Over two million houses for urban poor in next four years: Girija Vyas

New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) Over two million houses will be constructed for the urban poor under schemes of the union housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry in the next four years, Minister Girija Vyas said here Monday.

The minister also called upon states to leverage funds provided by the centre to boost housing for low income groups, and claimed that Rs.35,000 crore was available to her ministry for the provision of such housing.

Speaking to the media, Girija Vyas said her ministry has proposed to liberalise norms for affordable housing, and families with income of Rs.1 lakh per year would be eligible for housing under the economically weaker section (EWS) category.

She said families with income of Rs.2 lakh per year would be eligible for lower income group (LIG) housing.

She said a task force set up by her ministry had recommended placing affordable housing in the "infrastructure" category. Such categorisation will make the sector eligible for tax concessions, she said.

Girija Vyas, who earlier in the day addressed the "National symposium on affordable housing" said that Rs.35,000 crore had been approved for schemes of the ministry, including the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) and the Affordable Housing in Partnership scheme.

RAY is aimed at making the country free of slums. Affordable Housing in Partnership aims at fostering public-private sector collaboration in housing the urban poor.

Girija Vyas said states should leverage funds available to them under central schemes and construct an additional one million houses in the next four years.

She said that the housing shortage in the country had been estimated at 18.78 million units, of which 96 percent shortage was in the EWS and LIG category.

"We need huge investments for this and private sector also needs to play a crucial role to fill the gap," she said.

Girija Vyas said her ministry will pursue recommendations of the task force on promoting affordable housing set up last year under the chairmanship of Arun Kumar Misra, secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation.

Misra said the task force had recommended incentives for the affordable housing sector including concessions to development related charges, service tax exemptions, direct tax benefits and inclusion of the sector in the "infrastructure facility".

The task force had also said that governments need to still provide direct capital grant support to affordable housing projects and suggested exploring the option of foreign direct investment to bring in the capital.

It called for reducing timelines for affordable housing projects and suggested that states and cities should prepare a full inventory of their land holdings, increase floor space index and provide transferable development rights facilities.

It also suggested interest subsidy for the urban poor and appropriate reduction of stamp duty for registration of property in affordable housing projects.

The symposium in Delhi on Monday was attended by more than 200 delegates, including housing and urban development ministers from some states, industry associations, academics and technical experts.

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