After encountering a family living in a small tin shed in the bone-chilling cold at Surasyar, in Budgam district, recently, it made me believe that the Prime Ministers’ housing scheme for the poor continues to be in a mess. In past, I had worked a lot to bring transparency in this scheme in several villages but that was not a sustained struggle. The family of Ghulam Nabi Sheikh has been living in the shed at Surasyar for the last many years. Even during the below-freezing minus 10 and 12 the family was putting up in this shed. Unfortunately, the locals could not take even the initiative to shift the family into a rented place. Pertinently the Block Development Officer’s office (BDO office) is mere 50 meters away from Ghulam Nabi’s dingy shed, but the department never ever even thought to enlist him under the scheme. Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) earlier known as Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) is one of the most misused Government schemes across India. In Jammu & Kashmir political parties have used this flagship programme to benefit the party workers rather than to give its benefits to the deserving people belong to disadvantaged communities. PMAY is a scheme for the poor and homeless which was launched by the Modi Government of India in the year 2015. Under this scheme, affordable housing is provided to the poor with a target of building 20 million affordable houses by 31 March 2022. PMAY has two components: Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Urban (PMAY-U) for the urban homeless people and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna Gramin (PMAY-G) for rural poor. The scheme is converged with other schemes to ensure houses have a toilet facility under Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), Saubhagya Yojana electricity connection and LPG gas connection under the Ujjwala Yojana, access to safe drinking water and banking facilities under Jan Dhan Jojna, etc. Total 1 cr homes are approved against the total demand of 1.12Cr as of 28 December 2019. PMAY known as Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) until 2015 and has been a household name in rural India. In Jammu & Kashmir , IAY used to be a household name until its name was changed to PMAY by Modi Govt in 2015. The village politics revolved around this scheme. Having used RTI to extract information about IAY beneficiaries in past, I can say with authority that this is the most misused scheme in Jammu & Kashmir during the last two decades.
History of the scheme
The rural housing scheme was Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) actually started in the year 1985 by the then Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi. This was a part of the Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme (RLEGP) Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) was merged with the Jawahar Rozgar Yojna (JRY) in 1989. From year 1996 IAY was created as an independent scheme. Earlier the scheme was only meant for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities, but before the IAY became an independent flagship programme in 1996, IAY was extended to Non-SC/ST categories also. The scheme was further extended to widows or next-of-kin of defence personnel killed in action, ex-servicemen, and retired members of the paramilitary forces as well settled in rural areas.
Corruption in the scheme
The bungling’s that started way back in 1996 continues under the PMAY housing scheme. I am especially focusing on PMAY-Rural. This doesn’t mean that PMAY Urban is implemented transparently. No, not at all. Prior to 2011 when there were no elected panchayats in J&K, the local political party workers especially those belonging to the MLA of the area would act as touts. They would take money from people and then the same would be enlisted under the scheme. After 2011 panchayat elections , many Sarpanches and Panches started collecting this money. An influential man in village who would muster 50 to 60 votes would also be benefitted with PMAY or IAY money for joining the local MLA’s party. It was never considered what his economic condition was? I am sure that between 1996 to 2011, the majority of the houses were not at all constructed under IAY and the money was simply embezzled. From 2011 some money would be spent on construction but these are only a handful of cases. Even Govt officials and people owning large amounts of agricultural land were benefitted under IAY or PMAY. In 2012 I met a homeless man from Kutbal village in Chadoora block namely Gulya Poswal a scheduled tribe (ST) Gujjar. The guy had been moving from pillar to post to get entitlement under IAY (now PMAY), but the local Sarpanch and other influential people including officials of the Rural Development Department never enlisted him. The Sarpanch instead managed to get money released in favour of his 27 close relatives @ Rs 53,500 / family. Some of the family members were even children aged 14 or 15 years. We exposed the whole scam using Right to Information (RTI) Act as a tool. The Sarpanch had to deposit the money back into Government account. Similarly, when we asked for photos of houses constructed in Bonen village under the IAY scheme in 2013, I was shocked to see pictures of cow sheds taken and submitted in BDO’s office. Gulya Poswal could only get entitlement under IAY in 2014. He was given Rs 75,000 in three installments. This was only possible when we put a lot of pressure on the BDO and his officials, but how can everyone manage to build such pressure on officials? The Gram Sabha (village assembly) has to vet the PMAY lists but this never happens. These gram sabha’s are held in closed-door rooms. Even for electing Forest Rights Committees (FRCs) under Forest Rights Act (FRA) the gram sabha’s were held in closed door rooms. I have already written nine articles on the issue through my series of columns published in this paper. Under PMAY Gramin Rs 1.30 lakh is provided to the beneficiary along with Rs 12,000 for construction of washroom. 100 days of wages are given under MG-NREGA so that beneficiary can work do labour work on his own house.
Where lies the fault?
PMAY beneficiaries are selected on the basis of a socio-economic caste (SEC) survey made during 2011. Unfortunately, this survey is itself a scam. Government employees, people having big apple orchards, and agricultural land have been recorded as living under the poverty line (BPL). With a result, the people who really deserved to be BPL have been deprived of PMAY or IAY , subsidized ration, and many other entitlements meant for poor and disadvantaged people. In 2015 there was re-verification done to find out the real beneficiaries. The BDO, Assistant Commissioner Development (ACD) & Additional District Development Commissioner (ADDC) again cross checked the SEC survey list of 2011. More than 50 % people were found to be ineligible. A separate list of economically weaker families was made , which is called Non-SEC. The names were uploaded on an official portal some years back but they are yet to get the benefits of PMAY. A senior officer in Rural Development Department told me that even in this 3rd survey as well 40 % families were found ineligible. Irony is that updated / latest PMAY beneficiary list is not available on any Govt website. I tried a lot to see district websites of Anantnag and Budgam but could not see the PMAY beneficiary list. This is worthwhile to mention that General Administration Department (GAD) had recently issued a circular to all administrative secretaries and DC’s to update websites but it seems GAD’s order has no takers in the administration.
The PMAY and IAY both need to be probed by an independent agency like CBI or Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). Let the people be identified who embezzled the money meant for the poor and homeless. For making a survey to identify the beneficiaries, Govt needs to constitute an inter-departmental committee headed by a non-rural development official. The committee must have members from Revenue , Health, school education as well along with officials of rural development and local panchayat representatives. 50 % Gram Sabha is a must to vet the PMAY beneficiary lists. The closed door gram sabha’s should be declared illegal under law. Beneficiary list should be uploaded on the official district websites.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement