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Politics Over Awas

Bhubaneswar: Odisha has witnessed a lot of politics over Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). Even allegations of murders have been reported over raising voices on the alleged irregularities in the distribution of house units among the poor people.

Both the Governing BJD and the Opposition BJP are in a constant fight with each other over the beneficiary selection for the Awas Yojana. While, BJD as the governing party claims that all the processes in the Awas Yojana were transparent, the BJP protests citing instances of poorest of the poor being denied a house. The process continues and it is also seen now after the Centre sanctioned 9.5 lakh additional houses including 1.5 lakh houses for the cyclone Fani affected people in the coastal belt.

The State Government has meanwhile made public the provisional list of Awas Yojana beneficiaries. Beginning from Panchayat office to Block offices, the lists are pasted giving people an opportunity to see their names and point out the names of the ineligible persons in the list. This has led to bitter quarrels and caused social division in peaceful villages.

The list should be prepared in a format where the poorest of the poor get the first priority followed by the poor, lower income group, lower middle class and then the middle class. The local administration must have the statistics to identify the beneficiaries according to economic categories.

The root of all the disputes over the Awas Yojana lies in the mindset of the people. When there are freebies like food ration under different schemes or house distribution, most people claim themselves as poor and even the middle-class people pose as the poorest of the poor to grab a free of cost house unit. In the process, the actual poorest of the poor or the poor are left out.

As it is, the poor persons fail to convince the panchayat functionaries who play a major role in selection of beneficiaries for the Awas Yojana. An old, disabled or impoverished person cannot reach the panchayat heads and therefore remain outside the list of beneficiaries.

This apart, the panchayat functionaries who were elected in February 2022 to the office by spending lakhs of rupees, also find the Awas beneficiary selection as a golden opportunity to recoup their money. In many cases, the beneficiaries are asked to pay bribes for selection. While the eligible and needy persons find it difficult to arrange money to give to the panchayat functionaries, the ineligible people get their names enlisted, because they can pay.

The government is no stranger to the problem. Everybody knows what actually happens in the beneficiaries’ selection of Awas Yojana. But, all prefer to remain silent and the practice continues. This is also not the case of Odisha alone. Similar practice is also adopted in other states including BJP ruled states.

The sanction of 9.5 lakh houses under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, ahead of the 2024 general elections for Lok Sabha and Odisha Assembly, has also created an opportunity for both the BJD and the BJP. While local BJD leaders try to provide houses to their supporters, the BJP people also try to ensure that saffron supported residents get the facility and help the party in coming elections. The PMAY is a sharing scheme where the Centre contributes 60 per cent of the cost of the House while the state takes the burden of the remaining 40 per cent of the expenses.

BJD Vice President Debi Prasad Mishra claimed that the State Government’s share is almost 50 per cent as the State Administration has made provision of incentives for early completion of houses. Therefore, the State Government has equal rights over the scheme though it is named after the Prime Minister. Let the Centre take the burden of 100 per cent cost of housing and then only BJP people can make claims that it is a central scheme, the BJD leaders pointed out. There is also a dispute between the BJD and the BJP over fixation of Logo in these houses. Both the parties demand that the size of their Logo should be bigger than the other. The dispute also creates a division among the people in villages.

Recently, senior BJP leader and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan called for transparency in the PMAY allocation. While claiming that the Centre has done a lot for the poor people of Odisha, the Union Minister pointed out that the Narendra Modi Government has sanctioned 27.5 lakh houses for the state against the projected requirement of 26 to 27 lakh houses. He gave a clear message that Modi is committed to the development of the poor people of Odisha. He said the state should allocate houses among the poor people without coming under the pressure of the ruling party.

Anyway, the house quarrel continues in the state and the poorest of the poor people suffer while corruption dominates the process. However, the State Administration is trying to deal with matters in an impartial way. Sushil Kumar Lohani, Principal Secretary Panchayati Raj recently sought cooperation from people of all walks of the society for implementation of PMAY. He said the houses will be allocated under two categories like 8.17 lakhs PMAY (G)-Normal Houses and 1.42 lakh PMAY (G)-Special Houses for the cyclone Fani affected people. Selection of eligible beneficiaries has emerged as a major challenge and an important aspect in successful implementation of Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana (Grameen). The unit cost of the scheme is Rs. 1,20,000 and Rs. 1,30,000 for plain (Non-IAP districts) and hilly areas (IAP districts) respectively.

This is high time for the middle class to give an opportunity to the poor people and let them avail the house. The middle class is already entitled to get free of cost food grain and they were among the 3.26 crore people. Though poor people also get the benefit, the middle class should come forward and ensure that the poor get the houses. In many cases, it is found that the people in government jobs get the PMAY house in the name of their spouses or sons or daughters. The people doing such activities should not deny the poor of their rights out of self-respect, if not for anything else.