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One roof at a time, Narendra Modi govt’s housing scheme is a game-changer

Author: Vikram Sampath
Publication: The Print
Date: January 20, 2019
URL:      https://theprint.in/opinion/one-roof-at-a-time-narendra-modi-govts-housing-scheme-is-a-game-changer/175684/

The ambitious Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) of the Narendra Modi government has made affordable housing a reality.

The housing sector in India is witnessing a silent revolution and lakhs of people in rural and urban areas can now boast of a home. The ambitious Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) of the Narendra Modi government has made affordable housing possible in the remotest corners of the country.

In line with the Prime Minister’s ‘Housing for All by 2022’ vision, wherein every family will have a pucca house with water and gas connection, toilet facilities and 24X7 electricity supply by the time India completes 75 years of its Independence, the PMAY (Urban) was launched on 25 June 2015. It set an impressive target of 2 crore houses for the urban poor by 2022.

The rural counterpart of the scheme – PMAY (Gramin) – was launched on 20 November 2016, with a target of 1 crore houses by 31 March 2019. As the government nears the end of its term, where does the PMAY stand today?

Speaking to the beneficiaries of the PMAY (Gramin) has been a learning experience. I chose the remotest area of Assam’s Majuli island where the “Missing Community” (a corruption of the original word ‘Miasnshing’) tribes are scattered. They have lived in Assam since the 16th century, and understand no language other than their own.

Majuli is the biggest river island in the world and is prone to floods caused by the mighty Brahmaputra. On the southern side, the rivers Luit and Subansiri also inundate the islands. Being a low-lying area, Majuli witnesses an annual onslaught of floods that destroys everything – from houses and paddy fields to sources of livelihood and life itself.

To tackle this problem, the PMAY (G) came up with the concept of “Chang Ghar” – a structurally sound building that is raised on stilts. It has a big hall with a central kitchen and an attached toilet. The lower part of the house is used as a shelter for reared animals. A granary too is constructed on the raised platform.

Telephonic inquiries from my friend in Guwahati, Bandana Sarma, created a ripple in the villages about why these questions were suddenly being asked! The villagers had little knowledge about the process through which they procured these “Chang Ghars”. The head of the village was called in each case, who answered our questions.

In Kalpana Pegu’s Chilakola Chapori village, 20 households have already got their Chang Ghars in the last three months. It was the gram panchayat that stepped in to assist them with their applications. “I have no idea what happened or how, but it is sheer magic and I now have a pucca house for myself with toilet, water and also a gas connection under the Ujjwala scheme,” said Kalpana. Deboram Mili in neighbouring Punia Satra Gaon narrated a similar experience where nearly 15 families have got their houses in the last six-seven months, barely a few months after submitting their applications.

Construction of houses is in full swing in other villages too and more batches of beneficiaries will be handed their occupancy certificates soon. Chaheba Begum in Garmur Miri village had applied for a house way back in 2011. “I had lost all hopes with all the governments, but it was in February 2017 when my dream of owning a pucca house came true,” she said.

The PMAY (G) selects beneficiaries using housing deprivation parameters in the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), 2011 data. Families that are houseless or living in kutcha houses are put on a “Permanent Wait List” that enables the government to identify and target them better. The government seems to have outdone itself in achieving its target of 1 crore houses in the rural sector.

The scheme for the urban poor is slightly different. Under the PMAY (U), beneficiaries are targeted through In-Situ Slum Redevelopment (ISSR), Affordable Housing in Partnership (AHP) with public and private sectors, Credit Linked Subsidy Scheme (CLSS) and Beneficiary-Led Construction (BLC). Economically weaker section (EWS) with annual income of up to Rs 3 lakh; low income groups (LIG) with annual income between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 6 lakh; and mid income groups (MIG) earning less than Rs 12 lakh (under one category) and up to Rs 18 lakh per annum (under another category) are the principal targets of the scheme.

While grants up to Rs 1 lakh per house on an average are provided for slum rehabilitation on the same site, under CLSS loans up to Rs 6 lakh are provided at a subsidised rate of 6.5 per cent over 15 years.

These grants are meant for new construction or for enhancing existing houses with more rooms, toilets and kitchens. The government guidelines clearly state that priority will be given to manual scavengers, women (especially single women and widows), SC/ST/OBCs, minorities, transgender and people with disabilities. The thrust has been on the usage of disaster-resistant and environment-friendly technologies in construction. The scheme runs in tandem or supplements existing state-run housing schemes.

While the pace in PMAY (U) has not been as fast as that of PMAY (G), it is slowly, yet steadily, picking up in FY 2018-19. A total of 68.5 lakh houses have been sanctioned so far of which 35.67 lakh are at various stages of completion. Another 12.45 lakh houses have been completed/occupied.

The collateral benefit, the government claims, has been the generation of jobs for an estimated 6 crore people in the housing sector.

I spoke to 56-year-old Seena Thomas in Cochin, through my friend Sulini Nair, who had availed of the Beneficiary-Led Construction scheme. Formerly a housemaid, her husband abandoned her after the birth of a daughter. It was challenging to live in rented houses as a single mother of a girl and to shift often. Her daughter is now pursuing B.Sc.

She heard about this scheme through the local councillor. She used her life savings of Rs 2 lakh and bought close to 2 cents of land. Under this scheme, Seena then got a grant of Rs 2.5 lakh and the house was completed and handed over to her in record six-seven months. The house stood strong during floods this August.

Electricity, water and gas connections were mandatory to avail of the final instalment from the government. It had seemed a waste of money then, but she now realises that it is a blessing. Due to health problems, fetching water from long distances was a chore. “I cannot believe that I now have a house and no one can evict me. But for this scheme, I would have languished in an old age home after my daughter’s marriage,” she said.

Innumerable lives have been transformed through the time-bound, action-oriented processes of the PMAY scheme. If the work continues at the current pace, the dream of every Indian to own a house with all the basic facilities by 2022 would not be distant and unachievable.

- The author is a historian, political analyst, writer and a Senior Research Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

- This is the second part of a series on the author’s conversations with beneficiaries of schemes launched by the Narendra Modi government.
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