They can be found everywhere but somehow the Indian State fails to notice them. They are the homeless people of India. According to the government’s definition, homeless or houseless are those who live in “the open or roadside, pavements, in hume-pipes, under flyovers and staircases, or in the open in places of worship, mandaps, railway platforms etc.” Yet when it comes to providing them the basic needs, governments have been failing to spend even their allocated funds. There are 1.77 million homeless people in India.
Last week, the Supreme Court took the Centre and states to task, saying that there should be an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of the money disbursed by the Centre to the states for a scheme under the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM), and observed that these funds, which are meant for a specific purpose, should not be diverted.
This is not the first time the SC has rapped the Centre. In 2016, the apex court slammed the Centre and states for their lackadaisical approach in providing shelters to the poverty-stricken in urban areas despite availability of sufficient funds.
It had also observed that the mission of the NULM scheme “remains a distant dream even after lapse of a long period.”
The NULM was launched in September 2013 to reduce poverty and vulnerability of urban poor households. The Centre had earlier told the court that an amount of Rs 1,000 crore, released under the NULM, does not pertain only to urban homeless but to other activities also.
The good news is that there has been an overall decline in the houseless population from the last Census. While there has been a 28% decline reported from rural India, there has been a 20% increase in houseless people living in the cities. But still there is a long way to go.
But only spending money will not solve the problem. Here’s what needs to be done.
First, the State needs to identify and address the structural causes of homelessness; second, a national moratorium on forced evictions and demolitions should be introduced; third, enhanced policy coherence and convergence between housing schemes in urban and rural areas and schemes for the provision of water and sanitation; fourth, the central and state governments should put in place effective and timely mechanisms to collect data on evictions, including with disaggregation of the persons who are evicted by age, gender, disability, caste and religion.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target for the nation – every Indian must have a house by 2022. This is a tall order. However it is possible if the state undertakes the right sort of planning and judicious spending of funds.