The HINDU Notes – 01st October 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 01st October 2019

📰 Natural for India to introduce its language in global stage, says Jaishankar

There are some 19,500 languages and dialects spoken in India; almost all Indians speak one of 22 scheduled languages.

•As India exerts itself more on the global stage, it is natural for the country to use its language and metaphors more, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Monday. His comments were in response to a question from The Hindu on which of India’s many aspects would be projected abroad.

•“Nobody disputes that India is a pluralistic society and a pluralistic polity,” Mr. Jaishankar said. “Now because you have multiple voices and different facets, doesn’t mean that none of them should be projected.”

•The minister was speaking at an event at the Washington DC offices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank, days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. for bilateral meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump and to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

•“It is I think natural today for a country which is in the position in which India is to articulate its ideas, use its metaphors, its language, both literally and conceptually and introduce those into the international discourse. The idea that our thinking is shaped from the brainwork of other societies, to me, defeats common sense,” Mr. Jaishankar said, adding that this was part of a global rebalancing that was taking place.

•Mr. Modi’s address at the Climate Action Summit on September 23 and his UNGA address of September 27 were both in Hindi, as was his second — and major (from the time perspective) — speech at Howdy Modi, a Houston diaspora rally on September 22.

•Mr. Modi spoke a phrase, “Everything is fine,” in several languages in Houston. During his UNGA address, he quoted a line from a Tamil poet.

•“Nobody looks askance at the fact that today the Chinese or the Japanese or the Russians or the Arabs speak their own language,” Mr. Jaishankar said, but stopped short of saying that Hindi should be the language India projects abroad.

•India is, however, one of the most linguistic diverse countries in the world and does not have a single language. 43% of Indians speak Hindi, but this also includes Bhojpuri, Rajasthani and other languages within the broader grouping. Just 26% of Indians speak Hindi as a mother tongue, under the broader Hindi language group, The Hindu had reported earlier in September. The numbers in The Hindu’s report were based on the 2011 Census.

•Some in the BJP are wanting to project Hindi as India’s language abroad. Earlier this month, Home Minister Amit Shah had singled out Hindi’s ability to unite the country and represent it globally. His comments were made to mark Hindi Diwas, a day to mark the adoption of Hindi as one of India’s two official languages.

•“India is a country of different languages and every language has its own importance but it is very important to have a language of the whole country which should become the identity of India globally,” Mr. Shah had said (in Hindi) on Twitter. “Today, if one language can do the work of uniting the country, then it is the most spoken language, Hindi.”

•Some politicians in India had reacted unfavourably to Mr. Shah’s comments, including the Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddiurappa, who stressed the importance of Kannada. Tamil Nadu actor turned political leader, Kamal Haasan had said that, “Unity in diversity is a promise we made when we made India into a Republic. No Shah, Sultan or Samrat [emperor] should renege on that promise.”

•“I would urge you to look at this not so much in terms of India's domestic discourse …I would like you to look at it as part of the rebalancing. Rebalancing is not just in GDP numbers (country contributions to world GDP), though the GDP numbers are important. It is in terms of everything else you do in diplomacy, when it gives you that sense that the world is, today, a much more commonly owned, commonly led enterprise.”

•There are some 19,500 languages and dialects spoken in India; almost all Indians speak one of 22 scheduled languages.

📰 Kerala tops Niti Aayog’s School Education Quality Index; U.P. is worst performer

There are huge differences in the quality of school education across the country, according to the ranking.

•There are huge differences in the quality of school education across the country, according to a Niti Aayog ranking released on Monday. Among 20 large States, Kerala was the best performer with a score of 76.6%, while Uttar Pradesh came in last with a score of 36.4%.

•However, Haryana, Assam and Uttar Pradesh showed the most improvement in their performance in 2016-17, in comparison to the base year of 2015-16. The School Education Quality Index assesses States on the basis of learning outcomes, access, equity and infrastructure and facilities, using survey data, self-reported data from States and third-party verification.

•Tamil Nadu was the top performer in access and equity outcomes, while Karnataka led in learning outcomes. Haryana had the best infrastructure and facilities.

•Among smaller States, Manipur emerged as the best performer, while Chandigarh topped the list of Union Territories. West Bengal refused to participate in the evaluation process and has not been included in the rankings.

