Cover Story
Roti, Kapda, Makaan: Basic Services, Basic Failures
by Akash Bhattacharya

The Façade

During the 2014 election campaign, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) had famously made tall promises of all round development. The promise of 2 crore jobs per year went hand in hand with the assurance of ensuring basic necessities including housing, education, health, and food security for all. The proposed development model was clearly pro-market, but the pretenders to power claimed to possess the magic wand to compel the market work in the interests of the common people.

The past decade has witnessed shortfalls on the promises made in 2014 and remade in 2019. We have witnessed a general wilting of public services at the altar of privatization and corporatization, and a consistent maligning of welfare-ism. Drawing upon stereotypical free-market logic, welfare-ism has been castigated as ‘freebie culture’ which encourages laziness as opposed to capitalist ‘self-dependence’. At the same time, BJP’s promises on public necessities have been reiterated in budgets and impressive numbers have been paraded to impress its vote-bank. In reality, the big promises made regarding food security and housing are nowhere near fulfilment.

Food Security

BJP had proclaimed in its 2014 manifesto that ‘universal food security’ is integral to national security and will ‘ensure a corruption-free efficient implementation of food security.’

During the aftermath of the pandemic, Reetika Khera pointed out that while the government had sensibly doubled the entitlements of the 800 million who were already covered by the Public Distribution System (PDS) (from five kilograms per person per month to 10kg), lakhs were still left out.  Many were without ration cards. The ‘exclusion problem’ has since been further exacerbated by the freeze on the 2021 census. Government inaction led to the matter being taken to the Supreme Court of India in the ‘Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers’ case (Writ petition no. 6 of 2020). On July 21, 2022, the Court agreed that the prayer to increase coverage under PDS ‘seems to be genuine and justified’. The Court directed the government to resolve the issue by using the ‘projection of population increase’ as a temporary replacement for actual census data, but the government has refused to oblige.

There is a systematic attempt by the Modi government to smother the Public Distribution System (PDS), a lifeline for India’s poor. According to reports, in 2022, the number of pending applications for ration cards under the PDS stood at over 10 lakh, a 50% increase from May 2021. In the 2023 budget, foodgrain subsidy for the poor was slashed with a massive 63% cut. Similarly, the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which is responsible for procuring grains from farmers and plays a vital role in ensuring food security was asked by the government to take a loan from the market instead of providing it the dues worth Rs 90,000 crore for the current year’s procurement.

The government and its NITI Ayog are accelerating the process of privatizing the PDS system and slashing food subsidy for the poor. The move will leave millions at the mercy of large corporations.


On the question of housing, Prime Minister Modi said in 2018 that every Indian will have a house with electricity, sanitation and drinking water by 2022 under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (PMAY). Later, this deadline was extended to 2024. But in reality, presently, about 2 lakh urban people are still homeless; and about 6.5 crores reside in slums. As per the reports, as of January 2023, around 84 lakh houses yet to be completed under the project and in the urban centres only with about 51% of the target achieved. Housing question is further exacerbated by the landlessness in the country. According to 16th report of the Standing Committee on Rural Development & Panchayati Raj 2,79,321 (65.26%) out of the total of 4,27,975 landless beneficiaries (under PMAY) are yet to be provided land.

At the same time, we witnessed widespread evictions and demolitions of poor. The bulldozers have emerged as a symbol of brute state power and political vendetta, so much so that the same Yogi Adityanath, who waxed eloquent on BJP’s housing promises by 2024, has christened himself ‘Bulldozer Baba’. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi have seen the worst of these evictions and demolitions.

The Land Conflict Watch recently reported that since January 2023, more than 1,600 homes were demolished and over 3,000 eviction notices were served in Delhi alone, impacting nearly 2.5 lakh lives. These demolitions and evictions have become another face of disenfranchisement: documented and tax paying citizens have been declared illegal through one simple notice, with no rehabilitation or relief in sight.

People have lost homes all over the country due to a variety of reasons: encroachment clearance and city beautification drives, infrastructure projects, environment projects, forest protection, sheer targeting due to their religion, and allegations of being illegal infiltrators in border states like Assam. The report ‘Forced Evictions in India in 2020: A Grave Human Rights Crisis During the Pandemic’, released by the Housing and Land Rights’ Network (HLRN) noted that at least 61,257 families have lost their homes since March 2020 in at least 245 incidents of forced eviction drives across the country during the pandemic.

Some of the major evictions in 2021 the HLRN has recorded are the demolition of at least 12,000 homes in Faridabad’s Khori Gaon by the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad, 300 houses in Ramesh Park by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in Delhi in July, 450 homes in Mumbai’s Chheda Nagar by the Mangrove conservation Cell in February, 200 houses in Mysuru by the Karnataka Slum Development Board in April, and 130 houses in Arumbakkam in July by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board.

The standout feature of these evictions and displacements is the sheer brutality of the state authorities and the high-handed and pro-government attitudes of the courts. The courts have refused to ensure rehabilitation, or to censure the government for illegal demolitions, on a regular basis. The people evicted belong to the poor and working classes (rural and urban) and most of them are either Dalits or Muslims.

Talking of brutality and illegality on the part of the government, in Kharak Riwara of Chhattarpur in Delhi, the DDA and Delhi Police not only demolished the houses without prior notification but also refused to allow people to take out essential items like medicines before running the bulldozers. This led to the death of a child who suffered from congenital heart disease. Kharak Riwara is a predominantly Muslim locality, and the police threatened the people with Uttar Pradesh like action in the future.

Basic Necessities and the Democratic Agenda

On 16 May 2023, homeless people from different parts of Delhi gathered at Jantar Mantar. Two heart-rending cries rang through the air: ‘roti, kapda, aur makaan / mang raha hai Hindustan’ and ‘Modi tere raaj mein / dharne pe baithe aaj mein’ [Modi, your regime has brought us to the streets]. If people have to hit the streets for their basic necessities on the 75th year of independence, you might wonder if India is headed towards complete failure as a democratic state. You would also wonder how we reached here within a decade of the BJP government.

The opposition must demand accountability with regard to the implementation of each government scheme related to basic necessities. An intersectional index which accounts for caste, class and gender and regional inequalities is the need of the hour for measuring the impact of government policies and schemes. Regular social audits are also necessary.

The question of basic necessities occupies a unique place in modern politics. As bourgeoisie democratic states looked for ways to offset the challenges posed by twentieth century socialism, they began to lay great emphasis on the provision of basic necessities. The Left in bourgeoise democracies have treated welfare-ism as a starting point rather than the end point of the democratizing process, and often criticized the invocation of basic provisions for the purposes of humanizing bourgeoisie systems.

Today we stand at a juncture where the bare minimum welfare-ism that existed in response to the socialist challenge is slipping away rapidly. This erosion must be exposed and a democratic politics which assures basic necessities not as bulwark against revolution but as part of a peoples’ democratic policy regime must be envisioned. Basic necessities must be defined more widely, beyond food, cloth, and shelter. They must include health, education, maternity benefits, social security, and human rights; in brief, all that are necessary for quality living. The bar for their provisions must not be set at the minimum but at the maximum; at a level that is necessary for a dignified life. 

Lastly, while BJP’s 2014 election manifesto sometimes used the phrase ‘public services’ to mean basic necessities, in reality, it has been trying to outsource much of these responsibilities to the private sector. Basic necessities can be meaningfully provided only by a state and system that abides by a sense of public conscience and practices public accountability. To reiterate, achieving such a system is possible only if the question of basic necessities and public services are integrated into the emerging framework of democratic politics, and posited as a key pillar of an equal and humane society.

Basic Services, Basic Failures