New Delhi: If the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was the signature initiative of the Congress-led UPA regime, then Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G) or rural housing scheme has been the most-prized project of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government.
Being pro-poor, both programmes have helped the respective governments politically and electorally.
But while MGNREGA was conceptualised and introduced by the UPA government, the PMAY-G is a refurbished version of the Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) — launched in 1985 by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to construct houses for the BPL population in villages.
PMAY-G was introduced on 1 April 2016, two years after the Modi government came to power with an aim to provide “housing for all’’ by 2022 – its immediate objective was to cover 1 crore families living in kutcha/dilapidated houses by 2018-19.
But PMAY-G’s makeover wasn’t merely about this government’s near-obsession to do away with all that is associated with the Nehru-Gandhi clan. An entire overhaul was planned and executed, resulting in a drastic improvement of the scheme’s implementation.
While tabling the Union Budget for 2019-20 last week, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had claimed that the time spent on constructing a house has been reduced by more than half since PMAY-G was introduced.
“With the use of technology and platforms such as the DBT (direct benefit transfer), the average number of days for completion of a house has reduced from 314 days in 2015-16 to 114 days in 2017-18,” she said.
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According to ministry data, a total of 1.54 crore rural homes were completed in the past five years and in the second phase – from 2019-20 to 2021-22 – another 1.95 crore houses are targeted to be built.
Of the 1.54 crore houses, around 72 lakh were those sanctioned under the IAY but built/completed under the Modi government before PMAY-G took off in 2016. The data also shows that since the scheme was reformed in 2016, the number of houses constructed has also increased by nearly a double.
So why was an overhaul of the IAY needed, what changes were brought in and what results did they eventually yield? ThePrint does a deep dive into PMAY-G to answer these questions and examine data to establish the trends post-2016.
The need to fix IAY
IAY was known to be riddled with deficiencies, most notably its inability to target deserving beneficiaries, stop bureaucratic red-tape and inordinate delays.
Though launched in 1985, the scheme was introduced in 1996 as an independent housing programme aimed at providing roofs to the homeless.
A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2014 had pointed out specific gaps in the scheme, prompting the rural ministry to closely examine it and highlight the need for well-planned reforms.
“The scheme was running on auto-pilot until then but the CAG report brought to fore the big problems and how all the money that was being spent could actually end up yielding no results. That is when the ministry decided to do a re-think and the new BJP government was also keen on taking this up on a mission mode,” said a ministry official, who did not wish to be identified.
To begin with, the CAG report pointed towards lack of transparency in selection of beneficiaries and said it lacked an effective monitoring process. The poor quality of houses constructed under the scheme was also emphasised, as was the fact that designs lacked diversity to suit different geographical requirements. There was no technical supervision either.
The ministry then decided to address each issue flagged by CAG by bringing in a multitude of reforms, including convergence with other schemes.
“We wanted to address each and every gap identified in the CAG report. Some of the biggest reforms have been evidence-based beneficiary selection, geo-tagging of assets, convergence and making electronic payments compulsory in order to ensure minimal leakage of funds,” Amarjeet Sinha, secretary, rural development ministry, told ThePrint.
Sinha added that there were also efforts to bring down unspent balances, since a lot of funds were “found to be sitting idle”.
“Most importantly, each state has assumed a leadership role to implement this scheme – irrespective of the ruling party,” Sinha added.
To begin with, the unit assistance under PMAY-G was increased from Rs 70,000 to Rs 1.20 lakh in the plains and from Rs 75,000 to Rs 1.30 lakh in hilly states, difficult areas and IAP districts.
Beneficiaries can also avail loan up to Rs 70,000 from financial institutions in addition to unit assistance.
To ensure a more targeted and water-tight beneficiary selection, it was decided that the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) data – which brings in exhaustive parameters of deprivation – will be used. Homeless families or those living in houses with one or two kutcha walls and thatched roofs were identified and targeted. Moreover, a ‘permanent wait list’ was drawn up so states have a ready-list of households to be covered under the scheme in the coming years.
According to the revised process, the list is made public in gram sabhas after which objections and claims are entertained through an appellate process.
Also, for every beneficiary, a picture of her or his existing kutcha house has to be uploaded and geo-tagged by an official, who will then be responsible for any incorrect selection or misrepresentation.
The online platform – AwaasSoft – is used to monitor the scheme on a ‘real-time basis’ and photos of construction in each stage and its progress have to be uploaded before the next installment is released. Funds reach the beneficiaries’ accounts via DBT.
