What is 'Sustainable' about
Defining Sustainability in Housing
Sustainability in Housing When it comes to using the term
'sustainability' in housing, it is often misinterpreted as
sustainability of a building, usually confined to physical features like
rain-water harvesting, waste management, energy efficient lightning etc.
While at first glance one may not see the difference, however delving
more into defining 'housing', it ideally refers to social, cultural,
economic, financial and environmental sustainability. Similarly, terms
like sustainable cities, sustainable transport, sustainable energy etc.
are loosely used, without giving proper thought to what 'sustainable'
Virtually everyone is familiar with the
Brundtland Commission's definition of sustainability, which defines
sustainable development as 'meeting the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'
The concept of sustainable development was initially conceived as a term
most relevant to macro-economic development . However, it is only more
recently that it has been applied to a consideration of the quality of
development in human settlements and, thus by implication, housing.
Choguill (2007), in attempting to define
sustainability in housing, states that 'if the concept of sustainability
of human settlements is to have any meaning at all, it must be defined
to include staying within the absorptive capacity of local and global
waste absorption limits, the achievement
of the sustainable use of renewable and replenishable resources, the
minimisation in the use of non-renewable
resources, and meeting basic human needs. It is the last component,
concerning human needs, that distinguishes this definition from the more
general environmental approach to sustainability that provides the
value-add to the concept of sustainability. It is the two, i.e., meeting
basic human needs and environmental sustainability that function within
a circle, both equally dependent on each other to ensure 'sustainability
of human settlements'.
Thus, one is of the opinion that in order to
be sustainable, housing initiatives must be economically viable,
socially acceptable, technically feasible and environmentally
compatible. Government housing policy must obviously be directed to
achieving these desirable aims.
Housing Policies in India
Given the extent of the housing challenge in
India, India has had a history of numerous policies and missions
focusing on housing which range from target schemes for low income
groups (Low Income Group Housing Scheme, 1954), the Urban Land (Ceiling
Regulation) Act 1976 which was enforced to prevent land speculation and
to ensure optimal allocation of land and the National Housing and
Habitat Policy, 1998 which focussed on fiscal concessions, legal and
regulatory reforms and emphasised on the creation of strong PPPs to
resolve the housing problems. In the recent years, the focus has been on
increasing and strengthening the housing stock of vulnerable communities
of economically weaker sections (EWS) and LIG with greater financial
assistance in the construction of these houses.
While many of these 'rationales' can and
should be questioned, the last point especially is quintessential to the
concept of sustainability, for which it is argued that both housing and
resource-efficiency objectives under both national and international
agendas should be pursued concurrently.
State Housing Policies and Sustainability
Under the Constitution of India, housing is
a state subject and comes under the purview of the state government. So
far as the state housing policies go, each state has various schemes and
regulatory reforms attempted to influence the construction of EWS/LIG
housing. Development Alternatives, under the project funded by UNEP
under its 10 YFP programme on Sustainable Buildings and Construction,
'Mainstreaming Sustainable Social Housing in India' (MaS-SHIP) undertook
a small study to assess state housing policies and their commitments to
affordable and sustainable housing. One state in each climatic zone was
selected, namely, Rajasthan (hot and dry), Andhra Pradesh (warm and
humid), Uttar Pradesh (composite), Karnataka (temperate) and Uttarakhand
(cold). In the case of the state of Rajasthan, in order to incentivise
private developers, the state government has stated that private
developers constructing 100% EWS/LIG housing on their own land, will be
incentivised by either Land Use Conversion Fee Waivers or a Floor Area
Ration (FAR) of up to 2.25 will be given. Further under the Mukhyamantri
Jan Awas Yojana 2015, the goal of which is to ensure 'affordable housing
for all and integrated habitat development in general and for EWS/LIG in
particular,' the state has taken initiatives to encourage use of
alternate building construction materials (in this case fly-ash bricks)
and the installation of rainwater harvesting systems. In Uttar Pradesh,
the affordable housing policy allows for a maximum FAR of 2.5 and
density of 450 housing units per hectare. If incentives are to be
provided by the state, the housing project must have a GRIHA
certification and the state government will allow 5% extra FAR for green
development projects exceeding 5,000m2.
It is one thing for state governments to
incentivise developers to construct affordable housing projects, however
it is another thing for such projects to materialise on the ground and
be successful. At this juncture of India's development, there seems to
be a misinterpretation thus leading to incorrect conceptualisation of
'housing' and 'sustainability'. There is a significant divergence
between specific development policies. The National Mission on
Sustainable Habitat, 2010, one of the missions under the National Plan
on Climate Change, sees no mention in any of the state housing policies
Although there is increasing knowledge on
sustainable development globally and in recent years, nationally, one
critical dimension of urban housing problems is that sustainable housing
is yet to gain its widely acknowledged importance in a country like
India. This is due to the lack of understanding of the social, economic,
cultural and environmental components of sustainability in housing
development. Thus, it is important that India's housing policies start
to recognise that 'affordable housing for all,' should mean sustainable
housing, i.e. meeting the basic needs of the present generations in a
sustainable manner, so as to not compromise the future generations to
meet their basic needs.
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Hardoy, E., Miltin, D., & Satterthwaite, D. (1992). Environmental
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Herda, G., Caleb, P., Gupta, R., Behal, M., Gregg, M., & Hazra, S.
(2017). Sustainable social housing in India: definition, challenges and
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IUCN. (1980). World conservation strategy: Living resource conservation
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Rees, W. (1996). Revisiting carrying capacity: Area-based indicators of
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Deputy Manager, Urban Research
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