Solving Migrant Workers Housing Crisis
18th Jan, 2022
Urbanisation and the growth of cities in India have been accompanied by pressure on basic infrastructure and services like housing, sanitation and health. Migrant workers are living in precarious conditions and this makes them the worst sufferers in the segment.
- The mass exodus of migrant workers from cities after the sudden announcement of a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus has amplified the housing crisis for migrant workers in cities.
- Migrants were forced to leave due to their inability to pay rent for rooms after losing their jobs.
- Despite the nationwide lockdown, in the absence of social protection and adequate state support, migrant workers felt compelled to leave cities to return to their villages, even though they did not have any means of transport.
- Most of them travelled hundreds of kilometres on foot and via other precarious modes, often at great risk to their lives, just to reach ‘home.’
- The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the poor housing conditions of the urban poor/migrant workers.
- There is a dire need for a sound policy framework that must take into account the status of human rights, property rights and socio-economic development in India.
Urban Population and Migrant Workers:
- Homeless Urban Families: The 2011 Census of India reveals that the urban population of the country stood at 31.16% where there are about 4.5 lakh homeless families and a total population of 17.73 lakh is living without any roof over their heads.
- Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are the two states with an acute housing crisis.
Modes of employment for Migrant Workers:
- Casual work
- Domestic work
- Other informal activities
In India, the term ‘migrant worker’ generally refers to inter-state labour migrants who move from one part of the country to another for employment.
Migrants and Urban Housing:
- A vast majority of the urban population, especially migrants, live under conditions of poor shelter and in highly congested spaces.
- In India, more than half of the urban households occupy a single room, with an average occupancy per room of 4.4 persons.
- In the case of migrants working in small units, hotels and homes, their workplace is also their place of lodging. Such places are often unhygienic and poorly ventilated.
- Most construction workers stay in makeshift arrangements. Casual workers sleep under bridges and on pavements, often living as a group in unhygienic surroundings.
Problems Of Urban Areas:
- Inadequate Housing
- Unsafe and Insufficient Water Supply
- Inefficient and Inadequate Transport
Steps taken by the Government in the area of Urban Housing:
1. Smart Cities Mission:
- The smart cities initiative was launched in June 2015. The Smart Cities Mission identified 100 cities, covering 21% of India’s urban population, for a transformation in four rounds starting January 2016.
- Some of the core infrastructure elements in a smart city include proper water supply, assured electricity supply, sanitation, and affordable housing especially for the poor.
A smart city is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of urban infrastructure, sustainable real estate, high density of communication network and a wider market.
2. AMRUT Mission:
- Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) was launched in 2015. It is intended to make the process of urbanisation smoother.
- It aimed to ensure that every household has access to a tap with an assured supply of water and a sewerage connection.
- The mission has now entered its second phase to make cities water-secure and provide better amenities for the marginalised. AMRUT 2.0 aims to provide 100% coverage of water supply to all households in around 4,700 ULBs (Urban Local Bodies).
3. Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs) scheme:
- The scheme was launched in May 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic led to large scale reverse migration of workers, who mostly live in the slum’s clusters or informal settlements in cities.
- It is a new rental housing policy targeted towards migrant workers – as a sub-vertical under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) mission. This policy aims to achieve “Housing for all” and “incentivise public/private entities to leverage investment for creating affordable rental housing stock” for the low-income migrant workers in cities.
Obstacles in Affordable Housing for Migrants:
- Lag in the Implementation of Housing Schemes: The Government data shows that 49% of 5,196 projects of the Smart Cities Mission for which work orders were issued across 100 smart cities in India remain unfinished. This lag in implementation raises questions about the efficacy of innovative policy prescriptions.
- Absence of WASH Facilities: According to a 2020 International Labour Organisation (ILO) report on internal labour migrants, the absence of dignified housing is aggravated by a lack of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities.
- Sudden Increase in Rents: Migrant workers find housing in slums, which is often subject to a sudden increase in rent, and have access only to the poorest infrastructure and services.
- Insufficient Public Toilets: Even though there has been an installation of public toilets through Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, their availability is not adequate in migrant-dense clusters.
Scope for Improvement:
- Policy framework For Housing Sector: The existing housing conditions indicate the necessity of coordinated efforts of the state and the contractors to address housing issues. It calls for long-term policymaking and analysis of the housing sector along with necessitating more transparency in the case of contracts.
- Reducing Owner-Tenant Conflicts: Instead of an extreme condition where the owner suddenly increases rent, the state can look into the matter to ensure an optimal condition where the rent evolves for a competitive market for houses. This would make public housing affordable and reduce the conflict between owners and tenants.
- Redeveloping Small and Medium Cities: There is no denying that even our non-megacities have inadequate planning, non-scalable infrastructure, unaffordable housing, and poor public transport.
- Development of Social Rental Housing: While developing social rental housing, the state should ensure that the location has proper access to transport networks, education and healthcare.
Lessons from international markets:
- Rental Vouchers: Chile, Brazil and the US issue “rental vouchers” to low-income groups, which can be exchanged in place of rent in formal, private housing. This enables them to access a range of housing options, assures landlords of steady rental revenue and relieves the pressure on social housing agencies.
- In Thailand, schemes like “Baan Makong” enable civil society organisations to skill communities to self-finance and self-construct formal, pucca, affordable homes and last-mile infrastructure (like water and electricity lines), while negotiating with government agencies for secure tenure and provision of trunk infrastructure.
- The working group by NITI Aayog constituted to study internal labour has recommended that rental housing in the public sector could be expanded through the provision of dormitory accommodation. It can make public housing affordable and can reduce the conflict between owners and tenants. Action-oriented policies alone can improve the lives of labouring migrants. Such policy initiatives will also help India to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 8.8) which stands for providing a safe and secure working environment for all workers, particularly migrants.
- To provide viable alternatives to the informal market, efforts should be made to ensure that states adopt reforms like the National Urban Rental Housing Policy and the Model Tenancy Act, as the government is best placed to facilitate the production of affordable rental housing at large scale.