Right To Housing In The Indian Context

Published on 11 Jul 2017 by Team

The Right to Housing is something that is to be construed as an element that is at the roots of the socio-economic rights. This is by virtue of the reason that adequate housing provides a platform to the people to gain access to numerous other socio-economic rights such as the right to development, right to peace, right to health etc. One often fails to realise that right to housing doesn’t only include four walls and one roof over one’s head but it has various nuances to it. In other words, if one tries to explore the realm of as to what all can be rooted to back to the right to housing, then that person will definitely be overwhelmed by the plethora of rights be natural or constitutional in nature.

Right to housing is very important to a person because of the reason that a house, in better words, ‘a home provides for the individuals psychological needs of having a personal space and privacy; basic space for executing social protocols which forge and nurture new as well as old relation; physical requirement of general security and protection from the harsh weather etc.’.

International Recognition 

Right to adequate housing has been recognised a part of the right to basic standards of living in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The right to adequate housing can be construed as a benchmark for gauging the willingness of the state to fulfil a basic human right. The right to adequate housing is relevant to all States, as they have all ratified at least one international treaty referring to adequate housing and committed themselves to protecting the right to adequate housing through international declarations, plans of action or conference outcome documents.

Key aspects of Right to Housing 

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has stated that the Right to Housing should be interpreted broadly and must be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. This adds the 'Human Right' connotation to the Right. As promulgated by the committee the Right includes certain freedoms, which are:

  • Protection against forced evictions and the arbitrary destruction and demolition of one’s home;
  • The right to be free from arbitrary interference with one’s home, privacy and family; and
  • The right to choose one’s residence, to determine where to live and to freedom of movement.

 The Right to Housing also entails certain entitlements, which are the following:

  • Security of tenure;
  • Housing, land and property restitution;
  • Equal and non-discriminatory access to adequate housing;
  • Participation in housing-related decision-making at the national and community levels.

Not same as Right to Property 

Right to housing is commonly misconceived to be same as Right to Property. However, the Right to Adequate Housing is much broader than the Right to own Property as it as it addresses rights not related to ownership and is intended to ensure that everyone has a safe and secure place to live in peace and dignity, including non-owners of property. Security of tenure, the cornerstone of the right to adequate housing, can take a variety of forms, including rental accommodation, cooperative housing, lease, owner-occupation, emergency housing or informal settlements. As such, it is not limited to the conferral of formal legal titles.

Right to Housing in India

In India, the right to housing has at best-found recognition, through judicial interpretation, under Article 21 of the Constitution that guarantees the protection of life and personal liberty. That, however, has not been consistent. In contrast, in countries such as South Africa where the right to housing is enshrined in the Constitution, the state has been mandated to meet its public housing obligations.

In India, slum-dwellers, villagers, outcasts etc. are the prime victims of forced evictions. They are not given proper notices, not given adequate time to get any legal aid and when it finally comes to compensation, they are subjected to various atrocities by the government representatives and are often not given the entire amount of compensation. All of this is happening despite the fact that right to adequate housing and right against discrimination is enshrined under the right to life under article 21 of the Constitution of India.

In the Olga Tellis case, the Court had held that’ a right to life cannot be properly exercised without the proper means to a livelihood and therefore the right to shelter and housing would be considered an integral part of the right to life.  It is also important that all these rights are provided uniformly and not in a discriminatory manner.’ In the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation case, the Court had recognised the need of adequate housing and had said that housing is a necessity when it comes to the overall development of an individual whether it is physically, mentally, intellectually or spiritually and is not just some form of protection against danger’.

In some of the judgments following Olga Tellis, the Supreme Court has developed on this precedent using some of the international obligations concerning housing rights, albeit not in any comprehensive manner. In more recent cases, it has totally failed to give due recognition to this right and has almost backtracked on its earlier formulations.

The right to adequate housing has been widely recognized and accepted as a part of the right to life by the international community as well as in India. Despite having ensconced the right to housing as a part of the larger right to human dignity, right to equality, social and economic rights, the basic provisions, which form the spirit of right to housing are blatantly violated all across the country.

There is a need to promulgate and implement a national human right to adequate housing law, which also commits to ending homelessness and forced evictions, and provides security of tenure. It is imperative for the state to take up a proactive role and in regulating and providing public housing. It can also intervene in the market through “equitable land use policies, rent regulation and enforcement measures” and by focussing on affordable housing.

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