From the Basti to the ‘House’: Socio-spatial Readings of Housing Policy in India

 | 27 March 2017


In June 2015, the Government of India approved a national housing program called the Prime Minster’s Awas Yojana (PMAY; Prime Minister’s Housing Plan), the latest in a series of ‘urban missions’ that have seen the urban emerge as an object for policy intervention in a country long rurally imagined. The emergence of these missions has necessitated the construction of a new urban grammar. Concepts, categories and classifications have sought to define, delineate and measure different aspects of the urban landscape so that different modes of practice and intervention may emerge. This article reads this grammar. It does so not to assess policy through its design, efficacy or feasibility, but to argue that policies, at least in part, attempt to create their own objects. A policy is thus both a product and an agent of contemporary politics, simultaneously instrumental and generative, acting as a means to an end but also an end unto itself. It is, in many ways, as much a site of the construction of meaning as it is the allocation of resources. This article looks at housing policy in the Indian city from a particular site: auto-constructed neighborhoods in the Indian city – referred to here as the basti in contra-distinction to the ‘slum’. In doing so, it offers a socio-spatial reading of these settlements along three lines: transversality, transparency and opacity. It then reads the proposed new national housing policy against these spatialities and argues that the policy fundamentally misrecognizes ‘housing’ in the Indian city.