Housing for all: Who is left behind?

the new housing schemes have a greater beneficiary contribution — from 10% to 66%
Last Updated 27 February 2022, 03:11 IST

Shivappa, 42, stays with his family in a 'sheet home' at Jalahalli in Bengaluru. A resident of Bengaluru, he does odd jobs and earns an average of Rs 9,000 every month.

Shivappa first applied for the Karnataka Chief Minister's one lakh housing scheme in Bengaluru four years ago. His application was abruptly cancelled when the government changed and brought about a few changes to the scheme.

He applied for a house again. This time, the process was digitised and he had to make a deposit of Rs 1 lakh upfront.

Shivappa says he took out a loan for the deposit — Rs 50,000 in a gold loan and the rest from a local moneylender.

Although he has been allotted a flat in a 14-storey apartment, he's uncertain about the future.

Unlike other affordable housing programmes for urban areas in the past, such as the Centre's Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana or the Vajpayee Urban housing, the new housing schemes have a greater beneficiary contribution — from 10% to 66%.

This means beneficiaries like Shivappa can end up taking on a debt of anywhere between two lakh and seven lakh rupees for a house, depending on the government programme they opt for.

There are other issues. Many beneficiaries need to apply for bank loans to be able to afford the house. But the stringent documentation requirements of the bank has meant that few loans are actually disbursed.

For instance, one social activist says that the banks’ demand for income certificates are a problem. The banks insist on income proof of at least Rs 60,000 per annum.

“If BPL families go for this income certificate, they stand to lose out on benefits like ration and education scholarships,” the activist says. “Even if they file a new affidavit, the certificate takes years to come,” he adds.

Comparing the current government housing projects to the ones in the past, A Narasimhamurthy, president of the Slum Janandolana, an organisation working for the rights of slum dwellers, says the burden on people has increased manifold.

“Fifteen years back, people had to pay just Rs 40,000 for affordable housing. And there was a provision for Urban Local Bodies to chip in half the amount, further reducing the cost,” he says.

The slight shift has coincided with the Central government’s flagship Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), which was launched in 2015 and aimed to provide ‘Housing for all’ by 2022.

Housing for all: Who is left behind?

So far, 115 lakh houses have been sanctioned in various states, with Rs 1.1 lakh crores spent so far. About 50% of the houses have been completed, with states like Delhi, Telangana and Kerala taking the lead when it comes to the implementation of the scheme.

In Karnataka, the progress of the PMAY scheme has been slow. When asked about this, Housing Minister V Somanna denied this.

Despite its overweening ambition, the PMAY-Urban scheme might actually fall short of India’s housing needs. As far back as 2012, a report of the Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage had estimated that there was a shortage of 187.8 lakh houses, with 95% of this in low-income housing.

Previous schemes

And previous efforts to tackle this crisis haven’t been effective.

Take the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. Several of these affordable housing projects taken up in Bengaluru — distinct in their cream and green paint — now lie in shambles.

At Jaibhim Nagar, an affordable housing project taken up by the Karnataka Slum Development Board in East Bengaluru more than a decade ago, there are more than 3,000 residents living in cramped quarters.

Even now, many houses in these projects do not have electricity metres; the roofs and walls on the top floor of buildings invariably develop cracks. The sewage chambers are overflowing, with water stagnating between the buildings. Garbage is dumped in heaps at the end of compounds or streets.

Sagaymary, 65, was part of the first cohort to move into the area after being evicted from her shanty home near the Bengaluru cantonment railway station. Sitting in her tiny one room house, Sagaymary says the people here feel like they have been marooned on an island, “out of sight of everyone else.”

Despite staying in a shanty earlier, Sagaymary says, they were right in the middle of the city and did not want for anything.

It isn’t just infrastructure. Even today, the locality is present in the middle of nowhere, three kilometres from the nearest bus stop or medical clinic. Some women found employment as house help after a row of gated apartments came up nearby.

Other men in the locality aren’t able to find jobs or have to travel a long way to get to the city.

Far from the city, Jaibhim Nagar has reverted to a slum and is now like a prison for its residents.

“Those living in a house are looking to live a dignified life. But there, they have just built cement slums,” Narasimha Murthy says.

The government seems to have thought through some of these issues with the new schemes like the Chief Minister’s one lakh housing schemes.

Sannachitaiah, Chief Engineer at the Rajiv Gandhi Housing Corporation Limited (RGHCL), the agency tasked with implementing the project, says the new project went from being a G+3 model to S+14 model; requirements for amenities like car parking, lift and approach road were relaxed but are present.

Since land was scarce, the project limits were increased from BDA limits to that of the Bengaluru Urban district.

Then, the income ceiling was relaxed too, from Rs 87,000 per annum to Rs 3 lakh per annum, ensuring more people were eligible for the project.

“All of these revisions have led to an unavoidable delay,” Sannachittaiah says.

But the one lakh housing project is not without its detractors.

A major point of contention is the lack of loans being sanctioned by the banks.

For the one lakh housing scheme, RGHCL has forwarded 5,644 loan applications with all the relevant documents. As of October last year, just 1,450 loans were sanctioned and 73 loans disbursed.

When asked about this delay, housing department officials say the stringent requirements from the banks is creating a bottleneck.

In turn, an official with the SLBC said they weren’t getting the necessary “cooperation” from the housing department. “Many people think it is a free loan or some government scheme. When they realise it isn’t, they don’t show interest,” he says.

Perhaps one of the worst-performing schemes under the PMAY is the in-situ development of slums.

“The huge contribution from the beneficiary is a big reason for the lack of progress in the scheme,” an official at the Karnataka Slum Board says, on condition of anonymity.

Just 14% of the proposed low-income houses under the scheme have been constructed. The bigger issue of lack of basic facilities is going unaddressed even in the new projects. “Most of these projects end up becoming new slums, and in many ways worse than they were before,” says Issac Amruthraj, who has been working with slum communities for more than two decades.

An official says the Board is given an average of Rs 75 crore to provide facilities in a year at its projects across Karnataka. To put this in context, the Board spent Rs 28.5 crore just on staff salaries in 2020-21.

Activists like Isaac see a clear shift in focus from low-income communities to those who are slightly better off.

Last year, there was a government order stating that title deeds be given to the three lakh odd families living in slums. So far, just 10,000 title deeds have been distributed.

Near Hosa Road in Kudlu, Bengaluru, at the Slum Quarters in Kaveri Badavane, Seena (44) is nervous about the new apartment complexes coming up around them. He along with a hundred other families moved here 14 years ago.

It has become easier to find work, he says, but the lack of proper documentation has left people nervous about being evicted again. “Now there is talk of a lease and moving us to another project in Attibele,” he says.

“I have spent half my life struggling to build a life here,” says Somalatha, 48, who works as a househelp in the apartment complexes nearby. “We are not going to move again.”

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(Published 26 February 2022, 18:07 IST)

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