In 1985, for providing affordable solutions to housing, India's first "Nirmithi
Kendra" (Building Centre) was set up in the Quilon District of Kerala by the then
District Collector. This was a trend setter in cost effective and environment friendly
(CEEF) building technology, saving about 30% of the cost. The movement succeeded in
"technology transfer" from R&D institutions; in training and employment
generation; and in developing new educational programmes.
Arising from its impact, the Government of India set up such Kendras in all districts of
the country and integrated it with the national housing policy. International recognition
also came in its wake.
Housing and development are mutually supportive. Housing provides a base for achieving
crucial goals in other sectors of the economy and upgrades the quality of life. The
housing shortage in India is estimated to be 40 million units by 2000 A.D. and provide an
opportunity to search for feasible solutions. It was in this context that the
"Nirmithi movement", the project described herein, was started in 1985 as a
local initiative in the Quilon District of Kerala, by the then District Collector.
In 1985, this enabled in providing shelter to thousands rendered homeless due to natural
calamities by integrating beneficiary participation with approrpiate technology and
resources available with the district administration. Behind the success of the initiative
were beneficiary involvement in management; delinking developmental task from government
rigidities; establishing linkages with R&D institutions (such as Central Building
Research Institute) for technology selection and transfer; and effective coordination of
tasks and related agencies.
The success of this experiment led to a deeper delving in to the complex problem of
housing and habitat development. Multiple agents, conflicting forces and interests, and
its representation in the people's mind, in the media, in the design and building
practice, and rules and regulations were seen as critical factors compounding the housing
The prevalent acute housing shortage reflected these complexities with its direct linkages
- Spiraling land cost, exploitative contracting system and non availability of affordable
- Lack of awareness among the masses and practitioners regard- ing appropriate technology
options for sustainable habitat development.
- Lack of an effective delivery system to transfer technolo- gies from R&D
institutions to the ultimate users
- A construction culture which makes excessive use of energy intensive and high cost
building materials like steel, cement, etc.
- Adverse impact of the above on scarce material resources and the need for adopting CEEF
- Lack of adequate shelter for the low income groups.
- Lack of trained manpower to propagate sustainable technology
options to the grass roots.
- Non - involvement of women and weaker sections in the con struction sector.
- No inputs of CEEF technology options in academic programmes of technical institutions.
It is against this background that the Nirmithi concept was evolved in Kollam, Kerala to
provide an institutional framework to meet the challenges in the housing sector.By
facilitating the transfer of technology from 'lab to land', the fruits of research of
premier R&D institutions, like the Central Building Research Institute and the
Structural Engineering Research Centre, lying stagnant were made available to the masses.
A Nirmithi style of technology which emphasized cost effectiveness and environment
friendliness (CEEF technology) was evolved.
CEEF technology was distinctive in:
- its use of locally available and innovative materials.
- cutting down consumption of energy intensive materials (cement, steel) using appropriate
- ensuring local participation in construction activities.
- blending new styles with traditional ones and
- designing according to the lay of the land.
Extensive awareness campaigns and demonstrations were launched which resulted in public
acceptance of these alternate technology options. Public acceptance of this alternative
came from a conviction that the Nirmithi style of cost-effective technology option is the
only feasible approach towards the goal of shelter for all by the turn of the century.
The Nirmithi concept soon spread across the state with Nirmithi Kendras being set up
in all districts of Kerala. Gov- ernment of India's recognition by way of inclusion of the
concept in the Union Budget and the National Housing Policy saw the growth of the Movement
at the national level through the setting up of Building Centres in all districts in the
country. National appreciation through the Special Habitat Award to the progenitor of the
movement and the Kollam Centre- gave further impetus to the spread of the Movement.
International recognition was accorded to Nirmithi when the United Nations Commission for
Human Settlements at its 14th session in Nairobi (May 1993) adopted a resolution
recommending governments to set up institutions modelled on the Building Centres at the
national, provincial and grassroot levels. As the prime mover behind Nirmithi, Mr. Bose
was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship for his contributions to the field of Habitat
Any new approach is of little value if it does not lead to new perceptions and hence to
new lines of action, research, education and strategies of benefit to the community.
