Lack of affordable housing forces India's poor into death traps

Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:10pm EDT
 
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By Aditi Shah

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Aslamkhan Bhikankha sold his wife's jeweler and used all his savings to buy a flat in a Mumbai suburb which he now fears will soon be razed, leaving his family homeless.

The flat is in one of numerous illegal buildings in Mumbra that house poor migrant workers and face demolition by authorities over safety concerns after the collapse last week of a 7-storey block nearby in which 74 people died.

"If they break this building, they should run the bulldozer over us and kill us too," said Bhikankha, a plumber who moved to Mumbai three years ago from a village 350 km (217 miles) to the north in search of a livelihood. "It will be better than losing all our money and living on the streets."

The building collapse and Bhikankha's plight underscore the government's failure to develop policies to house the millions of people who flood from rural India into cities to do the low-wage jobs in a modernizing economy, Asia's third-biggest.

While building collapses are not uncommon in India, many were shocked by the Mumbra disaster, one of the deadliest such incidents in recent years. The apartment block crumbled in seconds, instantly killing dozens of construction workers and their wives and children who had been living there.

BLIND EYE

A shortage of affordable housing in Indian cities has led to rampant illegal construction by developers using cheap materials and shoddy methods in order to offer low-cost homes to low-paid workers, paying bribes to officials to turn a blind eye.

Despite several promises by the government to build affordable homes for India's poor in densely populated cities, the country's urban housing shortage is estimated at nearly 19 million households. That lack of affordable housing is especially acute in Mumbai, India's financial capital and home to some of the world's costliest real estate, where an estimated six out of every 10 people live in slums.   Continued...

 
An elevated view shows illegal buildings (painted white) in the Bholenath Nagar area in Thane district on the outskirts of Mumbai April 10, 2013. A shortage of affordable housing in Indian cities has led to rampant illegal construction by developers using cheap materials and shoddy methods in order to offer low-cost homes to low-paid workers, paying bribes to officials to turn a blind eye. Despite several promises by the government to build affordable homes for India's poor in densely populated cities, the country's urban housing shortage is estimated at nearly 19 million households. That lack of affordable housing is especially acute in Mumbai, India's financial capital and home to some of the world's costliest real estate, where an estimated six out of every 10 people live in slums. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash