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Updated: August 1, 2013 11:21 IST

Where an ambience of change is building up

T. Ramakrishnan
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Green house scheme makes a difference to the lives of poor people in rural areas

Venkatesan, a young palm-tree climber, feels that there is some change in him. A resident of Ananthalai village panchayat in Walajah block of Vellore district, this practitioner of the traditional vocation, says, “All along, I have led a sort of care-free life. No longer can I afford to do so, having got a house built.”

Nirmala, a widow in the Bhanavaram village panchayat in the neighbouring Kaveripakkam block, says all these years, a hut was her shelter. But, for the last 10 months or so, she is living in a concrete house, which has come up adjoining the hut.

Venkatesan and Nirmala are among 3,719 persons chosen in their district under the Chief Minister’s Solar-Powered Green House Scheme for 2011-2012, the inaugural year of the scheme. All their words of gratitude are addressed to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

One keeps coming across similar sentiment as one travels from Vellore district to Salem or Villupuram. Apparently, there is no major grievance among beneficiaries of the scheme, who, as per the rule book, belong to the Below Poverty Line (BPL).

Billed as one of the flagship schemes of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government, the ‘Pasumai Veedu Thittam’, as it is called in Tamil, envisages construction of 60,000 houses every year in 31 districts of the State [barring Chennai]. Till now, 1.13 lakh houses have been constructed. (Of them, the three districts – Vellore, Salem and Villupuram account for nearly 20,430 houses.) The next few months will see the completion of seven thousand more, an official says, indicating that the State-wide target for 2012-2013 too will be met shortly.

As the construction of houses is meant to be beneficiary-driven, those selected under the scheme have to put in money first. Beneficiaries do not find it easy to raise money on their own. Invariably, they turn to private lenders for a substantial portion of the required money and that carries a price. Even though they are reimbursed by the authorities in phases, depending upon the progress of construction, the entire cost is not absorbed. This is the experience of Muniyammal in Pachur village panchayat of Natrampalli block of the Vellore district or Kandasamy of S. Paparapatti panchayat of Veerapandi block of the Salem district or, for that matter, many beneficiaries in Villupuram district. On an average, the cash component within the construction cost for each beneficiary came to around Rs. 1,11,400 in the last two years when the total unit cost was Rs. 1.8 lakh.

The refrain of field officials is that selection is based only on expression of willingness by prospective beneficiaries. Yet, the government can think of evolving a scheme of facilitating institutional lending at concessional rates of interest for beneficiaries.

Critical factor

The critical factor contributing to the cost is the payment of high wages to skilled labour. On an average, a head mason demands Rs. 500 a day. The beneficiaries complain that compared to urban areas, it is in rural areas that the skilled labour demands much higher, using the vulnerable position of the beneficiaries.

What also contributes to the cost is that the beneficiaries generally go beyond the government-designed size of 300 sq.ft. Of course, most of them construct their houses as per ‘vaasthu shastra’.

As long as they adhere to essential parameters of the scheme’s type design, including dimensions of kitchens or bed rooms or verandahs and provide for toilets and rainwater harvesting, the authorities seem to be fine with it. In fact, in Vellaiyur panchayat of Ulundurpet block of the Villupuram district, the house of one beneficiary is visibly bigger than the officially-permitted size. The reaction of the official concerned is that the beneficiary extended his house after the district administration settled his bills.

There are some more issues. Installation of solar systems has not yet begun in respect of houses, whose construction was planned for 2012-2013.

Those in charge of the Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency, which is the organisation concerned, say that once all the houses are built, installation will begin. It will take only a couple of weeks to cover each district. By November, the agency plans to complete its task.

There is no provision for staircase, whose need is badly felt as solar panels are kept on roof top of the houses. At least in water-deficit districts such as Vellore, the authorities should arrange for water connections as soon the construction of houses is over, says Nirmala.

In line with the practice in rural Tamil Nadu, toilets are built outside the houses. “Why should you feel amused about it in a region where open defecation is still on?” asks an old villager in Appamasamudram panchayat of Attur block in Salem district.

Funds under the Total Sanitation Campaign are dovetailed with the rural housing scheme and from this year, each beneficiary is given Rs. 11,100.

For the beneficiaries such as Venkatesan and Nirmala, the houses built under the scheme are not just new structures but also they mark the beginning of new innings in their lives.

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