Recognising this the dedicated team of experts and professionals in Nirmithi have, through
new lines of action which address a felt need in society, succeeded in making a
perceptible mark on the housing scenario. Impact Through New Lines of Action Effecting
Attitudinal Changes "Nirmithi" has become synonymous with cost effective
environment friendly building technology. Public acceptance for Nirmithi style of
construction which neither compromised on quality nor aesthetics grew rapidly . To ensure
quality criteria, Nirmithi in collaboration with the Bureau of Indian Standards,
Government of India, compiled standards and specifications for cost
effective building materials and techniques. To propagate the message, the print and
electronic media were effectively used. Seminars, workshops, conferences and
demonstrations were organised to spread the message even in rural areas.
Nirmithi's foray into the field of building construction witnessed a severe shortage
of skilled labour in this particular style of construction. Various skill upgradation
programmes were organised in masonry, carpentry, plumbing, landscaping and such other
skills related to housing and habitat.
Skill Development and Upgradation
Employment oriented training programmes of the Government such as NRY (Nehru Rozgar
Yojna) being implemented through Nirmithi has imparted training in skill upgradation to
hundreds of youth and women. An amount of Rs.4,608,000/for the period 1990-1995, was
utilised for the training of youth in various skill upgradation programmes. These
programmes, having a wide reach, are being conducted through the district, regional and
rural centres of Nirmithi.
Special training programmes for women and the weaker sections have been conducted with
a view to giving them a meaningful role in habitat development. The following are the
groups for the focussed programmes.
About 2000 women have been trained in skills such as masonry, terracota art,
pre-fabrication, landscaping and in higher level training for application of computer
software. Such programmes have helped reduce gender bias and increase women participation
in the otherwise male dominated construction sector.
b) Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
Special programmes for the backward sections of society such as the scheduled castes
and scheduled tribes have been designed keeping in view their limits and constraints.
Training has been imparted to about 775 people belonging to these classes.
c) Mentally Retarded
Often written off as unproductive elements in society, Nirmithi has helped open up
employment opportunities and thereby meaning- fully integrate about 200 mentally retarded
youth, tying up with two institutions working for the mentally handicapped.
SPECIALISED TRAINING PROGRAMMES
Traditional architecture which bears witness to the continuity of history is of great
educational value to the passing generation. Nirmithi's contribution to the revival of
traditional architec- ture and its efforts at blending the traditional with modern trends
in architecture have been widely appreciated. This has encouraged the setting up of the
"Gurukula" training programme which trains young carpenters and craftsmen in
dying arts such as hand carving and traditional roofing with stylistic features etc. The
twenty trainees who have completed the programme are now involved in the renovative and
restorative works of traditional architecture entrusted to Nirmithi.
2) Centre for Habitats
Training programmes with a focus on functional arts related to housing and habitat
such as terracota training are conducted at the centre. About 80 youngsters, both men and
women who have completed training at the centre have been absorbed in various private as
well as government sponsored terracota units. This is the only centre imparting training
in the production of terracota building materials such as railings, wall units etc.
3) Nirmithi Clubs
A considerable portion of Nirmithi efforts lie in the propagation of CEEF technology.
The most successful extension activity of Nirmithi has been the setting up of
"Nirmithi Clubs" in educational institutions . About 2500 students in 25
colleges are now actively participating in the Nirmithi club activities. Set up to
inculcate the right attitude towards cost effectiveness and environment friendliness,
these clubs focus on poster campaigns, demonstration programmes, seminars and workshops
for generating awareness among student members, study tours and field visits, career
guidance and entrepreneurial development and the various short duration skill development
training programmes. The snowballing effect of these programmes have resulted in the
transfer of technology and skills to a large cross section of people. The involvement of
women have helped lessen gender bias and increase women participation in the construction
Through its Regional, Rural and District centres in the state various production
centres were set up across the state to make available fair priced cost effective building
materials at the local level. The hundreds of youth and women trained in building material
production were productively utilised at these centres. The employment thus generated has
contributed considerably to alleviating poverty. The setting up of these centres have
contributed to the stabilisation of market prices for building materials and the evolution
of an entrepreneurial culture at the local level. Employment generation through production
centres in rural areas have helped to arrest rural migration.
The building materials produced include:
For walls : soil stabilised blocks, rubble filler blocks, con crete hollow blocks etc.
For roofs : tiles, funicular shells, precast plate floors, L panels, hurdis etc.
