‘Mischievous elements’ floated reports that applications will be distributed

The police resorted to lathicharge to disperse a disgruntled crowd gathered outside the office of the Gujarat Housing Board here to collect application forms for affordable houses following reports that distribution of forms would begin on Monday. Earlier this week, GHB chairman Jayanti Barot announced seven housing schemes to construct 6,300 dwelling units in different cities, though the housing board reportedly has neither the infrastructure nor the manpower to execute such a project.

In a knee-jerk reaction to the Congress’ pre-poll promise of affordable houses, Chief Minister Narendra Modi revived the GHB, which has not floated any housing scheme for the past 17 years that the Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power in the State.

Following Mr. Barot’s announcement, it was reported in a section of the media that the distribution of application forms for the proposed housing schemes would begin on Monday. About 2,000 people, many of them standing in queue since the previous night, gathered at the GHB office in the posh Naranpura locality.

After a few hours of waiting, the crowd became restive as there were no signs of forms being distributed, and the police were forced to intervene. Mr. Barot described the reports of forms distribution as a “mischief,” claiming that the GHB had not even printed the forms and the distribution would start only after due notification in the newspapers as per practice. “Someone is trying to play with the emotions of the people,” he said.

The Congress party’s pre-poll promise of the “own your own house” scheme to provide at least 15 lakh low-cost houses to the lower and lower-middle income group — excluding those under the “below the poverty line,” as they are being covered under the Central government’s ‘Indira Awas Yojana’ — earlier this month became hugely popular.

As per the party’s promise that such houses would be allocated only to women members of a family as part of their social security, thousands of women gathered at venues in seven cities and about 160 towns where the party started distributing the application forms for houses.

In three days, it distributed over 37 lakh forms and had to print another 10 lakh forms to meet the demand. After the urban housing scheme, the party announced schemes for rural areas, promising another 15-lakh-odd houses to the landless and small farmers by reviving the party’s now-defunct “free house site plots scheme” if voted back to power.

Following the overwhelming response to the two promised schemes of the Congress, a jittery Modi government announced its intention to construct about 2.5 lakh “affordable” houses in the urban areas and revived the GHB.

Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Shaktisinh Gohil condemned the police lathicharge and said the Modi government was playing a cruel joke on the poor people by promising houses through a near-defunct board that was in no position to deliver.