📰 A test for judicial review in India

U.K. Supreme Court’s ruling on Parliament prorogation is an exemplar on how the judiciary show view executive actions

•The highest court in the U.K., earlier this month, found that the actions of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to prorogue Parliament were unlawful. The matter had come to be heard before a panel of 11 Justices, the permitted maximum quota of serving Justices, of the Supreme Court. The verdict had the effect of quashing the Queen’s order to prorogue Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister. By doing so, the U.K. Supreme Court asserted its majesty in the constitutional framework and functioned as the true sentinel on the qui vive.

•As legal ramifications of this decision ripple through common law countries and constitutional democracies, what is equally startling is the time taken by the country’s apex court to hold and conclude these proceedings.

Prorogation in U.K.

•It was known that the Boris Johnson-led government had promised to make Britain leave the European Union by October 31, even if that meant an exit without a deal. The suspicion around actions of the government grew when Mr. Johnson advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament for it to reconvene on October 14. The process was widely perceived to be a sharp and calculated move by the government to conclude the Brexit process with minimal parliamentary scrutiny.

•This triggered a legal challenge culminating with the Scottish Court of Session finding that the Prime Minister had misled the Queen with regard to the prorogation of Parliament. Simultaneously, the matter was heard by the High Court of England and Wales, which ruled that the prerogative powers of the government were non-justiciable. These conflicting decisions were handed down on September 11. The appeals emanating from these two courts were heard by the Supreme Court between September 17 and September 19 and the judgment was delivered on September 24. The entire judicial approach, in dealing with a matter concerning the “fundamentals of democracy”, underlines the effectiveness of the judicial review process when conducted in a timely manner.

•The last parliamentary session in the United Kingdom, which began in June 2017 and lasted more than 340 days, was one of the longest in recent history. The government justified that the prorogation was necessary under such circumstances and also for the preparation of the Queen’s Speech.

•Accepting these arguments, the Scottish Court of Outer House, in the first instance, dismissed the legal challenge on the grounds that this was a matter of “high policy and political judgment” and as such was non-justiciable. Allowing the appeal, the Inner House found that the advice given by Mr. Johnson, which formed the basis for the Queen’s order, was justiciable and further, declared it to be unlawful. Upholding this judgment, the Supreme Court confirmed that the prorogation was “unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.” In other countries following the Westminster system of government, this decision should naturally lead to increased introspection of executive actions and provide a boost to due parliamentary processes.

•Closer home, there have been at least two key executive actions this year that have undermined parliamentary processes: Reservation for Economically Weaker Sections and the Bills passed around Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The Constitutional (One Hundred and Third) Amendment Act 2019 providing reservation for Economically Weaker Sections was brought for consideration of Parliament in less than 48 hours from the time the decision was taken by the Centre. By doing so, the government ensured that there was insufficient time for Parliament scrutiny. The Bills around J&K also suffered from a similar defect.

Violation of rules

•The Monsoon Session of Parliament was originally scheduled to end on July 26 but was extended to August 7 by the government. On August 5, the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019 was suddenly introduced to the ‘Parliamentary List of Business’. When the Rajya Sabha convened, Home Minister Amit Shah, at 11.15 a.m., moved the Statutory Resolution proposing to nullify all clauses in Article 370 apart from Clause(1). Copies of the Bill and the Resolution were not provided to MPs till 11.30 a.m.

•The conventional practice is that legislative documents are provided at least a few days before they are tabled. This is done for the MPs understand the contents of the legislation, seek views and formulate their positions better.

•The manner in which both these Bills were introduced in Parliament was also in direct violation of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business. In Rajya Sabha, specifically, Rule 69 talks about ‘Motions after Introduction of Bills’ and ‘Scope of Debate’. According to the proviso of Rule 69, there is discretion given to the Chairman in exceptional situations. But, every discretionary power does require that the Chairman must exercise it judiciously and with proper application of mind. There has been no cogent or detailed explanation given by those presiding our Houses of Parliament as to why the government has been allowed to flout parliamentary rules and convention on more than one occasion.

•Such actions of governments of Mr. Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have revealed a complete disregard for established parliamentary processes. This has placed democratic institutions in the peril of being weakened. While the courts in the United Kingdom have made their determinations on these issues, there is sufficient material for Indian courts to assess whether executive actions have indeed undermined parliamentary processes. How the court responds to this challenge will determine the majesty of the judicial review process in India.

