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Improving Rural Lives, Urban Regeneration, Slums Improvements & Smart Cities Development

The Chairman of PTI, Imran Khan, unveiled the ambitious agenda, the work plan, outlining the party’s commitments for Naya Pakistan after forming its government after the 2018 general elections.

The most important point were, 1) providing 50 lakhs of home to Pakistani public, under Prime Minister’s Housing Scheme, later on renamed as Naya Pakistan Housing Programme, over next five years and 2) creation of 1 crore of job opportunities for the common man in the next five years of PTI’s expected rule.

Housing is such a huge labour intensive sector, involving more than 30 industries in our countries, and according to many analyses, more than 70 related industries, which simultaneously create huge job opportunities, which would be real catalyst, whence PTI could set the ball rolling for successfully creating and producing housing for the common people all across the country. Yet, creation of job opportunities is in itself a behemoth work of science and arts, followed by rightly accurate and appropriate policy making, the steps of which will be elaborated and shared as the on-going works on the drawing boards would be finalized and put into action.

While elaborating present government’s common men’s housing plan, we should not be oblivious of such previous plans by other governments of those days. Previously, after 2008 elections, Mr. Yousuf Raza Gillani, the prime minister in PPP government announced for making 10 lakhs houses, which did not kick off. Then in 2013, the then prime minister Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in PMLN government (which is still in power) announced to construct 5 lakhs houses for lower and lower-middle income group of people, for which some enthusiastic meetings and table talks were held by the sitting government, which also died down in about a year. So, both those announcements were practically non-starter.

Now the ambitious plan of present government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is providing 5 million affordable houses for the common man in the coming five years. An obvious question has been resonating in all minds, particularly in the skeptic and critical minds, whether this ambitious plan would be practicable, and would not fail like the other previous ones; and if doable, then how. The positive thing is all, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, are dedicatedly working to achieve the target, not for any political point scoring, but for solving this huge problem in reality, and the rest will be in the hands of Almighty Allah!

The present problem is, lack of one window facilities, required infrastructures for building and financing mass quantity houses, absence of many all-important laws and regulations, age-old mindset of going slow, under-development of mass-production facility for construction materials for production level housing and many more impediments. But with the grace of Almighty Allah, and with dedicated mindset, the task forces concerned with delivering production level housing, are currently going very well.

Housing shortage in Pakistan

The Government is very much concerned about housing shortage. It is highly concerned to make common man’s dreams of owning a house come true. But what is actual shortage of houses in Pakistan? The calculation is naturally made on the basis of national population census and national housing census – the gap of existing population and existing housing of various categories, which has been officially made after a long 18 years in May 2017.

To properly manage the information, facilitate the planners and policy makers, and help out the executant of the government plans, the government direly needs a housing observatory system. Hopefully, under the present process, such an observatory would ultimately come up.

Presently, it is roughly calculated that, there is a deficit of 90 lakh to 1 crore 20 lakh (9-12 million) units, and there is uniform agreement across a basket of available information that, the shortage could reach 2 crore (20 million) by 2025 if remedial action is not urgently taken (source: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1430722/the-housing-crisis-2/).

If 12 million housing shortage is planned to be overcome in ten years, then every year 1.2 million low-cost houses should be built costing rupees 1,800 billion, which can contribute rupees 180 billion to the national exchequer. The government is losing almost more than 30 percent of revenue every year because of lack of regularization of the construction industry through a vibrant policy. (Source: https://fp.brecorder.com/2017/03/20170313153618/ and https://pakobserver.net/urban-housing-shortage-to-touch-20m-units-by-2025/).

Here, one thing deserves proper clarification that, the government would not be making the houses on its own, would not be searching for the required funds and would not be depending on political sloganeering. The government would only make the stone rolling, would provide all types of policy assistance regarding housing and other business issues, would make all related laws enabling for all, and last but not the least, activate and rejuvenate all the involved players. The government’s role would be to ensure business interests of the developers, suppliers and providers to get the things easily going; and the same time ensure social interests of the needy public at large and the financial interests of national exchequer are protected. And hence there will be an all-encompassing, and all-enabling Authority to cater all the needs of all the stakeholders in an epoch making way.

Urban housing, rural housing, slum prevalence

When we talk about housing issues, we tend to keep our attentions limited only to urban areas, and forget the rural areas and hapless rural population.

According to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, ratio of Pakistan’s urban-rural population is 32.5%:67.5%. (Source: http://www.pbs.gov.pk/sites/default/files//tables/AREA%20POPULATION%20DENSITY%20AND%20URBAN%20RURAL%20PROPORTION.pdf)

Up until now, this huge 67.5% rural population was always ignored in all kinds of house planning, and planned social amenities like servicing of utility, transportation and communications. In many places, people have to carry manually, on cots and beds on shoulders or animal carts the dead or sick people to other places, including to basic health units.

