New Delhi, 25th October 1953.
I am very glad that we are having this International Exhibition on Low-cost Housing in Delhi. Next to food and clothing, proper housing is one of the primary necessities of life. It is true that the necessity for housing in a warm climate is not so great as in a cold climate. Even so, it is obvious that no standards can be maintained without proper housing accommodation. Apart from this, the greater part of India is not such a warm country.
We must change all our ideas about housing. We take for granted not only the mud huts of our villages but the fact that large numbers of people have not even those mud huts. I have no objection to mud structures and, indeed, I would like to encourage them in villages, provided we improve them greatly. We must think in terms of every family having a proper shelter. I think that the minimum accommodation that any family should have is two rooms, a kitchen, a lavatory and a small verandah. If possible, a little open space also. If the open space is difficult, a group of small houses should have a common open space.
It is often said that when we have large numbers of people without even a single room, why should we try to give two rooms to a family. There is something in that, but not much. I think we should definitely aim at two rooms for a family. It may be, of course, that for the present or under pressure the two rooms might be occupied by two families. I do not like the idea, but I would have to submit to circumstances. But that would be only a temporary expedient till the two families are separated and each given a two-roomed little house. The idea of one room for a family is bad. The old idea of so-called servants’ or workers’ quarters with one small and dark room without proper ventilation or anything and with no sanitary or other facilities, was an abomination and should be condemned out of hand.
If were to have large-scale house construction, we must give up the idea of encouraging very big houses. I can understand various sizes of houses, of course, but the really big ones must be avoided and not even encouraged so far as the private owners are concerned. We have al limited amount of material and what goes in the very big house comes up to many small houses.
We must, of course, pay full attention to the sanitary, drainage, water, lighting and other facilities. These are even more important than a roof. In fact, it would be desirable to think of these even before actual house construction begins. We must also look at these matters from the architect’s point of view and not merely that of an engineer. There is no reason why we should put up ugly and unsightly structures because they are meant for humbler folk. Grace and beauty are not really expensive and if slight extra expenses are involved, it is worthwhile. The environment in which people live and children grow up affects them powerfully. We should like our people to develop not only higher standards of living but some appreciation of beauty. This can be provided by small parks and children’s playgrounds, etc.
Essentially the question comes back to the cost of the structure. That is the importance of this exhibition. Any lowering in cost means more houses. We have experimented in the past, in various parts of India, with various types of small houses, and we have thus had a large experience to draw upon. The International Exhibition will bring within our ken the experience of other countries. It seems essential, both from the point of view of cost and otherwise, that local materials should be used, with such processing as might be necessary. We can never have really large-scale planned house-building all over India with material brought from a distance. Our old standards have to be revised completely. The P.W.D. usually thought in terms of heavy structures, thick walls, etc., which added to the cost. This appears totally unnecessary now. Overhead charges can certainly be brought down also.
In any major housing programme in the country, there has to be full cooperation between Governmental authorities and the public. Laws and rules and regulations of municipalities should be such as to encourage building. Housing societies should be formed, as they are being formed, preferably on cooperative principles and not to exploit a situation for the advantage of a few and the disadvantage of many.
We are on the eve of big development changes in India. Industries are growing up. Community Projects and National Extension Schemes are attacking the static village. In considering these developments, we must always keep in view housing. Any factory, that is planned, should include good housing for all its workers. Also amenities, social welfare centres, children’s education, children’s playgrounds, etc. In the older factories, it would be a good thing if a certain sum was set aside from the profits every year for housing and amenities. This should not be looked upon as a philanthropic gesture, but as something necessary for the social well-being of the people working there and, therefore, for their greater efficiency and effectiveness.
I have mentioned many matters which might appear to be beyond the scope of an exhibition on low-cost housing. But I do not think they are outside their scope. A house is not merely a place to take shelter from the rain or the cold or the sun. it is, or should be, an enlargement of one’s personality, and if human welfare is our objective, this is bound up with the house. Indeed, changes in housing in other parts of the world have effected social revolutions in the community.