📰 Green energy target lacks deadline

No fixed year for increase of share of non-fossil fuels to 450 GW, says official

•With Prime Minister Narendra Modi declaring at New York last week that India would be aiming to increase its renewable energy target to 450 GW (gigawatts), a senior official in the Union Environment Ministry said that there was not yet a deadline for when this target would be achieved.

•On September 22, Mr. Modi said at the Climate Action Summit in New York: “In India, we are going to increase the share of non-fossil fuels to 175 GW in 2022, and to further increase it to 450 GW.”

•“There isn’t a fixed year for this [increase of share of non-fossil fuels to 450 GW],” C.K. Mishra, Secretary, Union Environment Ministry, confirmed to The Hindu, in response to a query on by when this would be implemented.

•India’s plan for installing 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022 was first announced in 2015 during then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget speech. Of this, 100 GW was to be from solar power, and so far about 80 GW has been installed.

On single-use plastic

•Mr. Mishra also reiterated that there would be no ban on single-use plastic from October 2, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, but advisories have been sent out to the States to restrict the use of this class of plastics.

•“The States have been told which objects constitute single-use plastic and [States] have been asked to commit to eliminating their use. Several States already have rules in place to restrict their use,” he said on the sidelines of a workshop of a sub-committee, called Working Group 3, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in New Delhi.

•The IPCC is in the midst of preparing the Sixth Assessment Report, which periodically synthesises the available knowledge on climate change and the effects of global warming on different ecologies and countries. More than 200 experts from 65 countries — 12 are from India — are to start preparing a first draft of the report, which is due to be finalised late 2021. Jim Skea, Co-Chair of Working Group 3, highlighting the role of the Sixth Assessment Report, said: “Building on previous Working Group 3 assessments, this report will emphasise what can be done in the near-term to mitigate climate change, and how mitigation actions can be enabled through policy, institution-building and finance.”

📰 Scientists excavate ‘ancient river’ in Uttar Pradesh

The paleochannel linked the Ganga and the Yamuna near Prayagraj

•The Union Water Ministry has excavated an old, dried-up river in Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad) that linked the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. The aim is to develop it as a potential groundwater recharge source, according to officials at the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), a body under the Union Jal Shakti Ministry that coordinates the cleaning of the Ganga.

•The “ancient buried river” as it was described at a conference organised by the Ministry, is around 4 km wide, 45 km long and consisted of a 15-metre-thick layer buried under soil.

•According to Executive Director, NMCG, D.P. Mathuria, the discovery was made last December by a team of scientists from the CSIR-NGRI (National Geophysical Research Institute) and the Central Groundwater Board during a helicopter-borne geophysical survey covering the Prayagraj and Kaushambi region in Uttar Pradesh.

•These paleochannels reveal the course of rivers that have ceased to exist.

•The newly discovered river, according to Mr. Mathuria, was a “buried paleochannel that joins the Yamuna river at Durgapur village, about 26 km south of the current Ganga-Yamuna confluence at Prayagraj.

•The genesis of the palaeochannel’s discovery followed a 2016 report of a seven-member committee, headed by Professor K.S. Valdiya of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), commissioned by the Water Resources Ministry.

•This report concluded that evidence from palaeochannels suggested that the mythological Saraswati river did indeed exist. They claimed to have based their conclusions on reports and maps of palaeochannels in north India and a separate, ongoing project by the Central Groundwater Board to map the aquifers (extremely deep stores of groundwater) of India.

📰 Creating jobs for young India

If India does not make effective use of the strengths of its youth now, it may never do

•Amartya Sen had once quipped that India’s unemployment figures were low enough to put many developed countries to shame. Professor Sen was, of course, not commending the country’s record in employment creation, but instead, highlighting the difficulties involved in measuring employment and unemployment in a developing country.

•Unemployment has been at the centre of public debates in India recently. The government’s Periodic Labour Force Survey carried out in 2017-18 revealed that unemployment in the country reached an all-time high rate of 6.1%. What explains this sudden jump in unemployment in India, which had remained at a rather low rate of around 2% for several decades?

•Our estimates based on official employment surveys and the Census show that in 2018, there were 471.5 million persons employed and 30.9 million unemployed in India. At the heart of the unemployment problem in India were young, unemployed men aged 15 to 29 years who comprised 21.1 million or 68.3% of all the unemployed in the country. To understand how their numbers rose recently, we need to examine the behaviour of not just labour demand but also labour supply over time.

