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Amaravati: The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), a flagship scheme of the Modi government, has been dubbed a major administrative success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
In April this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, in Hindi, that over three crore houses had been delivered under the scheme and that, “These houses with basic facilities have also become a symbol of women empowerment today.”
देश के हर गरीब को पक्का मकान देने के संकल्प में हमने एक अहम पड़ाव तय कर लिया है। जन-जन की भागीदारी से ही तीन करोड़ से ज्यादा घरों का निर्माण संभव हो पाया है। मूलभूत सुविधाओं से युक्त ये घर आज महिला सशक्तिकरण का प्रतीक भी बन चुके हैं। pic.twitter.com/6jmMcMs21J
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 8, 2022
The question of whether these houses stand as symbols of “women empowerment” is moot and merits another piece. However, a deeper look at the several problems nipping away at the PMAY indicates that its success withers under a searing gaze; its avowed efficacy dangerously wobbling on the three planks of rickety infrastructure, a rigid bureaucratic network that spans the Union as well as states, and a helpless situation of tied hands when it comes to allocation of funds to the scheme.
The 16th report of the Standing Committee on Rural Development & Panchayati Raj shines a spotlight on the many ills hobbling the fruitful execution of the PMAY-Grameen. The comments made by the standing committee show that the PMAY-G remains a work-in-progress; one that necessitates committed and honest participation from varied stakeholders, like state governments, gram panchayats, low-level bureaucrats, banks, as well as non-banking financial companies (NBFC).
Juggling several stakeholders results in a dynamic with too many variables in the air, where the intended benefit often does not reach the right recipient; or worse, the subsidy is pocketed by the gram panchayat and low-level banking officers.
Let’s dive into what ails the PMAY-G.
Identification of beneficiaries
In a casteist and deeply stratified socio-economic matrix of a village, identification of beneficiaries is scuttled by a “biased and politically motivated approach” by the gram panchayat. It isn’t as if the PMAY-G does not provide a grievance redressal appellate mechanism, but given its complexities, technical and logistical, it is of little consequence to the rural beneficiaries.
“The Committee are not fully convinced with stance and feel that if the primary concern of proper selection of the beneficiaries is not addressed properly, the whole initiative of bringing improvement in the living conditions of the rural poor may be ineffective. In a scenario where the centrally sponsored scheme is implemented at the District/Panchayat level and monitored at the central level, it becomes utmost important to downsize the role of Gram Sabha and to rope in private organizations and non-government bodies for identification/authentication of the beneficiary list and the responsibility is fixed on the Block Development Officers by making them accountable for factual verification of the details and progress of PMAY-G unit for fairer results, (sic)” the 16th report of the Standing Committee reads.
As of November, 2021, over 2.77 crore houses remain eligible for allocation under the PMAY-G, and the ministry had only given target of 50.99 lakh houses to states/UTs. In the meanwhile, there is still no resolution to the bottleneck of identifying the right beneficiaries under the scheme. The gram panchayat, despite its flaws, biases and prejudices, gets to have a say in the identification process.
The PMAY-G was launched in April, 2016 and had a provision of loan facilities of Rs 70,000 and unit assistance of Rs 1.2 lakh in plains and Rs 1.3 lakhs in hilly states, difficult areas and integrated action plan (IAP) districts. Considering the overwhelming inflationary pressures hovering over the economy, the committee members pointed out that there was an urgent need to review the existing financial assistance being doled out under the scheme.
Accompanying the inflationary concerns are the numerous challenges faced by those from the economically disadvantaged sections when it comes to accessing formal credit from banking channels. Given the predicament that an overwhelming majority of the beneficiaries of the scheme find themselves in, the committee had recommended for an increase in unit assistance on the basis of the present-day price index.
However, the replies submitted by the Department of Rural Development categorically stated that “increasing the unit assistance at such a juncture may not be feasible”, while adding that the Finance Ministry had also recommended the continuation of the same PMAY-G framework, shooting down any possibility of enhancement in per unit assistance.
Quite naturally, this response made the committee see red and it added, for good effect, that the Department of Rural Development seems to be “lacking empathy” towards the beneficiaries who belong to marginalised and deprived sections of society.
Given the ratcheting-up of the costs of cement, steel, paints and other goods that go into the construction of a house, a loan of Rs 70,000 amounts to a pittance, but the Finance Ministry, evidently, is obstinately against demands for a revision of the loan provision.
The report points out that despite the efforts undertaken by the rural development department, 2,79,321 (65.26%) out of the total of 4,27,975 landless beneficiaries are yet to be provided land, thereby putting a serious question mark on the full success of the scheme. Maharashtra accounts for 81,193 of these landless ‘beneficiaries’; Odisha, 52,731; Tamil Nadu, 43,718; and Assam, 29,591; besides other states constituting the total number of landless beneficiaries yet to be provided land.
In response, the Department passed on the blame to state governments and Union Territories, claiming that it had directed them to provide land to landless beneficiaries on priority. The committee was far from impressed, and emphasised the need to develop novel mechanisms to take on this seemingly intractable problem.
“The Committee find the reply of the Ministry routine in nature, devoid of any concrete measures which could yield desired results in a short span of time. Details of various written communication with the States since 2018 have been given which in itself proves that such practice has not borne the required solution and it is high time that a modified and novel approach be created for the speedier allocation of land to the landless beneficiaries across the country, (sic)” the report said.