Around Rs. 20 crore sanctioned for new houses
It was meant to be an exercise to finalise the nitty-gritty of a proposal, which envisaged the construction of 2,500 houses for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu.
But, in the end, the exercise, done in the form of a study, resulted in the reduction of the number of new houses as 1,269 houses at the sites of camps set up for the refugees were lying vacant. Not just that. The State authorities also found that on an average, 124 refugees returned to Sri Lanka every month during 2010-2013 and they did with the assistance of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The period was critical as it was subsequent to the end of Eelam War IV.
Giving an account of these details, a government order was issued in late November. The purpose of the order was to sanction a revised amount of Rs. 19.86 crore for the construction of 1,655 durable houses at the camp sites in 17 districts. The order had cited information provided by the UNHCR.
The other reason mentioned in the order for a large number of houses remaining vacant was the reluctance of a section of refugees to move to these houses. This was, in turn, due to the familiarity of the refugees with the areas, where they had been living for years. By relocating themselves to new places, the refugees were also concerned that education of their children would be disturbed. Keeping all these factors in mind, the order stated that the construction may be taken up with minimum inconvenience to the refugees. Wherever construction of new houses involved demolition of the existing dwelling units, District Collectors would have to make temporary arrangements. The time frame fixed by the government for the completion of the houses was six months.
According to the study, there are 19,979 families are living in 110 camps over 25 districts of the State. These families have been accommodated in 18,971 houses. After taking into account several factors including the condition of houses at the camp sites, the authorities, eventually, reduced the number of houses to be built from the original 2,500 to 1,655.
The size of each house would be 161 sq. ft with “galvalume” roofing sheet. There would not be toilet facility for each house. Instead, a common facility would be in place. The cost of each house, originally kept at Rs. 1 lakh, had been increased to Rs. 1.2 lakh. The office of Director of Rural Development has been entrusted with the work of construction of the required houses both in urban and rural areas. A senior official says that District Collectors concerned are taking steps for the construction of the houses, which will be done after floating bids in their respective districts. As the tendering process has begun, contracts are expected to be awarded in two months.