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Time ripe for reviewing, redefining role of Tamil Nadu Housing Board

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WAITING FOR BUYERS: Housing Board flats at Mogappair remain unsold. Photo: K. Pichumani
WAITING FOR BUYERS: Housing Board flats at Mogappair remain unsold. Photo: K. Pichumani

V. Jayanth

Town planners see a major role for it in the emerging scenario

CHENNAI: The DMK Government has outlined a clear role for the Slum Clearance Board and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has designated one of his Cabinet colleagues as the Minister for Slum Clearance Board.

But, there has been no fresh thinking yet on the role of the Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB). Considering its expertise and network, lying idle for years now, time may be ripe to review its role and revive operations in a phased manner.

While the Centre has spelt out its vision "Housing for all," the new State Government has spoken about its plan to develop satellite townships.

The question consumer groups and retired TNHB officers are raising is: should all these developments and the entire housing development plans be left solely in the hands of the private sector? Given the scarcity of land in towns and suburbs and galloping construction costs, should not the State Government get the TNHB into the picture and rein in the costs?

Official sources explain the TNHB turned "sick" in the 1990s and the accumulated unsold housing stock it has built in several towns has turned into a liability, leading to "non-performing assets." Through various schemes and packages, the previous government did try to sell off some of the housing stock and the TNHB may be on the road to recovery. But it still suffers from huge overheads and establishment costs as it still employs over 10,000 staff in various circle offices and the massive headquarters at Nandanam in Chennai.

As one associated with the restructuring of the TNHB during its financial crisis in the late 1990s, Consultant T.K. Pandian says: "My understanding is that the financial crisis has been overcome. But does it mean the Board should cease to provide housing stock and developed plots at least to the middle, and lower middle classes who cannot afford the high construction costs of private developers?"

A former TNHB Chairman explains that because of the overheads, the Board's construction costs soared in the 1980s and early 1990s. As a result, it was not competitive, failed to ensure uniform quality and lost its niche market.

"When I was there, we tried to turn our focus to suburbs and outlying areas, where we could buy land at cheaper rates. If the Government is serious about development satellite townships, there can be a major role for the Housing Board, which has the expertise and can provide a judicious and viable mix of developed sites and services, twin houses, HIG, MIG, LIG and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) flats."

Town planners also see a major role for the TNHB to try and cool the real estate sector. In particular, they feel the Board should focus on its `Sites and Services' programme, through which it can provide the basic infrastructure and let the purchasers of plots build their own houses or flats to suit their requirements and budgets.

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