to be involved.

The government should establish a task force to begin working on this if it is serious about dealing with this challenge. The beneficiaries need to identified and registered, too, which in itself is no mean task as the ever-present racketeers will seek to profit by including bogus ones and excluding the entitled. Lack of action in this regard would mean a lack of commitment to the cause of the poor and that of a smart city.