India's urban housing crisis will only aggravate further if the government fails to listen to needs of this large cross-section of urban public.
The Union Budget 2018, announced on February 1, has committed to provide assistance for building 3.7 million houses in urban areas in 2018-19 under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). However, this does little to resolve India’s urban housing crisis, whi'ch affects the poorest and most marginalised populations in cities.
“I have never seen Ahmedabad city outside the factory. My body and mind always revolves around these machines,” said Gangaram, a migrant worker who hails from Barmer district in Rajasthan. He works in a garments processing unit in Ahmedabad, where 20 workers live inside their workplace. They sleep, cook, bathe and spend their free time in the spaces between the machines, on the shop floor.
For these workers, there is no line between their work and personal lives. They are not only constantly exposed to workplace hazards, but also face a higher degree of exploitation from the employer. They often work 18-20 hours a day during peak demand season, receive no holidays unless the machine stops working and are made to work even in the odd hours of the night, because they have nowhere to go after the workday.
Millions of migrant workers in Indian cities face a similar plight. Pushed to the peripheries of the city, both spatially as well as in the imaginations of urban planners, they slip through the cracks in the patchwork of grandiose urban development and housing policies. These policies remain disconnected from the country’s socio-economic reality of growing rural-urban migration, where 100 million, or one in ten, Indians are seasonal and circular labour migrants.
These mobile and floating populations of labourers are in a state of constant flux, moving between their home villages and different urban work destinations. Earning less than a living wage, they are unable to afford housing even in slum settlements, resorting instead to living in the open, in shared rented rooms in deplorable conditions or within the workplace.
For these migrant workers, ‘Housing for All’ represents nothing more than an impossible dream and an empty promise. Permanent houses created by schemes like PMAY in cities do not cater to the temporary and transient housing needs and imaginations of seasonal migrant workers. As mobile populations, they require temporary, dignified and affordable housing solutions in the city. Most of them have migrated to the city to earn and repay the debts they have taken in the process of building houses back in the village. They cannot afford to invest in a second home in the city, which is the only solution that the affordable housing scheme offers them.