Knowledge Sharing on Eco-Habitat:
Lok Awaas Yatra



Amongst the several problems faced by India today, shortage of rural housing remains the top most concern. Like many other problems, the problem of shortage of housing in rural areas has been assessed and analysed many times over, but to no avail. There has been no major breakthrough in reducing the glaring lack of houses. The Registrar General of India had assessed the rural housing shortage at 148.33 lakh houses in 2005. Another important concern is to provide safe and adequate housing to all without any kind of environmental damage.

In order to address the issue, the Indian Government launched several schemes and a comprehensive action plan (in the Tenth Five Year Plan - 2002-2007) for rural housing. The key elements of the action plan were: Provision for upgradation of unserviceable kutcha houses in Indira Awaas Yojana (LAY) in addition to new construction; Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana (Gramin Awaas); Credit-cum-Subsidy Scheme for Rural Housing; Innovative Stream for Rural Housing & Habitat Development; and similar other schemes.

Even after several initiatives by the Government, the desired results in reducing the housing shortages were not achieved. In this light, the need for a Rural Housing Policy1 was promoted by the basin-South Asia2. As a follow-up of the initiative basin-South Asia, with Development Alternative as its partner, launched the Lok Awaas Yatra3, a nationwide participatory cross-learning journey across vulnerable geo-climatic regions of rural India.

"Habitat for All" without Environmental Loss

The challenge at present is not only of providing for/facilitating adequate and safe housing for the shelter less; a greater challenge exists in doing this in a manner that is ecologically sustainable. Thus, technology and methods that lead to efficient use of material, energy and water resources are critical. Knowledge Sharing on Eco-Habitat: Lok Awaas Yatra is a journey to celebrate the achievements of select initiatives in rural habitat development that have improved the quality of life without environmental losses. The yatra is for exploring pathways towards eco-habitat.

The key themes of the Lok Awaas Yatra not only point towards providing housing for all, but also emphasise on building an Eco-habitat:

• Habitat Infrastructure - A fast growing economy warrants an even faster development of infrastructure. To have prosperous and overall development of villages in India, physical and social infrastructure has to be taken care of

• Low Carbon Building Technologies - The construction activity over the last century has led to the rapid depletion of natural resources and extensive energy consumption which is evident in land, water and air pollution today. This industry is estimated to be responsible for around 40 per cent of the total carbon emissions globally. Buildings are responsible for large shares of use of resource and waste generation - approximately 40 per cent of materials’ use, 30 per cent of solid waste generation, and 20 per cent of water use. There is a need for alternative eco-building technologies

• Disaster Safe Construction - According to the Eleventh Five Year Plan4, about 60 per cent of the landmass in India is susceptible to earthquakes and over eight percent is prone to floods. Thus, there is a need to integrate disaster vulnerability as an important consideration in planning of habitats.

• Social Housing - Housing constitutes a very basic requirement for human survival. It assumes great significance for the rural poor because it lays the foundation for a life of dignity and confers distinct secure identity. Every society has a responsibility to ensure the basic need of adequate shelter to all its citizens. Sometimes the state acts as a provider and at several times just a facilitator in constructing the rural houses, depending upon the financial capabilities of rural households

• Water and Sanitation for Eco-habitat - Adequate access to safe water and sanitation are the priorities in the current paradigm which talks about sustainable development. Access to safe water and sanitation is also one of the biggest challenges that communities face in fulfilling basic needs. In this context, documenting and scaling up of good practices in the traditional ways of water management in rural India can help in achieving our goal of sustainable development

• Habitat Based Livelihoods - Creation of sustainable livelihoods without further impoverishment of the environment has been argued as one of the top most priorities for national sustainable development. The role of sustainable habitat technologies and their contribution to livelihood creation has been evident in various contexts of social housing programmes. There are similar experiences with reconstruction in post disaster situations and setting up supply of affordable technologies while catalysing demand in the markets accessed by the rural poor. Thus poverty alleviation can be addressed significantly through livelihood creation and promotion of habitat security in an integrated manner

• Renewable Energy Technologies - More than 50 percent of the rural population does not have reliable electricity and 75 percent of them depend on firewood for cooking. The government is promoting renewable energy source through the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). Under the Eleventh Plan, one of the major programmes of MNRE is Renewable Energy for Rural Applications. The Rural electrification component under the current Bharat Nirman Programme envisages electrification of all 1,25,000 un-electrified villages

• Alternate Habitat Finance - With increase in housing demand, the grants provided under various schemes like Indira Awaas Yojna and Credit-cum-Subsidy Scheme for Rural Housing are not enough to provide housing to all the Below Poverty Line (BPL) rural population. Thus, other alternative financing schemes are required to be in place to help the homeless rural population


The outcome and learning of the yatra has been quite significant. Several cases were studied and documented from different parts of India. One of the projects focused on technology solutions for low energy toilet construction in Saurashtra trail of the Western Region Lok Awaas Yatra. In the village called Nanikhodiyar in Junagarh district, Gujarat, as part of the total sanitation campaign of the government, subsidised toilets and bathrooms made of ferro-cement are being bought by the people.

Another significant change towards reducing the energy consumption through non-renewable energy has been seen in a village called Rampura in Bundelkhand Region. It is the first village to get a community based solar power plant (CSPP) in the country. DA, which has been active in Rampura village since 1998 when it had initiated the process of total sanitation, guided them to opt for an eco-friendly solution – electricity from solar energy – to meet their daily needs of electricity for various household chores.

After the successful completion of the Central Lok Awaas Yatra, the Government of Madhya Pradesh has recently engaged DA officially to support and design the MP State Rural Housing Mission for Sustainable Rural Housing policy. DA is in touch with the Government of Bihar, where it is trying to restructure the social housing scheme in the state. We expect a policy change in the state to implement the social housing scheme to deliver safe and sustainable rural housing.


The Yatra would address the challenges faced on the issues of climate change and vulnerability by the rural communities through:

• Creating an understanding on issues of climate change and required adaptive measures for rural housing and habitat

• Disseminating knowledge, creating awareness and exposure to existing efficient technologies for safe habitat practices and utilisation

• Exposure to methodologies and institutional systems required for convergence of available resources and operation at higher levels of productivity and efficiency in use of available resources

• Advocacy and networking amongst stakeholders to address the issues of safe and sustainable rural habitat

The Lok Awaas Yatra has generated learning that would be put together in a series of case studies of good practices. Another outcome of the Yatra would be a "guide for habitat development", a toolkit for panchayats and other grassroots governance bodies. It has been a significant step towards creating a National Rural Policy in place that would help in giving some justice to the rural homeless households in India. For more information please visit or   q

Rizwan Uz Zaman

1 The draft National Rural Housing and Habitat policy for India was submitted to Government of India in 2007 and was supported by basin-South Asia and its partners. Development Alternatives is secretariat for basin-South Asia in India.

2 Since its inception in 2004, the basin-South Asia platform has been providing knowledge support to grassroots agencies and policy makers to implement their mandates converging into sustainable habitat for all.

 3 This Yatra was designed as a series of five regional yatra’s in five regions of the country. Each Yatra had two to three trails each taking 20 to 25 participants, from varied disciplines, to visit various intervention points and innovative case studies. Each regional Yatra culminated in a round-table discussion of experience sharing which identified significant aspects that would enhance quality of rural housing development in the region. The nation wide Yatra will culminate in a National Seminar on Eco-habitat National Lok Awaas Sammelan.

4 The economy of India is based in part on planning through its five-year plans, developed, executed and monitored by the Planning Commission. Currently, the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012) is running.


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