The BJP-led government in Assam has a tough task on its hands to make a success of rural housing in the State, considering how ineffective and scam-ridden it has been in previous years. In fiscal 2016-17, the target was to build around 2,20,000 housing units for the rural poor; around 40,000 more such units were to be built in ongoing 2017-18. But only 611 units were completed, as revealed in the Assembly during its recently concluded session. Sparks flew between ruling and opposition benches with the government claiming that much politics was played over selection of beneficiaries for rural housing during its predecessor’s rule. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary charged that AGP and BJP supporters in villages were denied BPL identity cards for housing by the earlier Congress regime. Elsewhere, the Congress is now alleging that BJP governments at the Centre and States are reming welfare schemes launched by the UPA and claiming credit. One such flagship scheme is ‘Indira Awaas Yoja (IAY)’, re-christened, restructured and launched in November last year as Pradhan Mantri’s Awas Yoja – Gramin (PMAY-G). The thinking in the NDA government is to really go for rural housing in a big way, and create far better synergy by dovetailing it with programmes for imparting skills and generating employment in the villages. The government will give more money for a housing unit, up from Rs 70,000 under IAY to Rs 1,30,000 now. Along with Rs 12,000 to build a toilet under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Rs 18,000 under MGNREGA, the total amount a beneficiary can get under PMAY-G is Rs 1.6 lakh.
Through convergence with other schemes like Deen Dayal Upadhyaya scheme for village electrification and PM’s Ujjwala scheme for LPG connections to women – pucca homes are being built with hygienic cooking area, toilet, water supply, LPG and electricity connections. Local designs and local materials are being used; beneficiaries can plan their homes as per need. Assam along with other Northeast and Himalayan States have to put up only 10 percent of the cost for implementing PMAY-G, with the Centre footing the remaining 90 percent. Launched by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, Indira Awaas Yoja in over three decades was easily the worst implemented and most scam ridden programme under the Rural Development Ministry, as brought out in many CAG reports. Around 36 lakh housing units under IAY remained incomplete in 2016, pending from anywhere between 1 to 4 years. As IAY leaked heavily, concerned officials including BDOs made merry, middlemen ruled the roost, while gram sabhas and panchayats took their share of the spoils and rewarded ruling party supporters with houses. Every beneficiary had to make a payoff to get his or her house built; in many cases, beneficiaries themselves diverted the money for other purposes. This is where the NDA government has tightened up the housing programme – by putting in place a ‘three filter’ system to select and vet beneficiaries, transfer the money directly into their accounts and monitor it use. This involves use of data from Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC), 2011 to select beneficiaries (either homeless or with kutcha dwelling), get it validated by gram sabhas, and back it up with space and information technology for geo-tagging with photos of the beneficiary’s house.
The Centre’s target is to construct 1.3 crore housing units in the period 2016-19, in line with its ‘Housing for All’ slogan in rural areas. In Assam, an estimated 10.5 lakh families do not have a proper house to live in. When the Sarbanda Sonowal-led government launched the expanded and more ambitious PMAY-G programme in January this year, it declared its intention to build around 10 lakh pucca rural dwellings in the State by 2022. The target for the current fiscal is to construct 2.19 lakh houses, along with completion of 1.77 lakh houses left pending previously. This will be a tall order to meet, considering the sil’s pace of the programme under the previous regime in its 15-year reign. On countrywide basis, the average time to build a dwelling unit under rural housing has been brought down to 4-8 moths, compared to 1 to 3 years earlier. Provided the Central funding remains consistent, the present government in Assam will have to pull out all stops to really make a success of PMAY-G. The challenge will be greater to ensure transparency and prevent leakage. Under the newly designed programme, the beneficiary has to complete his house in phases within given time limits and inform concerned officials; in turn, the officials must upload photos of the works for GPS verification and submit fund utilisation proof — only then will the next instalment be released into the beneficiary’s account. Help-lines have been opened for beneficiaries to lodge complaints against officials demanding bribe, while beneficiaries have been warned that misuse of housing grant will invite pelty plus refund with interest. All this will require the State government to monitor the programme effectively at block and panchayat levels and really make it fool-proof.