Kolkata, Nov 3: Welcoming more private investment in low-cost housing, West Bengal chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattcharjee here Monday exhorted everyone involved in the real estate business to ensure housing for the poor and middle-income groups. "In a country where one billion people live in substandard houses, one million stay in temporary or make-shift houses and 50 percent of the population does not have proper housing, our main concern should be how to provide housing for the poor,” Bhattacharjee said at the opening session of the 36th World Congress on Housing Science here.
He said though the state has low cost technology to make low cost houses, every effort should be made to lower the costs further so that housing becomes affordable to the masses. He welcomed more housing in the state through the public-private-partnership (PPP) model and cited the example of Shapoorji Pallonji and DLF, which has started a PPP project in the state. “The government alone cannot solve this problem of housing. The government alone cannot provide housing for all,” Bhattacharjee added.
Arcelor-Mittal, others keen to invest
Leading investors from sectors like steel, telecom and banking have evinced interest in setting up offices in the upcoming IT hub of West Bengal, Rajarhat. Speaking at the session Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said, big companies, including the world's largest steel producer Arcelor-Mittal, want to to set up offices in Rajarhat. "ICICI, Mittal, Jindal and Mittal's want to set up offices in Rajarhat," the chief minister said. However, with land prices rising, providing land to the industries was a major challenge, he added. "We have a problem of land in urban areas. Prices of land are increasing everyday. It is a complicated issue. Gautam Deb is asking for Rs 7 crore per acre for land," the chief minister said referring to his state housing minster. Another problem faced by the real estate sector in recent days was scarce bank finance, he added.
Gautam Deb, minister for housing and public health engineering, said areas under Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) alone faced a shortage of 90,000 dwelling units, and the state could construct only 20,000 units. Foreign investors would visit Rajarhat and adjoining areas, Deb said. Somnath Chatterjee, speaker of the Lok Sabha, said, by the end of the 10th five year plan, the shortage of dwelling units in West Bengal was estimated to be 24.7 million units. This could increase to 26.35 million by the end of the 11th five year plan, with about 99 per cent of the shortage concentrated among the economically weaker sections of the society, Chatterjee added. The total investment required for urban housing was estimated at Rs 3.16 lakh crore by the end 2012, said Chatterjee.
Housing policy soon
The West Bengal government may introduce a new housing policy soon. Speaking later on the sidelines of the seminar organised by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata, I N Chakraborty, secretary of the housing department of West Bengal, said the state was in the process of framing a new housing policy, on the lines of National Hosing and Habitat policy. According to Chakraborty, the state will face a shortage of seven million dwelling units by the end of the 11th five year plan, against 30 million nationally.
Also, Bengal could consider framing regulatory framework for special residential zone (SRZ), in the lines of special economic zone (SEZ) , which should spell out incentives and regulatory framework to be provided under the policy, he said. "There should be multiple stake holders, including private, institutional and cooperative sectors, in the new housing policy, which should be framed in consultation with the local bodies," Chakraborty said. The recommendations followed a recent inter-state housing policy meet held in Rajasthan. According to rough estimates, Bengal will need an investment of Rs 7,400 crore to complete the New Town satellite township east of the city.
50,000 crore investment potential
Till now, about Rs 1,435 crore has been spent, and in the next 20 years the total investment in the area would be Rs 50,000 crore. This apart, the housing policy should give more emphasis to the housing needs of the slum dwellers. In this regard, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), a Central government scheme for urban regeneration, has also started projects on special area development in the state. Some of the other recommendations of the inter-state housing meet included setting up a dedicated fund for housing finance, setting up mortgage finance company and new foreign direct investment (FDI) guidelines in the housing sector. Also, a single window clearance was needed for foreign funds, Chakraborty said.
H V Patodia, president of Calcutta Chamber of Commerce, said with rapid urnbanisation, one big challenge would be providing affordable housing to city dwellers, especially the poor. In India alone, about 100 million people lived in slums and slum-like conditions, and the number could touch 200 million by 2020.