Right to housing vision needed to achieve equality for the poor in India” – UN expert

NEW DELHI/GENEVA (22 April 2016) – The contrast between the vast numbers of pavement-dwellers and the rapid development of luxury real estate was brought into stark focus by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, who today ends a two-week official visit to the country. Leilani Farha called for a national housing law to effectively, and urgently, address the implementation of the right to adequate housing.

“I am extremely concerned for the millions of people who experience exclusion, discrimination, evictions, insecure tenure, homelessness and who lack hope of accessing affordable and adequate housing in their lifetimes,” Farha said.

“I was told and have read that evictions happen often, but rarely with due process and strict adherence to international human rights law. Some Government officials consider forced evictions to be justified where occupants do not own the land. Under international human rights law, this is not the case.” Farha added.

The UN expert said she observed a lack of urgency in dealing with the extreme living conditions of those who are homeless, as well as a lack of visibility for these issues.

“I am also seriously concerned that pervasive issues such as domestic violence are at times not linked with the right to live in a home in peace and security,” she said. “There also seem to be some gaps between Government policy-making and the court rulings that highlight the Government’s obligations to protect the dignity and right to life of vulnerable populations.”

Farha called on the central Government of India to develop a national housing law, anchored in the spirit of its Constitution and in international human rights law, that includes a moratorium on evictions, immediate obligations to adequately address homelessness, and that is in line with some of its most progressive state plans for in situ rehabilitation for slum dwellers.

The Special Rapporteur noted that the Government of India has been attempting to address these disparities and has ambitiously committed to addressing the living conditions in slums throughout the country by developing 20 million housing units in urban areas benefitting more than a 100 million people by 2022.

“I had the opportunity to visit rehabilitation and redevelopment sites under construction in Mumbai and Bengaluru. For people who are eligible to move into these, there is no doubt they will see a significant improvement in their living conditions, especially after having lived in slums for decades. Access to water, sanitation and electricity is ensured, and maintenance of the buildings is guaranteed for ten years. Most importantly, people are given security of tenure, a cornerstone for the enjoyment of the right to housing,” Farha said.

She warned however that there is mounting inequality in urban areas, and that large-scale migration from rural to urban areas will make India a primarily urban society in the next 30 years.

“A two-track policy response is urgently needed, one that addresses the backlog of housing shortage, and the other that prepares India for upcoming housing needs,” she said.

During her two-week mission to the country, the Special Rapporteur went to New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru and met with senior Government officials at all levels, as well as with residents, civil society and academics. She will present a detailed report of her findings to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017.


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