Rising numbers of job seekers

•First, the size of labour supply in India is getting a boost from the rapid expansion of the working-age population in the country — the population of 15-59-year-olds increased at the rate of 14 million a year in the 2000s.

•Second, the nature of labour supply is changing too, with increasing enrolment of young adults for education and their rising job aspirations. Of all 15-29-year-old females in India, 31% had been attending schools or colleges in 2018, up from 16.3% in 2005 (although, it needs to be mentioned here that there have been questions on the quality of education received and skills acquired by these young people).

•Third, the size of the workforce engaged in agriculture (and allied activities) has been declining in India: from 258.8 million in 2005 to 197.3 million in 2018 (which still accounted for 41.9% of the total workforce in the country). This decline has been partly due to the ‘push’ from low-productivity agriculture, which has suffered due to stagnant public investment from the 1990s onwards. The decline has also been driven by the ‘pull’ of new opportunities that emerge in the towns and cities. A significant number of people who are ‘employed’ according to official statistics could actually have been in ‘disguised unemployment’ in agriculture (consider a person who does no job but occasionally assists his family in cultivation). Young persons in rural areas will be increasingly keen to exit disguised unemployment in agriculture.

•As a result of the above-referred factors, there has been a significant increase in India in the supply of potential workers for the non-agricultural sectors. These are 15-59-year-olds who are not students nor engaged in agriculture. If provided the relevant skills, they could possibly work in industry, construction and services. Our estimates show that the potential non-agricultural workforce in India grew at the rate of 14.2 million a year between 2005 and 2012, which rose further to 17.5 million a year between 2012 and 2018.

•How has the growth of labour demand matched up to the job challenge in India? Between 2005 and 2012, construction had been the major source of employment in India, absorbing men who exited agriculture in rural areas, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. The growth of construction jobs was associated with a revival in agricultural incomes and rural wages during this period.

Labour demand lagging behind

•However, the growth of agricultural incomes and the rural economy in India slowed down markedly after 2012. New employment opportunities in construction created in rural India amounted to 18.9 million between 2005 and 2012, which fell sharply to 1.6 million between 2012 and 2018. The size of the manufacturing workforce in India declined by one million between 2012 and 2018, with micro and small firms in the informal sector suffering severe setbacks. At the same time, some segments of the services sector, especially education and professional, business and allied services recorded acceleration in employment growth after 2012. The crisis in the rural economy appears to have been moderated to some extent by an increase in governmental spending in 2016-18.

•Even from 2005 to 2012, job creation in industry, construction and services in India (at the rate of 6.3 million a year) was inadequate to absorb the increase in potential job seekers into these sectors (at the rate of 14.2 million a year). Between 2012 and 2018, while the supply of potential workers into the non-agricultural sectors accelerated (to 17.5 million a year), actual labour absorption into these sectors decelerated (to 4.5 million a year). Thus, the mismatch between potential supply of and demand for labour deepened after 2012. While only the women suffered due to the mismatch during 2005-2012, young men were also affected after 2012. In fact, 30-59-year-old men managed to secure 90.4% of all new non-agricultural employment opportunities that emerged in India between 2012 and 2018, leaving too few new jobs for women and younger men.

•Faced with the inadequate number of new jobs generated in the economy, women withdrew altogether from the labour market. Of all 15-59-year-old women in India, only 23% were employed in 2018, down from 42.8% in 2005. Correspondingly, there had been a sharp rise in the proportion of women who reported their status as attending to domestic duties in their own households. At the same time, the response of young men to the slow job growth in the economy was to continue in the labour market as job seekers. Among 15-29-year-old men, there was an unprecedented increase in the number of the unemployed, from 6.7 million in 2012 to 21.1 million in 2018. This was indeed the main contributor to the sudden increase in overall unemployment in India.

•India faces a tough challenge in creating decent jobs for its growing young population. To tackle this, action will be needed on multiple fronts including investments in human capital, revival of the productive sectors, and programmes to stimulate small entrepreneurship. If the country is unable to make effective use of the strengths of its young women and men now, it can perhaps never do so. Within the next two decades or so, India’s population will gradually start getting older, and it will be tragic for millions of poor Indians to grow old before getting even moderately rich.

