How Chandigarh housing board shattered residents’ housing dreams, ET RealEstate

September 12, 2023

CHANDIGARH: Roots of the chaos on Chandigarh’s borders can be traced to the administration’s failure to create a healthy and affordable primary housing market in the city. Chandigarh Housing Board (CHB), the primary player in housing expansion, has struggled to deliver affordable housing.

Most of its effort has been reduced to achieving the administration’s aim of making the city “slum free” while economically disadvantaged groups and the middle class have been ignored.

Over the decades, the city’s population has grown exponentially. Originally visualised for a population of five lakh, the city is now home to more than 12 lakh people. The quality of life, education and health facilities that it has to offer are way better than anywhere else in the region, which has attracted lakhs.

A major chunk of this increased population has ended up in sprawling rehabilitation colonies. Another chunk, nearly 50%, lives in rented accommodations. Finding good housing in the city has become increasingly difficult. The options available are limited and cost a great deal. Even people who have lived and served the city their entire working life find it an unwelcoming home after retirement.

Kamal Gupta, president, Chandigarh Property Consultants Association, said, “The administration in general and the CHB in particular have failed to create not only affordable housing but any sort of housing for the general public in the city. This has resulted in severe paucity of housing supply, which in turn has pushed housing prices beyond the reach of the common man. Adding to it, the administration has put severe restrictions on housing registration, further creating artificial supply scarcity.”

With no or little affordable housing available in the city, particularly in the primary market, housing needs have fuelled a rush to peripheral areas. Areas like Zirakpur and Kharar have ridden piggyback on Chandigarh residents’ need for affordable housing in the vicinity of the city, if not the city itself.

This raises questions on the relevance of CHB, which appears to have failed in its primary mandate of creating housing for city residents. Having monopoly in the Chandigarh housing, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) recently issued a desist order directing CHB not to exploit customers due to its monopoly.

Observers have suggested that CHB be merged with the UT estate office. “CHB’s last housing scheme was in 2016 and it only had around 200 dwellings. The work it is doing now, mainly managing housing records, can also be done by the UT estate office.”

CHB constructed most of its housing for the general public between 1977 and 1999. Thereafter, the focus shifted to EWS units for rehabilitation colonies. The board constructed nearly 91% of the total LIG houses constructed by it between the period 1977 and 1999. Similarly, nearly 83% of the MIG and 85% of the HIG units in these categories were built in the period from 1977 to 1999. Thereafter, 68% of the housing created by CHB was EWS for slum rehabilitation.

Supply, affordability issues

CHB was established in 1976 with a mandate to provide affordable and good quality housing for city residents. Till March 2019, it has constructed 67,565 houses. Of these 33,867 are under the EWS category (mainly allotted under slum rehabilitation schemes). For the LIG (low income group), CHB created 9,075 dwelling units, 11,723 for MIG (middle income group), and 5,933 for HIG (high income group). Most of the LIG, MIG and HIG houses were made before 2000. After that, CHB has mainly made housing for rehabilitation colonies falling in the EWS category, which are not open to the general public.

CHB’s last housing scheme for the general public was launched in 2016 when it offered 200 flats but the public response was poor because of affordability issues. Its next proposed offering, Sector 53 housing scheme, has been held up for several years now. The scheme could not be launched in 2018 after a demand survey revealed that there were not many takers because of the high cost of dwelling units.

For 492 flats that were planned to be constructed under the scheme, only 178 applications were received in the demand survey. Even a one-bedroom set was priced at a whopping Rs 86 lakh. As for the rest, 2BHK cost Rs 1.28 crore, 3 BHK was priced at Rs 1.5 crore and EWS for Rs 50 lakh.

After revival of the scheme, 3BHK was priced at Rs 1.65 crore, 2BHK at Rs 1.40 crore and EWS at Rs 55 lakh. Now, the administration has once again put the scheme on hold.

Another of its proposed schemes in Chandigarh IT Park, the National Board for Wildlife (NBW) rejected the project in October last year stating that it falls in the migratory bird path. The NBW also reasoned that the waste generated along with the noise and air pollution arising as a result of allied activities in the proposed townships would have deleterious effects on the sanctuary and birds. The plan was to construct 728 flats under the scheme. The tentative cost of the flat ranged between Rs 1.5 crore and Rs 2.75 crore.

Hitesh Puri, chairman, Crawfed, said, “Nearly 3 lakh of the city population lives in CHB housing and it has created 25% of the city, which indicates the importance and scale of its contribution but its track record in creating affordable housing has to improve as it has struggled on this issue for many years now.”

Critics say, even though the CHB got most of its land from the administration on subsidised rates, it is charging market price from city residents. CHB officials however, maintain that the board is not making a profit from housing schemes.

Flaws in design

Besides failing to meet housing needs of the city, the CHB has also compromised on quality and design aspects of its houses. “In the Sector 56 EWS houses, the CHB didn’t even make kitchens. Similarly, in many other EWS houses, the basic need of a kitchen hasn’t been met,” said a resident of Sector 56 houses. Some of the allottees then constructed kitchens, which led to building violations,” complained an EWS house resident.

CHB has also been entangled into several legal issues. Though launched in 2008, the UT Employees Housing Scheme has been stuck in legal disputes. The employees took the CHB to court for “arbitrarily increasing the rate of the flats under the scheme.”

In another scheme, while the CHB got land from the administration on freehold basis, it allotted flats on leasehold basis. Even though it has now allowed conversion from leasehold to freehold in the said scheme, residents have taken it to court on the issue.

Observers have also held staff patterns responsible for poor performance of CHB. “The administration should seriously consider shifting a large number of idle CHB workforce to other departments like the UT engineering department or estate office,” said an official.

  • Published On Sep 12, 2023 at 11:00 AM IST

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