Indian state vows to end homelessness with free flats

The state has surveyed its homeless population, and will build more than 400,000 homes for those who qualify. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 April 2019

Indian state vows to end homelessness with free flats

  • Kerala’s model is the only viable solution to end homelessness, said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of HLRN

BANGKOK: The Indian state of Kerala is offering free flats to homeless people, an ambitious model that activists say other states must follow as a nationwide “Housing for All” plan falls short.
The first 145 families moved into their newly constructed flats in a 270-unit complex in Adimali town in southern India this month, a state official said.
The state has surveyed its homeless population, and will build more than 400,000 homes for those who qualify, said U.V. Jose, chief executive of the LIFE Mission, a government agency overseeing the project.
“Those without a home are the poorest, most vulnerable. Many cannot afford to buy a home, no matter how cheap it is,” Jose told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.
“A home is a basic necessity. With a home, they can feel more secure and confident, and they can focus on other matters, which can improve the quality of their life,” he said.
Each unit will cost about 400,000 rupees ($5,700) to build, and will be wholly funded by the government, Jose said.
This is in contrast to the federal housing scheme, which offers subsidised loans for home purchases.

NATION ON THE MOVE
With rapid urbanization, a shortage of affordable homes has spurred the growth of slums and informal settlements in cities across India. There are 1.77 million homeless people nationwide, according to the 2011 census data, although rights groups say the actual figure is at least three times higher.
The government plan, Housing for All, is meant to create 20 million new urban housing units and 30 million rural homes by 2022. But the rollout has been slow, and campaigners say it will not fix the issue of homelessness and informal settlements.
Some states are improving slum conditions, and assuring residents they will not be evicted for some years.
In eastern Odisha state, authorities have promised land titles to 200,000 households in urban slums and those on city outskirts, as well as loans to build homes.
But for others, evictions are a daily threat.
At least 11 million people in India risk being uprooted from their homes and land as authorities build highways and airports and cordon off forests, according to advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).
Kerala’s model is the only viable solution to end homelessness, said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of HLRN.
“The government’s ‘housing for all’ scheme has no provisions for the homeless, and all interventions by the center and the state governments have been limited to providing temporary shelters,” she said.
“This initiative by the Kerala government attempts to shift the focus from ‘shelters’ to ‘housing’. This is welcome and much needed, as it is the only way that the issue of homelessness can be addressed,” she said.
($1 = 70.2113 Indian rupees)


Philippines begins termination of US deal

Earlier, Duterte said he would give the US a month to restore Dela Rosa’s visa. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2020

Philippines begins termination of US deal

  • The move comes after Washington’s refusal to issue a visa to ally of President Duterte

MANILA: The Philippines has started the process of terminating the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows the deployment of US forces to the country to conduct military exercises, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced on Friday.
The move comes one day after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to do away with the agreement if the US did not reinstate the visa of his political ally and former police chief, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.
Although in a speech on Thursday night the president said he would give the US one month to restore Dela Rosa’s visa before terminating the VFA, Panelo told reporters the process had already begun.
“The President feels that we cannot sit down and watch idly,” he said, adding he had relayed the matter to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin.
Locsin, in a Twitter post on Friday, confirmed he had called Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana “to start the process of terminating the VFA.”
Lorenzana, in a statement on Friday evening, said that he would discuss with the president “the various scenarios concerning the possible termination of the VFA, and what future actions may be undertaken by the Department of National Defense (DND) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) regarding this matter.”
The defense chief said he could understand why the president was angered by the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa, over alleged extrajudicial killings in connection with the government’s anti-drug war.
“It is a direct affront to (the president) being the architect of the drug war upon his assumption of office,” the defense chief said.
He noted that Duterte ordered Dela Rosa when he was installed as police chief in 2016 to launch the drug war, and promised to back him. “He is just being true to his promise,” Lorenzana stressed.
Dela Rosa himself said details surrounding the revocation of his US visa remain unclear to him. He added that it “might be related” to the anti-drug war.
The Philippines Department of Justice said it was studying the “proper procedure to terminate the VFA.”
Responses from Philippine lawmakers have been mixed.
“In the absence of a Philippines Supreme Court ruling on the president’s power to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement like the VFA, without the consent of a 2/3 supermajority vote of the members of the senate, the president can do that without the senate’s approval or consent,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the VFA termination would work in favor of China, and so did not come as a surprise.
According to Lorenzana: “The termination of the VFA may be unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, and it is well within the right of the government to do so if it determines that the agreement no longer redounds to our national interest.
“Such a termination does not need the approval of the Philippine Congress. All that is required is that a notice of termination be served to the US government. The termination shall take effect 180 days after the date of the notice,” the defense chief stressed.