📰 The link between jobs, farming and climate

It is imperative to focus on agricultural production in devising a long-term solution to the problem of unemployment

•At a panel discussion hosted recently by the students of Delhi’s Ambedkar University, the topic was, ‘Are we heading for an economic crisis?’ Presumably, they had been prompted by the all-absorbing news of a slowing economy. It is indeed correct that such a slowing is taking place. Growth has slowed for the past few quarters — the past two-and-a-half years, if we go by annual growth rates.

•That this has not been comforting to the government is evident from the fact that its Ministers are running from pillar to post in an effort to goose the economy. But should we be worried?

•Those who heard the address to the United Nations climate change summit by the teenager Greta Thunberg earlier this month may not be as worried about economic growth as the government is. Globally, industrial growth driven by mindless consumption is the cause of climate change, now unmistakably upon us. But India does need some growth as income levels here are still very low. The problem of low incomes can, however, be tackled even with less growth so long as it is of the appropriate type. So, the slowing of growth in India cannot reasonably be termed a crisis.

Rural unemployment

•There is, however, one feature of the economy that does answer positively to the query of whether it is in crisis today, and that is unemployment. Figures reported in the report of the last Periodic Labour Force Survey point to a dramatic rise in the unemployment rate since 2011-12, when the previous survey on unemployment was undertaken. Apart from the category of ‘Urban Females’, the most recent estimate of unemployment shows that it is the highest in the 45 years since 1972-73. But even for ‘Urban Females’, it is double what it was in 2011-12. For the largest cohort, namely ‘Rural Males’, in 2017-18, it is four times the average for the 40 years up to 2011-12. These figures should convince us of the existence of a grave situation, if not crisis, with respect to employment in the country. In the average country of the OECD, an increase in unemployment of such magnitude would have triggered a nationwide debate, not to mention agitation on the streets.

•The government has responded to the slowing of growth by announcing a range of measures, the most prominent of them being the reduction in the corporate tax rate. While this may have a positive effect, the move is not based on the big picture. The tax cut is meant to be a remedy for stagnant corporate investment. But if the level of corporate investment itself reflects some underlying reality, it is only by tackling the latter that we can get to the root of the problem. A large part of corporate sales is driven by rural demand, reflected in the reported lay-offs by biscuit manufacturers. We do not hear their voices or, more importantly, the government does not, as they are less organised than some other sections of the corporate world, the automobile industry being one such.

•The rural picture matters not only because the largest numbers are located there but also because of their low incomes. This means that the future growth of demand for much of industrial production is likely to come from there. After all, how many more flat-screen televisions can an urban middle-class household buy once it already possess one? The high unemployment rate for ‘Rural Males’ does suggest that we have zoomed in up to a reasonable degree of precision on the site of low demand.

Production decline

•We must now answer the question of why rural incomes are growing so slowly. The recent history of crop agriculture points towards one reason. In the nine years since 2008-2009, this activity has recorded zero or negative growth in five. Put differently, in the majority of years, it has shown no growth. The economy has very likely not seen anything like this since 1947.

•When growth fluctuations include production decline, a particular feature emerges. Households incurring consumption debt in bad crop years would be repaying it in the good ones. This implies that consumption does not grow appreciably even in good years. Recognising the record of agricultural production is sufficient to grasp what we see in India today. This does not imply that other factors do not matter, and we could imagine several, ranging from low export growth to the state of the banking sector, but this does suggest that poor agricultural performance is a significant explanation of slack domestic demand. Unstable agricultural production first lowers the demand for agricultural labour and, subsequently, its supply, showing up in greater unemployment. It has been pointed out that the investment rate has declined. This is indeed correct but this may well be a reflection of the poor agricultural performance. Private investment both follows output growth and leads it. When non-agricultural firms observe slow agricultural growth, they are likely to shrink their investment plans and may not revise their decision till this growth improves. Thus, attempting to influence the private investment rate is to only deal with a symptom. It is rural income generation that is the problem.

Long-term solution

•Any long-term solution to the problem of unemployment to which the slowing growth of the economy is related must start with agricultural production. Observing the performance of crop agriculture for close to a decade since 2008-09, we might say that we are witnessing something wholly new in India. It has long been recognised that there is a crop-yield cycle related to annual variations in rainfall but we are now witnessing a stagnation. Now, unlike in the case of a cycle, recovery cannot simply be assumed. We would need the expertise of agricultural scientists to confirm what exactly is responsible for this state but it would not be out to place to ask if there is not a role for ecological factors in causing agricultural stagnation. These factors encompass land degradation involving loss of soil moisture and nutrients, and the drop in the water table, leading to scarcity which raises the cost of cultivation. Almost all of this is directly man-made, related as it is to over-exploitation or abuse, as in the case of excessive fertilizer use, of the earth’s resources. Then there the increasingly erratic rainfall, seemingly god-given but actually due to climate change entirely induced by human action. A deeper adaptation is required to deal with these factors. Intelligent governance, resource deployment and change in farmer behaviour would all need to combine for this.

