Political tussle over housing scheme leaves Andhras poor in the lurch

Political tussle over housing scheme leaves Andhra's poor in the lurch

Bhanuchand, a daily wage earner at Patamata in Vijayawada, had borrowed ₹25,000 from a private lender at an interest rate of 10% per month to become a member in a government housing scheme meant for the poor. Nearly two years later, his dream of owning a house still remains a mirage while his debt mounts.

Bhanuchand, a daily wage earner at Patamata in Vijayawada, had borrowed ₹25,000 from a private lender at an interest rate of 10% per month to become a member in a government housing scheme meant for the poor.

Nearly two years later, his dream of owning a house still remains a mirage while his debt  mounts. “I have been paying the monthly interest which has now exceeded the principal loan amount, but my dream house continues to elude me. I continue to live in a rented house with my family,” laments Bhanuchand.

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He is among the thousands of people caught in a political tussle in Andhra Pradesh as the ruling YSR Congress and the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are engaged in a slugfest over a housing scheme for the weaker sections.

Bhanuchand, an agricultural worker, was selected among the beneficiaries for a housing scheme formulated in a hurry by the previous TDP government, months ahead of the April 2019 general elections. As per the guidelines of the scheme jointly implemented by the Centre and the state government, he was required to make an individual contribution.

“Now, I am caught in a debt. The government has neither given me a house nor paid back the money I gave,” he says.

Meanwhile, the YSR Congress government has put the scheme on hold and ordered a probe into the alleged irregularities in the selection of beneficiaries and execution of works. As a result, the beneficiaries stare at an uncertain future.

No roof over head

The houses are being constructed by the Andhra Pradesh Township and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (APTIDCO), the state-level nodal agency for Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) — an affordable housing scheme for the poor in urban areas. TIDCO is responsible for planning, development, financing and implementation of affordable housing in the state, under Municipal Administration and Urban Development Department.

The previous TDP government, headed by N Chandrababu Naidu, proposed to build nearly 30 lakh houses for the rural poor under the NTR Housing Scheme, and a little over 8 lakh houses were completed. Under APTIDCO, nearly 6,000 houses were built for the urban poor. Agreements were made between the government and the contracting agencies for constructing an additional 4.62 lakh houses with an estimated cost of ₹26,200 crore before the YSRC government came to power.

However, soon after taking over the reins, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy put the NTR housing scheme on hold and came up with a rechristened scheme — YSR Pedalandariki Illu (housing for all poor).

This scheme is part of Jagan’s poll-eve promise ‘Navaratnalu’, a bouquet of nine populist schemes. Under this housing scheme, the government has proposed to distribute house sites to 30 lakh homeless poor in urban and rural areas.

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However, allegations of irregularities have cropped up in this scheme, too, with the government acquiring over 67,000 acres of private land for the purpose. The scheme was originally scheduled to be launched in March on the occasion of Ugadi, the Telugu New Year, but has been postponed several times since then due to legal issues over land acquisition.

The government has now announced that it will distribute documents for free house sites to the eligible people on December 25 in the “litigation-free areas.”

“Housing sites will be allocated by providing the necessary documents. As many as 30.6 lakh beneficiaries have been identified across the state,” said a senior government official.

The entire process of land acquisition is expected to be completed by December 10.

The construction work will begin on December 25. In the first phase, about 15 lakh houses will be taken up with an expenditure of ₹1.80 lakh per house, and these houses will be handed over to the beneficiaries free of cost, according to an official of the Chief Minister’s Office.

The first phase of construction is targeted to be completed by June 2022. In the second phase, the government aims to construct 13 lakh houses by June 2023.

Uncertain fate

However, the fate of the previous government’s housing scheme remains uncertain.

“Some houses were completed towards the end of the TDP’s term but were scheduled for distribution after the elections. When the YSRCP came to power, the work on incomplete housing projects came to a halt,” the state CPI (M) secretary Ch Baburao said.

The activists of TDP, CPI and CPI (M) alleged that thousands of APTIDCO houses across the state were lying vacant while the government was dragging its feet on allocation of houses due to a political grudge, as the project was started by the TDP.

“The houses are built with public money. People have a right over them. It is unfortunate that they have become victims of the politics of vengeance,” the state CPI secretary K Ramakrishna said.

The selected beneficiaries under the scheme had paid amounts ranging from ₹25,000 to ₹1 lakh towards their contribution. “Most of them had taken loans and have to pay interest now. In some cases, the government had helped beneficiaries take bank loans. Some of the beneficiaries have now been issued notices by the banks, asking them to start paying instalments. This has caused unrest among the beneficiaries,” the Left party leader said.

Refuting the opposition allegations, an official statement said that the previous TDP government had left a debt of ₹3,200 crore for constructing 2,62,216 houses under the APTIDCO scheme.

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“So far, the government has cleared ₹1,200 crore debt and soon the rest will be cleared in phases,” the statement said.

The government has decided to spend ₹2,500 crore towards the infrastructure work of APTIDCO houses. “In order to complete the project in the next three years, the state government will be spending a total of ₹9,550 crore,” it said.

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