Housing Bhagya scheme unrealistic

As elections approach in Karnataka, the Siddaramaiah government appears to have gone into overdrive to woo the electorate with some highly ambitious, if unrealistic, plans. With some six months to go for the polls, the state government has unveiled the “mother of all Bhagya schemes,” promising residential flats at Rs 1 lakh per unit for the poor in Bengaluru. The idea of providing low-cost housing for the poor is welcome, but this scheme is clearly an election gimmick at a huge cost to the state exchequer. At the outset, the cost estimation itself appears to be way off the mark as even a low-cost house built using pre-fabricated technology costs at least Rs 6 lakh per unit, if not more.

The government is said to have identified 286 acres of land around Bengaluru city under the ‘Rajiv Gandhi 1-lakh Multi-storied Housing Scheme’ to build these affordable houses for the economically and socially weaker sections. This idea is sought to be implemented under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, allowing private players to utilise upto 40% of the land for their own use. The cost of constructing one lakh such flats is estimated at Rs 5,000 crore, though it appears to be only a ‘guesstimate,’ with the final figure likely to be higher. That the government has been tinkering with the idea with no clear plan in mind is evident from the fact that originally it was supposed to be jointly implemented by the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Housing Corporation and the Karnataka Slum Development Board with around 25% of the land being ‘auctioned’ to finance the project. Even after the revision of the plan, which allows private parties the ownership of 40% of the prime land virtually free of cost, the government has proposed to pool in funds from various housing schemes of the state and central governments.

It is as bizarre as it can get, because both the state and central governments already have at least half a dozen ongoing housing schemes which are under various stages of implementation and for which thousands of crores have been earmarked. Does the government plan to abandon them midway and pour all that money into a single urban housing scheme which is going to benefit only one lakh families? The proposal to spend Rs 5,000 crore is arbitrary. Such a large sum should not be spent on a scheme without public consultation. This new ‘Bhagya’ of the Siddaramaiah government at the fag-end of its tenure looks like populism gone awry. The government will do well to rethink the project, perhaps even abandon it.

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