Other items : ferrocement rafters, ridges, joists, concrete door and window frames,
ferrocement water tanks, sanitary wares etc.
HOUSING GUIDANCE CENTRES
For the common man who seeks guidance and information pertaining to CEEF technology,
Housing Guidance Centres were set up to provide services by way of consultancy, design,
estimation and execution as required by the client. This has contributed vastly in
reducing the exploitation of the people by the local contractors.
The key to Nirmithi's success lay in its effective networking with :
- premier R&D institutions for transfer of technology from lab to lab.
- various academic institutions for expertise in evolving higher level training programmes
which emphasised field level experiences.
- Nirmithi clubs in educational institutions to involve the student community in
meaningful habitat development activities.
- women organisations, youth clubs to bring women and youth to the forefront of habitat
Such extensive and wholistic networking has paved the way for frequent, meaningful and
effective interaction among the various sections of society.
Networking with key academic institutes in the country, various academic programmes
including diploma courses and post graduate level programmes in habitat technology were
initiated to provide backup to Nirmithi activities. Other universities and technical
institutions have initiated steps to include the technology in their curricula.
Recognising the impact of the Nirmithi movement and its demand among the people, the
Government of Kerala have incorporated the idea of a Habitat University in the State
Housing Policy. As a first step, the Nirmithi National Institute of Habitat Management
(NNIHM) has been set up as a Centre of Excellence for developing professionals in the
field of habitat management, stimulating research and consultancy in the sector.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Ground level research programmes have been started with the setting up of pilot plants
in collaboration with leading R&D institutions such as Council for Scientific and
Industrial Research (CSIR). The focus is on adaptive research. Development of techniques
and technology which will provide substitutes for wood and energy intensive materials and
facilitate recycling and reuse of industrial waste to encourage cost effective and
environment friendly practices.
For their meaningful integration into society, various rehabili- tation programmes for
physically and mentally handicapped as well as those belonging to socio economically
weaker sections were undertaken.
Another major project was undertaken at Latur, Maharashtra to provide houses for
earthquakevictims. The entire project is based on a seismic resistant design
conceptualised anddeveloped by Nirmithi experts.
In addition, an entire community in the coastal area of south Kerala (Pozhiyoor) whose
main economic activity was brewing of illicit liquor has been rehabilitated through
concerted action including training programmes in building material production and the
eventual involvement of these people in Nirmithi production units for actual production -
thus empowering a whole community towards positive action and meaningful integration into
Influencing Governmental Policy and Legislation
Increased acceptance of the efforts of Nirmithi created ripples in the housing sector,
prompting governments - state and central to send teams to evaluate the concept.
Evaluation conducted by the Department of Personnel, Government of India and the
Management Development Institute, Gurgaon, near Delhi have resulted in :
- state governments waiving building tax for Nirmithi build- ings and setting up
cost-effective building material industrial estates.
- central government issuing orders to waive excise duty for cost-effective materials and
instructing state governments to execute 20% of public works through Nirmithi Kendras
- accreditation and incentives being given to industries producing cost-effective building
- Tamil Nadu state government issuing orders to execute all construction works under the
District Administration through Nirmithi Kendras
- entrepreneurs taking up this activity as a major industrial activity
NIRMITHI ECO-VILLAGES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Local enablement, education and information are vital condiments for the process of
sustainable planning and development as embodied in the Nirmithi Eco-Village schemes.
Nirmithi's field level experience over the past ten years has reinforced its conviction
that such novel programmes can succeed only with the active involvement of the
beneficiaries at the grassroot level.
The scheme envisages an action oriented multi-disciplinary approach which integrates
natural and social sciences to trigger a mass movement for concerted action. The Nirmithi
Eco-Village at Mannanam, Kerala, demonstrates the possibility of living in harmony with
nature. Environment friendly houses, non-conventional energy generation using bio-gas,
solar and wind energy, cultivation using organic manures and herbal pesticides are being
practised here. Eco-friendly income generating programmes give thrust to the idea of
sustainable development. The Nirmithi Kendra initiative has thus taken on a national
1. 30% reduction in construction cost
2. From 14 building centres in Kerala(1988) to 350 building centres in the country.
3. In Kerala alone over 38.58 manyears of on site employment and 61.74 manyears of off
site employment generated.
