Thinking beyond conventional shelters for the poor in India

January 27, 2014 / By  

I’m often invited to be in the audience at award-giving ceremonies, and at one of these I met a woman, Urmila Rajadhyaksha who received an award for her work in improving housing for the poor. What she told me made me think about this social problem more deeply.

Currently, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working with the Indian Government in a scheme to make housing available for the poorest of the poor. Under this scheme participants are given land and modest financial help, but they have to find and use recognised materials and techniques for the house to qualify as a permanent shelter.

However, when I thought about it I realised that the regulations had to be flexible for the scheme to be successful throughout a large country which has several climatic zones, various soil conditions and assorted sources of building materials. The meaning of “permanent shelter” would have to be re-defined to allow the novel use of unconventional materials and erection techniques.

Experimental shelters have been made from the skeletons of scrapped buses, bamboo frames with rammed earth walls, bamboo and hay infill, and even by using used plywood panels and metal fabrication waste, and it is noticeable that using these unconventional materials gives good results for those who have no money, no expertise, but only their bare hands.

This scheme under the broader name of “Indira Awas Yojana” (Indira Shelter Policy) has been audited and an evaluation made of its achieved success so far, and I am hopeful that it will achieve better results henceforth for the very reason that it accepts its limitations in the current framework and now openly invites practical and creative minds to recommend solutions. This is a big step forward, knowing that in India such steps are rare and often belatedly taken as usually the government is mired in a state of policy paralysis.

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