Architecture of Rural Housing:
Some Issues in India
AMONGST the vast, seemingly impossible problems facing India is the acute shortage of rural houses. And like these problems (say population control, income redistribution, recurring floods and so many more) this one too has been measured many times, analysed even more times and redefined often enough. But there is no solution in sight. The solution will only begin to appear when precious resources are moved out of the high-return urban-based consumer industries into the production of housing components. And that move, we have every reason to believe, will not take place as long as there is this utter confusion of priorities in the economic development of India.
Today India's population has crossed the 600-million mark. About 80 per cent of this lives in the countryside. A recent count shows a housing shortage in the countryside of 23 million houses to which can be added another 13 million houses that need to be completely replaced.1 This makes up a total shortage of 36 million rural houses. But many of the existing rural houses are really mud houses—some of them very charming but many just hovels. If a rural housing programme were to be launched to effectively give pucca2 houses in the rural areas then the housing shortage is really 104 million houses. So here is the magnitude of the problem and this figure does not include a 22 million shortage in the urban areas.3 With this kind of a huge requirement for houses everybody naturally looks towards the government for a solution. This is not a realm in which the private investor is interested—the returns are low or even negligible and the investment is too high. We live, in India, in a time of rapid inflation and rural housing is not something into which anybody is going to invest except the government. And of course the government does not really have the money either, because what with the need for dams, railways and steel factories, nothing much is left over for village improvement. But, in our democratic system, 78 per cent of the vote comes from the countryside and there lies the catch! Even if the ruling powers are unable to offer a solution, they must be seen to be offering a solution. ,
Thus the atmosphere in academic circles is charged with a numbej of irrelevant debates. The first of these is the debate on the