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How to house our homes?

Develop satellite towns to broaden economic development and also the housing stock.

india Updated: Jul 20, 2011 21:01 IST
Hindustan Times

The courts will this week erase from the map a city that would, in a decade, have housed over a million people, essentially every man, woman, child and dog in Amsterdam. Each of the 250,000 houses slated to come up in what is a fast disappearing Noida Extension would have been sold before it was built. It is a measure of the crazy demand for housing in Indian cities: Toyota Motor Corporation, the world’s biggest car maker, does not enjoy the luxury of selling its cars before they roll off the line. This demand will now fan out across Delhi and its less litigated suburbs. Living just got costlier for the next generation of migrants into the national capital, among a handful of zones in the country that are humming with economic activity. The government estimates India needs to build a Delhi every year to absorb the people moving from the countryside to its cities.

The urgency can, and does, lead to corners being cut. Part-icularly in the lengthy process of converting farms surrounding most towns into suburbia. Greater Noida is paying for its haste, but it is by no stretch an isolated instance of municipal authorities taking a short cut. It is encouraging to see courts upholding farmers’ property rights in this furious race for urbanisation.

The fact that a few farmers can stop a city coming up on their land is a reassurance of India’s democratic credentials even though the economic price may be high. What would you rather do: listen to the minority or build Shanghai overnight? It’s tempting to ape China’s scorching economic transformation, but it would be silly to ignore the political reality that separates us.

Some housing frenzy can be avoided if India were to spread economic activity beyond the clutch of cities that drives us now. The National Capital Region (NCR), for instance, needs around 200,000 new houses every year. About 120,000 are built. Effectively this adds 400,000 home-seekers in and around Delhi a year. If, however, plans to develop satellite towns like Meerut and Mathura were given more than lip service, both economic development and the housing stock would broaden out. However, investments in transport and communications that would make this possible don’t seem to materialise in an economy growing at close to 9% for close to a decade. If we must make the best of a bad situation the least we can do is make land conversion easier and transparently sell the acquired land. There is enough land out there — Indian cities make up for a mere 2% of the country’s farmland — the trick is to make it accessible without too much pain to either the seller or the buyer.

First Published: Jul 20, 2011 21:00 IST