By Sukanya Bhattacharyya

Over 10 years, the central government spent Rs 21,482 crore ($3.2 billion) building houses for the urban poor but 23 per cent of them are vacant, according to a May 2016 answer to the Lok Sabha.

The information that 238,448 of 1,032,433 houses built are empty comes at a time when the proportion of Indians living in slums has risen over five years from 17 per cent of the urban population to 19 per cent, according to official data, and 19,000 of 33,000 slums are not acknowledged by the government (2012 data).

The vacant houses include 224,000 built under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and 14,448 houses under the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) – now discontinued and subsumed into the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana launched in June 2015 – the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation said.

“In spite of the continuous efforts by the government, slum dwellers are reluctant to move to the houses built by the government due to lack of proper infrastructure and means of livelihood,” the statement to Parliament said, explaining further that the new houses often lack electricity and water, cheaply available-often through illegal connections-in slums. The new houses are usually not close to workplaces, the ministry acknowledged.

“Houses are too far from workplaces, which means additional commuting time and expense,” Kulwant Singh, India advisor, urban basic services, UN-Habitat, wrote in his Hindu Business Line column in January 2016. “In a slum, basic amenities such as electricity and water are often acquired at dirt-cheap prices. There is a certain degree of empathy and firmness that these projects lack, which consequently takes away effectiveness.”

Maharashtra (54,282) has the highest number of vacant houses, followed by Andhra Pradesh (24,611), states in which 24 per cent and 35 per cent of the urban population, respectively, lives in slums.

Over the last 10 years, Maharashtra got the most money to build housing for slum-dwellers (Rs 3,246 crore), followed by West Bengal (Rs 2,384 crore).

Of 683,724 houses sanctioned under PMAY, 0.1 per cent, or 710 houses, have been constructed till now, according to the reply to the Lok Sabha. The government is planning to build 20 million homes under PMAY by 2022.

Between 2005 and 2015, Maharashtra had the highest number of sanctioned and constructed houses (175,032/128,386) under JNNURM, followed by West Bengal (171,861/158,667). The JNNURM, originally scheduled to end in 2012, has been extended to March 2017, so houses cleared for construction can be built.

The Census of India defines a slum as a residential area where “dwellings are unfit for human habitation (due to) dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangements and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of street, lack of ventilation, light, or sanitation facilities or any combination of these factors”.

Maharashtra has more slums than any state (7,723), followed by Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

(In arrangement with, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, where Sukanya Bhattacharyya is an intern. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend.) IANS.