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Stumbling steps towards slum-free India

- Rajiv home scheme hamstrung by lack of central push & state resistance

New Delhi, Feb. 19: The Rajiv Awaas Yojana, which aims to achieve a “Slum-Free India” with houses for the urban poor, has covered less than a quarter of the cities it was supposed to in a test run.

Not a single of the 33,000 dwellings units to be built under the pilot plan ending in June has been constructed, the patchy progress being blamed on a lack of central push to the scheme amid resistance from states to some rules.

The pilot project was aimed at 250 cities but the Centre managed to get only 33, or 13 per cent of the total, spread across 12 states on board.

Of the 12 states, only three — Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala — are Congress-ruled. This figure is being seen as a measure of the plan’s lack of appeal at a time the Congress-led UPA is trying to woo urban voters ahead of the general elections next year.

The 33,000 units have been sanctioned under 40 projects, of which 32 were cleared in the past five months. This indicates a frantic rush to the June 2013 deadline from January 2012 till when only eight projects had been approved. The scheme was announced in 2009 but launched in 2011.

The use of funds points to a similar picture. From the Rs 5,000-crore budget for the pilot project, only Rs 1,800 crore, or 36 per cent, has been spent. This includes Rs 160 crore that went into preparing a sheaf of project reports and surveys, not actual construction.

The pilot project failed to take off because of problems in the design of the houses. Also, while the Centre was paying 60-90 per cent of the construction expenses — depending on parameters that included backwardness — states had to bear the remaining cost and pay for the land, too.

The idea of a “Slum-free India” was mooted by Sanjay Gandhi when shanty-dwellers were removed from parts of central Delhi, igniting protests. Now a scheme named after his brother Rajiv and aimed at the rehabilitation of the same section seems doomed from start.

“The Rajiv Awaas Yojana envisages a Slum-Free India with inclusive and equitable cities in which every citizen has access to basic civic and social services and decent shelter,” the guideline for the scheme says.

The plan aims to convert slums into multi-storey structures for the dwellers. “The idea is to take them from illegality to legality. Another big advantage is that these houses can be mortgaged (by the dwellers) to get bank loans. That wouldn’t be possible with slums,” said D.P.S. Negi, the officer on special duty overseeing the scheme.

A key feature of the programme is that anyone living in slums since June 2009 should be entitled to houses as well as property rights.

At the heart of this is a model bill — the Property Rights for Slum Dwellers bill — that states must adopt to get central funding for the projects.

But this has become one of the main hurdles, with many states, including Bengal, opposed to the provision as they see it as an intrusion in their turf given that land is a state subject.

The reservations and the tardy progress have prompted the Centre to start preparing a revamped Rajiv Awaas Yojana. The revised scheme will have a larger budget of Rs 15,000 crore and, in an apparent relaxation, will offer states a two-year window to adopt the model bill to get funding.

The blueprint is slated to come up before the expenditure finance committee, the finance ministry arm that clears projects, officials said.

The ministry of housing and poverty alleviation, which oversees the plan, has introduced some changes and hopes the new plan will become popular.

For one, the Centre has agreed to states’ demands that the property rights should not be absolute. Instead, the slum-dwellers will get legal entitlement to the houses. This means “long-term property rights” but the land will continue to be with the government.

Although the lease term has not been defined, it could be up to 30 years, which can be extended up to 90. The slum-dweller will be given the right to transfer the lease but after a certain period of time.