During budget 2023, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman announced an outlay of 79,000 crores for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). This was a 65 per cent increase in budgetary allocation compared to last year’s share of 48,000 crores towards the scheme. The revised allocation comes as the union government aims to achieve the ‘housing for all’ target by 2024 against its missed target of 2022. While the increased central government funding for the scheme will give it a leg-up, it has been embroiled in multiple controversies, including allegations of corruption, discrimination and political bickering for years.
Indu Prakash Singh, human rights defender and Member of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee for the urban homeless speaks to The Probe’s Vikas Mavi.
Singh also alleges that his research on PMAY has revealed that many houses have been missing on the ground though these homes add up to numbers on government records. “On paper, the government might say that they have achieved PMAY. But in reality, many of these houses are missing. I want to ask the government to please show us the pictures of the houses and the photos of the beneficiaries. The fact is that it is all fictitious. The biggest scam in the country today is PMAY.”
The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana is a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi - a flagship initiative that aims to provide affordable housing to the poor which had a target of constructing 20 million (2 crores) affordable houses by 31 March 2022. The two components of the scheme - PMAY-U (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban) and PMAY-G (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana- Gramin) - and other related schemes were started by the union government to provide housing for the poor and the marginalised communities.
The PMAY was recently in the spotlight in West Bengal when allegations of irregularities surfaced. The centre and the state shared the expenses at a 60:40 ratio in West Bengal to build affordable homes for the poor. But soon, the scheme was mired in controversies when it was revealed that ineligible names of people were found on the beneficiaries list of PMAY applicants.
Human rights activist Sangita Chakraborty asserts that politics has taken over the scheme, and the centre-state tussle often is the cause behind the scheme’s poor implementation. “Basically, the poor people who are not supporters of the TMC party are deprived and discriminated against by the Mamata government, and they are not getting the benefits of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna. This kind of discrimination based on political affiliation is unacceptable.”
Jaipal notes that many organisations have reported difficulties and challenges in the implementation of the PMAY scheme. “There’s a lot of dependence on the person’s economic participation in the scheme, which is very difficult for many people. And also, for instance, with the communities where we work, it’s very difficult for them to participate in the scheme because it requires a lot of documentation. Many of these people from marginalised communities don’t have the kind of documentation that the scheme expects them to submit. This means that a whole gamut of people gets excluded from the scheme’s ambit. What we have seen is several marginalised groups have been excluded from the ambit of the scheme like homeless persons, landless persons, trans persons and many others because eligibility is determined by the documentation and some of the components are also dependent on the financial contribution of the beneficiary,” rues Jaipal.
Aledia notes that the centre-state tussle was one of the prime reasons the government could not meet its 2022 target. “Every government wants to start a scheme they can take credit for. Once the government is out of power, the scheme will lack proper implementation as the next government that takes over would not want to implement a previous government’s flagship scheme properly. That apart, the fight between the BJP and non-BJP ruled states over central government schemes complicates the issue all the more.”
Apart from West Bengal, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana has also become a political flashpoint in Odisha. The BJP had earlier alleged that the Naveen Patnaik government had left out nearly 1.5 lakh poor people from the list of PMAY beneficiaries. The BJP has also alleged that about three lakh ineligible people figure in the list of 9.5 lakh beneficiaries of the PMAY scheme. In Madhya Pradesh, a former minister had recently alleged that a major scam was brewing around the PMAY in nagar panchayats falling under the Bagli assembly constituency. On the other hand, the West Bengal government had alleged that several BJP leaders had reaped benefits from the PMAY scheme.
Sanjay Kapoor, Editor of Hard News Magazine and former Secretary General of Editors Guild of India, notes that the housing scams in the country related to the poor and the marginalised are ‘bewildering’. “Corruption scandal in the housing sector that is so important for BJP’s re-election is quite bewildering. In the two elections, they have come to power - free housing has played a big role. Almost a crore of houses have been built, but they have been weighed down by caste and communal considerations,” asserts Kapoor.
In West Bengal, it was earlier reported that more than 40 per cent of names were deleted from the beneficiaries list under PMAY in about 12 districts after a verification drive was conducted. The centre-state bickering has cost the scheme dearly, as by the end of March 2022, the PMAY fell short of meeting its stated target and objectives. While the targets have once again been revised, experts note that the 2011 census data was used to understand the housing needs of the poor and the marginalised and to set targets for achieving the objectives. The lack of the latest census figures, coupled with allegations of poor implementation and corruption, points to an immediate need for reform and revamp of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.