In a quiet lane in Eluthumadduval, Jaffna, cement and concrete structures, in different stages of construction, show up on either side every few yards.
Part of the second phase of Indian Housing Project launched, they will soon take the form of compact, new homes.
As peace finds its way back to the northern district, development projects gradually pick up. The roads are newly laid and shops are beginning to make an appearance by the road side.
“We are happy to be back here. Our old home was destroyed during the war,” said Vamadevan Nandakumari, whose new house is coming up fast. The walls for the home with two rooms have been raised and the roof is nearly done.
The initiative, being implemented at a cost of $ 270 million, seeks to provide houses to Sri Lankan Tamils displaced during the ethnic conflict. Beneficiaries of the scheme should necessarily own land. They would receive a cash grant of LKR 550,000 (Rs. 2, 30,000 approximately) for construction of a new house. The money is sent in instalments depending on the progress shown in construction.
During the launch of the project in October 2012, the Indian government said it hoped to have 10,000 homes constructed by August 2013. A timeframe of three years was set to complete construction of 50,000 houses that the Indian government was helping to build, in partnership with Sri Lanka and other implementing agencies.
“We have to show adequate progress for the next instalment to come in. So we are hurrying up,” said Murugan Chinnathambi, father of Ms. Nandakumari. The masons engaged in construction work, he said, charged between LKR 1000 and 1200 per day.
“The design is more or less fixed. If we can put in our own money, we could expand it a bit more,” he said.
Some beneficiaries receive a cash grant of upto LKR 2,50,000 (INR 1,04,000 approx.) for undertaking repair work, based on actual assessment of damage. A total of 43,000 housing units are coming up in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Earlier in 2010, the Indian government launched a pilot project for the construction of 1,000 houses in the five districts of Northern Province, and the project was completed in July 2012.
While residents are happy to have homes of their own, the absence of other facilities in the area, such as schools, hospitals and transportation pose a challenge.
Gautami Velmurugan, whose mother is also building a house nearby, is currently pursuing her A-level (Plus Two) at Point Pedro town and is keen on going to college “I am here just for the weekend. I don’t want to come back here, there is nothing here,” she said.
This is the challenge that Ahmedabad-based senior architect Kirtee Shah, who serves as consultant to the project, would like both Indian and Sri Lankan governments to reflect on. “The homes are a wonderful beginning. They serve as anchor and offer great security. But gradually we should think about other requirements, and go beyond brick and cement. That is how we can build a community,” he told The Hindu, during his recent visit to Sri Lanka.