Monday, January 12, 2015

Caves for rent in the urban jungle!

It is a fact that urban areas, with their substantially more employment opportunities, choice of schools and colleges, better medical facilities, easier access to administrative centres etc., attract a high number of migrants from the rural parts of the State. While the aspiration to live in the “city” must have always been there, the past few decades, when “development” and disposable incomes spread comparatively wider in Sikkim, and also when more opportunities opened up, have seen an explosion in the number of people settling in Gangtok. Sample this, the Gangtok Municipal Corporation area is estimated to have a population of nearly 2 lakh, that is close to 30% of Sikkim’s population of a little over 6 lakh. [accompanying video at the end of the column provides a virtual walk through a sample tenement which sees no natural light even during daytime]
Since a majority of the current Gangtokians are not “originally” from Gangtok, they seek out rooms and flats to rent and the concrete jungle has spread thick and ugly in Gangtok in a failing bid to keep pace with demand. Most of the people residing in and around the capital don’t have their “own places”, so they have to have rent accommodation, and since demand is outstripping supply, usurious rents are being demanded and poor infrastructure being provided.
It is no longer rare to find rooms lacking ventilation of any kind, rooms which never get any natural light. Gangtok might have become an urban jungle, but that should not mean that it also have concrete honeycomb caves passing off for homes. And then there is the problem of facilities available. Most rented accommodations lack running water provisions and many have the most rudimentary of sanitation arrangements. And since buildings are creeping up on every available patch and corner, open spaces are no longer available to dry clothes or air belongings from time to time. Families with school-going children or infants have a specially trying time in this regard.
In some buildings, ghar-maliks disallow tenants the use of heaters even during winters. In the course of researching for this piece, I even came across tenants [college students] complaining that their house owners cut off lights after 9 in the evening!
Why do they tolerate all this? Well, because they do not have a choice since finding accommodation with well appointed facilities is near impossible and even if available, out of the reach of most student or middle-income family budget.
The ever increasing demand has led to a new trend in which room rent is hiked every time a tenant vacates a room or flat. House owners are known to quote marked up rates everytime they put out rooms to-let afresh. It is also seen that some house-owners take a premium on such fixed as garbage collection charge and even electricity consumption.
What is clearly the need of the hour is for some agency – like the UD&HD or the GMC – to step in and bring in some semblance of regulation. Even if they are not to regulate rent, they should at least ensure basic livability of rooms being given out for rent and ensure that tenants are allowed a decent level of facilities by the house owners.
All the rented accommodations must be inspected and set guidelines for minimum facilities to be enjoyed by the renters. The existing rules and norms must be implemented both on renters and the owner’s parts. For eg. There is law that every renter must be verified and information about the renters must be submitted to nearest thana, which is not done till date.
The concerned authorities must enumerate some guidelines on how construction of buildings with tenants in mind are to be carried out and what design elements need to adhered to.
Though it is the known fact that policy-makers and implementing officials are themselves in the house-owners category, some system needs to be put in place so that they follow and monitor the proper implementation of guidelines. By setting an example, they might be able to ensure better abidance.
What are clearly required are also more hostels like the Working Women’s Hostel in Deorali with proper management and facilities. Also more hostel facilities for students and some level of monitoring for paying-guest facilities should also be considered.

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