•It is significant that the reality of an unstable agricultural sector rendering economy-wide growth fragile has not elicited an adequate economic policy response. Policy focus is disproportionately on the tax rate, the ease of doing business in the non-agricultural sector and a fussy adherence to a dubious fiscal-balance target. It is now time to draw in the public agricultural institutes and farmer bodies for their views on how to resuscitate the sector. We may be experiencing an ecological undertow, and it could defeat our best-laid plans for progress.

📰 Housing crisis, untouched

The draft Model Tenancy Act does little to address current issues in the rental housing market

•After several years in the making, a draft of the Model Tenancy Act, 2019, was released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in July. Among other things, the Act aims to promote rental housing and ‘balance the interests’ of landowners and tenants. It covers residential and non-residential properties, but it is apparent from the framing that it is largely aimed at the urban residential sector.

Limited scope

•Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stated in her Budget 2019 speech that the rental laws in India are archaic and do not address “the relationship between the Lessor and the Lessee realistically and fairly”. The Model Tenancy Act, however, has a limited understanding of this dynamic as it fails to take into account that a majority of tenancies in India are informal — there is not even a written agreement, let alone a registered one. These agreements are based on trust, word of mouth, and social kinship networks. The model Act could therefore have one of two consequences: either a majority of the rental agreements will continue to be unregistered thus nullifying the legislative intent of the Act, or the Act might formalise existing arrangements and lead to gentrification and, consequently, an increase in rents, which is the opposite of what it sought to achieve.

•The Act is laudable insofar as it provides for the constitution of Rent Courts and Tribunals. Thousands of rent cases clog the lower judiciary and the process is lengthy and time-consuming. The Act provides for a time-bound process with dedicated courts for tenants and landlords. But the problem is that the jurisdiction or power of these courts to hear cases is limited to the tenancy agreement submitted to the Rent Authority. On the one hand, this implies that all future tenancies that have been submitted to the Rent Authority shall be eligible to approach these courts. On the other hand, older tenancies and informal tenancies will still not fall under its jurisdiction. Thus, the twin problems of resolving older disputes and informal arrangements will continue.

•So, how can the Act be made more effective? Put simply, the Act needs to respond in a realistic manner to actual housing market practices in our cities. First, counter-intuitive as it may sound, the Act needs to focus on the upper end of the housing market in order to make a difference in the lower end of the market. It is known that vacancy — i.e., housing kept vacant for various reasons — is higher in the upper segments of the housing market. For instance, across urban India, vacancy rates in urban areas is 10.1% while in slums it is 7.3%. We see several empty apartment projects in our cities, but rarely an unoccupied slum or low-income colony. Thus, an effective implementation of the Act in the upper segments of the housing market will allow some of these vacant houses to enter the rental market and serve to relieve the massive amount of pressure and demand on the lower segments.

•Second, even in letter the Act needs to differentiate between commercial tenancies that attract a lot more institutional investment and residential tenancies that are largely held between individuals and households. The two markets are very different from each other. Even in development policy, the outcomes required of the two sectors are entirely different — while commercial real estate underpins economic development, residential arrangements in urban areas offer security of tenure and access to livelihoods, health and education. The two cannot be dealt with in a similar manner as it would be under this Act. One cannot piggyback on another judicially.

More investments

•A last but critical move will be to increase the supply of formal affordable rental housing — housing that can actually fall under the purview of the model Act. This requires investment on the part of the Central and State governments. Additionally, prior experience has shown that publicly provided rental housing will need structured efforts in management, planning and design in order to achieve its inclusive agenda. Thus there is a case for the Central and State governments to develop schemes for the supply of formal affordable rental housing. As per the experience of various countries, this could be in the form of housing built to rent for migrants, low-wage informal and formal workers, and students; rent-to-own housing for unsteady low-wage households; and even rental housing allowances/vouchers for the most marginalised in the housing market. To address the housing crisis and to ensure secure tenures for low-income households, the Act needs a wider ambit along with renewed efforts and investments.