Special attention was paid to design, quality and suitability of constructions – with around 130 housing typologies brought for specific geographical and climatic conditions. This was done after studies conducted across 18 states.Houses in flood prone areas, therefore, have to be constructed on stilts and with slanting roofs. All designs have been vetted by the Central Building Research Institute.
Through convergence with MGNREGA, Ujjwala Yojana and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, an integrated approach was adopted. Houses now have to be complete units, ministry officials claim, with toilets and cooking gas connections. Minimum size of a house was increased from 20 square meters to 25 square meters, with a “dedicated area for hygienic cooking”.
What the ministry believes as its most crucial reform is ensuring that the house is in the name of either a woman member of the family or a joint ownership with a male member. While 27 per cent of the total houses sanctioned so far have been in women’s name, around 35 per cent have been in men’s name and 38 per cent in joint ownership.
Meanwhile, of the total sanctions made so far, around 52 per cent were made to households belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities.
New social audit rules were proposed by the ministry, which include “assessing whether sufficient awareness about the scheme has been generated” and if “people’s voices were heard in the implementation of the scheme.”
Feedback on these proposed rules were sought from states. The social audit has to be conducted once a year in every panchayat.
“Under the restructured scheme, physical monitoring mechanisms at various
levels have also been adopted which are conceptualised with an objective to
perform prudential assessment of the scheme,” the ministry states in the social audit guidelines document.
A clear pattern emerges when one looks at the data made available by the rural development ministry. Under PMAY-G, around 32 lakh houses were constructed in 2016-17, 44 lakh in 2017-18 and around 46 lakh in 2018-19. Overall, 92.6 lakh houses were built between 2017-19.
Under IAY, however, the figures are far lower. Before the scheme was revised in 2016, only around 10.5 lakh houses were built in 2012-13, another 10.5 lakh in 2013-14, 11.9 lakh in 2014-15 and 18.2 lakh in 2015-16.
Post the makeover, therefore, there has been a clear increase in the number of houses constructed in a year, according to ministry data. These statistics are those compiled by the ministry and it is difficult to verify them through alternative sources.
Compare this with its urban counterpart, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Urban (PMAY-U), and the story is quite different. Under PMAY-U, launched by PM Modi in 2015, a little over 81 lakh houses with an investment of about Rs 4.83 lakh crore have been sanctioned so far. Of this, construction of just a little over half – about 47 lakh houses – has begun so far. Over 26 lakh houses have been completed, of which around 24 lakh houses have been delivered to the beneficiaries – a far lower figure than the rural scheme.
Lacunae, however, remain, including the inability to comprehensively cover landless families. Less than one fourth of landless beneficiaries have been provided land for constructing houses under the scheme.
According to official data, only 21.9 per cent of the identified landless beneficiaries have been provided land – an issue that was part of the agenda during the scheme’s Performance Review Committee meeting held last month.
Ministry officials, however say these are merely those beneficiaries who do not have land titles and for whom alternative land sites have to be found.
The quality of houses, according to revised norms, remain another question to be answered. Constructions are new and hence it is too early to tell how durable they are.
There are also state-wise variation in implementation of schemes. According to a ministry note, as on June this year, a little over 7 lakh houses were delayed. These were those that had not been completed even after 12 months from the date of release of the first installment of funds. In this respect, states like Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Assam were found to be defaulters.
Gaps in sanction of houses versus target constructions were also observed in seven states, including Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Tamil Nadu.
Convergence also has a long way to go, with less than half of the PMAY-G houses being provided with cooking gas connections under Ujjwala.
Moreover, while all funds transfer may be electronic, corruption at the panchayat level continues. West Bengal’s ‘cut money‘ phenomenon reflects how the system is yet to be made corruption free.
The political push
The reforms of the rural housing scheme, however, has not been a mere administrative matter. The BJP, led by Modi, has made it a political mission, with a clear eye on reaching out to the rural electorate and projecting a pro-welfare image for itself.
PM Modi took personal interest in the scheme and even mentioned it in several of his speeches, pushing it to the hilt in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Speaking at an event in March this year, the PM said that it was his “dream to see every Indian have a Pukka house by 2022”.
“The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana was a long term commitment made by PM Modi to the nation. It has seen substantial progress especially in eastern India. PM’s vision behind this was to ensure dignity for all. The step to give homes in the name of women was also appreciated. We seem to be on track to provide housing for all by 2022. The emphasis was not on just providing a house but also to provide all necessary amenities like cooking gas, toilet and water. This is a dovetailing of government schemes. Given its success and wide reach, it has helped us greatly in elections,” said a highly placed source in the BJP, who did not wish to be identified.
Voters, meanwhile, mention that rural housing is one of the most popular welfare schemes of the Modi government, along with Ujjwala and toilet constructions.
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