4. Training-over 75 Scheduled Castes/Tribes and 200 mentally retarded youths trained in
5. Education - 24 Engineers and Architects & 300 diploma engineers completed MS &
Diploma in Habitat Technology respectively. 100 professionals trained in specialised areas
of Habitat Management.
The Project described, herein, was started in 1985 as a local initiative in the Quilon
district of Kerala by the then District Collector to provide shelter to thousands rendered
homeless due to natural calamities. This initiative turned out to be success due to
beneficiaries involvement in management; de- linking developmental tasks from Governmental
rigidities; establishing linkages with R&D institutions for technology selection and
transfer; and effective coordination of tasks and related agencies. This initiative of
setting up the first Nirmithi Kendra in the Quilon district of Kerala catalysed the
creation of District, Regional and Rural Nirmithi Kendras in the state and in 1989, the
Kerala State Nirmithi Kendra (KESNIK) to coordinate the activities of the Nirmithi
Movement in the state. The impact of the Quilon model saw the Government of India setting
up such Kendras/Centres in different district of the country and inte- grating this with
the National Housing Policy. The KESNIK spear- heading the Movement has provided inputs to
the State Government for formulating the Rajiv One Million Housing Scheme. At the national
level, the government of India stipulated that 20% of all public works be entrusted to
Building Centres (Nirmithi Kendras). International recognition to the Nirmithi Movement
also came in its wake. With tangible country wide impact of the Movement, an analysis
shows that these changes are lasting and sustainable, principally due to the following :
a. The central mission of the Nirmithi Kendras are dissemina- tion, popularisation and
promotion of cost effective and environment friendly (CEEF) building technology in the
country. With paucity of resources in the country, widening demand- supply gaps i housing
and declining investment, the Nirmithi Movement was perceived as, perhaps, the only means
to provide an affordable solution to the country's housing problem. The technology adopted
enabled one to save about 30% cost in construction.
b. The Movement provided an effective mechanism of selecting and transfering appropriate
technology from R&D institutions in the country to the ultimate user. An effective
delivery system from "lab to land" was rather weak prior to this project
initiative. The project strengthened these linkages and enabled to reach thegoal of
c. Tangible impact in bringing about lasting changes and sustainability was also brought
about by the project through a strategy of manufacturing and marketing cost effective
building materials and components to the user. Selection and adoption of alternative
building materials (wood substi- tutes, ferrocement) and recycling of industrial waste
products is an other strategy employed by the Nirmithi Movement in its work programme. By
integrating this, with the project, the felt need of the user for cost effective building
materials at affordable prices was met.
d. The project's ability to perceive and plan for human re- sources developmental needs of
the housing sector was another important factor contributing to project sustainability.
Training programmes in different skills (masonry, carpentry), related to CEEF technology,
for different target groups (women, handicapped, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes etc.)
and educational programmes (Masters and Diplomas in Habitat Technology) organised as an
integral part of the project facilitated these tasks.
e. Strategies such as delinking developmental tasks from gov- ernment rigidities; net
working with likeminded organisa- tions in the country; building awareness camp and
demonstra- tions for bringing about attitudinal changes; establishment of housing guidance
centres; and integrating concepts of traditional architecture with the modern were other
aspects of the project enabling its success and sustainability. The project is thus an
effective model of a practice that can be effectively sustained.
1.a. Cost reduction by employing "Nirmithi" CEEF technology (About 30% saving
b. Spread of the Nirmithi Movement from one district (Quilon, Kerala) to all districts
in the country.
c. Integration of R&D, education, training, production and marketing of building
2.a. Technical soundness of the work programmes, quality of works aesthetics etc. based
on feedback from users.
b. Increasing demand and geographical spread of works.
3.a. Overall growth in clientele and volume of works.
b. Increasing awareness among the public, professionals & in the media of the
Nirmithi Movement & their acceptance.
Director, Kerala State Nirmithi Kendra
Nirmithi Campus, PTP Nagar
Kerala State Nirmithi Kendra, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
Director, Kerala State Nirmithi Kendra
Nirmithi Campus, PTP Nagar
0471-360 559; 0471-360 084
Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee
Director, Kerala State Nirmithi Kendras
0471-360 559, 360 084
Birla Institute of Technology and Science
Director, Birla Institute of Technology
01596 - 42090
Government of Kerala, India
Consultant, Pithavadian and Partners
044-827 8361, 827 3959