Housing for all is good, but who keep the vultures away from swooping down

In a country where subsidies go horribly wrong due to misappropriation -- kerosene meant to keep the embers of poor households burning is hijacked by auto drivers, hospital beds meant for poor by politicians and their hangers on—the Modi government must be extra careful in unveiling its housing for all plan.

 Housing for all is good, but who keep the vultures away from swooping down

Housing for all. AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is right in harping upon the importance for owning a home and therefore he is working on a mission mode to enable everyone to own a house by 2022. As a first step, his government has announced an interest subvention scheme which would be a whopping 6.5 percent per annum.

To be sure, the interest subvention i.e. paid by the government is on only for economically weaker section (EWS) and Low Income Group (LIG) categories. But the devil always lies in the details. Not only should the houses belong to these two genres but the people seeking to own them must also belong to EWS and LIG categories. Otherwise, vultures would gather. Realtors possessed with limitless cupidity would make a beeline for the scheme if only the houses need to belong to these two genres and not their owners. It pays to be extra careful on such matters.

Identification of EWS and LIG wannabe house owners would not be an easy task. Making PAN holders out of bounds for the scheme may be the easiest step but not foolproof because faced with the prospect of owning a house, dropping the PAN like a hot potato would be an enticing option. BPL cards given by state government for PDS too is not foolproof with reports of BPL card holders in Bangalore outnumbering the population of Bangalore itself that did the rounds a couple of years ago still carrying verisimilitude (ring of truth). In the event, there is bound to be a flood of applications for getting this generous interest subsidy. Would the officialdom be armed to cope up with this deluge? A benefit estimated to be worth Rs 2 lac or thereabouts would have a lot of claimants, genuine and fake.

It must be ensured that the EWS and LIG houses are built by the governmental agencies like the DDA in Delhi and Tamil Nadu Housing Board in Tamil Nadu. They may not be staffed by angels but they are lesser evils any day. In the hands of private builders, the scheme lends itself to greater abuse. And allowing eligible individuals to build their own EWS and LIG homes is even more fraught because in India people take a foot when given an inch so much so that a LIG house may over a period of time morph into a MIG house.

It must be mandated that per family, only one such house would be allotted till its members outgrow their dependence. There are families where some people may be unemployed or having a very small income but supported by sons, daughters and husbands earning handsomely. Will they make the grade? This grey area should be removed.

Lastly, the houses benefiting from interest subvention must not be allowed to be sold before say ten years except on the following two stiff conditions:

• The interest subvention received thus far must be refunded; and
• No future opportunities to participate again in the same scheme.

The projects presumably would come up only on the outskirts of major cities and towns. The state governments and municipalities must plan in advance for basic infrastructure like electricity, roads, and water (bijli-sadak-paani), an election slogan that resonates with the masses. But then it cannot remain an election slogan in the context of such massive projects.

A house needs all these basic infrastructure to become a home. Septic tanks are a health hazard. The government must plan for sewerage pipes at the very outset; they must not be retrofitted, so to speak. Kejriwal the Delhi chief minister rode to power on the back of promise of free water but people sold on that promise are realizing now that water first takes a pipeline to carry it to the households. Power would be even more challenging. The point is what appears to be a simple scheme might after all have huge ramifications and call for center-state cooperation as well state-municipality coordination.

Updated Date: Jun 23, 2015 15:17:45 IST



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