Another social and economic problem is the transmigration, to the level of exodus of rural population towards urban areas.

According a report of Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Centre of September 2016, in Pakistan the migration to urban areas ratio is 2.8% annually. At this rate, by 2025 the percentage of urban population is anticipated to be 50% of total population. Considering the issues under which our urban areas are riling, this mega increase in urban population in just another 7 years’ time would have a colossal effect on the urban demography of Pakistan.

All these are to be handled by none other than the government itself.

The government should publish an extensive report on the issue of urban migration and urbanization, its causes and effects; and what remedial actions must be taken at the earliest. Pakistan’s urban population growth is 3.3%, while rural population growth is 1.4%. So, among many other things, to manage and control national population growth, steps must be taken to properly manage the rural population by providing maximum social and economic amenities to the rural populace.

Here comes the needs and requirements of molding all villages of Pakistan to the form of model villages, in which simplicity of rural life immersed in maximum possible facilities of urban life would be developed.

To this end, The government would initiate rural housing development and finance, through gearing up and marshaling all the interested parties. In rural areas, there would not expectedly be any problem, or shortage, of land. What rural people would be in need, is of enabling environments, policies, procedures and processes, which would help them develop a model living environment. We hope that, we would be able to do so without putting much pressure on the exchequer.

Out of planned 50 lakh housing units in 5 years, 1/3rd or 15 lakh would be done in urban areas, and 2/3rd or 35 lakh of rural houses would be made available in rural areas. And for obvious reasons, costs of rural houses would be much lesser than houses of urban areas.

Slum prevalence are some of big issues in big cities around the world. Through this housing policy, the government would make this issue a mainstream national issue to be recognized by all concern; and work for slum improvement, slum curtailment and prevention of farther growth of slums anywhere in Pakistan.

What the Government must do

What the government shall do, knowing that the housing shortage is very grave, and more than 70 upstream and downstream industries are lying in-activated, thus Pakistan’s economy is not getting any impetus? Knowing that, the shortage according to reliable calculation (involving World Bank), as stated earlier, is of 12 million units, which would very fast hover around 20 million units, the government has taken onto itself to hold the raging bull by its horn, and set the target for itself to see about 50 percent of this shortage covered on the ground in 5 years’ time. For many, it seems to be too ambitious, and an unattainable target, but for the present government it is a no-choice situation. There should only be determination and doing, nothing else!

As has been specified earlier, 1/3rd of this target would in be established urban areas, and 2/3rd of the same would be in rural areas. Rural areas would be given model facilities, model environment and model villages. This would ensure simplicity of village life with ease of city life, which would, in-sha-Allah, help curtail many things including migrations to city areas, and acceleration of slums there.

In today’s urban habitat, slums are a big issue. And it has been established that, slums cannot be annihilated, slums should not be annihilated. What is to be done is to manage slum prevalence, is to improve living conditions in slums, and restrict the increment in number and volume of slums. Improvements of rural living conditions through development of model villages would be the effective steps towards this end.

So, how would it be done

As it has been stated earlier, to fulfill the shortage of 12 million housing units, the national exchequer would require to dole out at least rupees 1,800 billion in present time. But it must be made clear here that, the government would not do supply work of this kind. It would only give enabling environment, meet legal requirements and law making promptly, as and when required, and gear up all the components to do their stints in lightning speed and earn their portion of fortune and fame.

So, among many other things, PTI would do the following:

Where required, fully functional and authoritative proper regulatory bodies would be immediately established;
Gear up various authorities like Housing Authorities, Ministry of Housing, land banks, housing observatories, and the academia dedicated to housing etc. to their respective potentialities, and their proper delivery in real times;
Make required laws, and remove lacunas in prevailing laws promptly and immediately, as and when required;
Revolutionize mass and high rise productions in shortest possible time;
Standardize and commercialize components of houses and construction materials, to economize the prices;
Introduce research hubs and incubators, in college/universities to improve the delivery of houses;
Give rural housing the required shot in the arm, and make it an important issue in national parlance;
Improve construction materials and techniques for rural housing, so that the rural housing can meet and withstand vagaries of local climatic conditions and culture;
Will actively consider establishing separate rural housing ministry for the huge population of about 68%;
Give proper importance and acknowledgement to town planning and habitat planning across the country;

It may be noted that, the present government’s ultimate aim is not only to facilitate the reduction/annihilation of the calculated housing shortage in the country but also to revolutionize general living standard in general, and rural living standard in particular.

(Syed Sayef Hussain)

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