Cost, a bone of contention in housing projects

A beneficiary of the housing project in Ariyalai, Jaffna district. —PHOTO: T. Ramakrishnan

A beneficiary of the housing project in Ariyalai, Jaffna district. —PHOTO: T. Ramakrishnan  

Even as the Indian government-funded housing programme in Northern Province progresses at its own pace, the issue of adequacy of financial assistance has cropped up among several beneficiaries.

A cross section of beneficiaries, be they in Jaffna or Kilinochchi or Mullaitivu district, feel that the amount of Rs. 5.5 lakh (Sri Lankan currency), given in the form of grant, is not adequate, given the increase in the cost of materials and labour over the years.

Of a total of 50,000 houses for the War-affected, internally-displaced Tamils, the Northern Province accounts for 42,000 houses; Eastern Province accounts for 4,000 houses; and Central and Uva provinces 2,000 houses each.

The figure of the Northern Province includes 1,000 houses constructed during the pilot phase (April 2011-July 2013) and through the agency-driven model.

The second phase of construction, being executed through beneficiary-driven methodology, is expected to be completed by this year end.

Till now, 27,000 houses have been constructed. Fifteen thousand more will be ready for occupation in seven months.

In the third phase, six thousand houses, covering the other Provinces, will also be taken up through the agency-driven model and it is only in the formative stages.

Total cost Rs. 9 lakh

Thirugnanam Saroja Devi, whose under-construction house is not far from the pilot project site of Ariyalai (East) Navaladi beach in Jaffna, says that apart from roofing, she has sought to conform to the specifications laid down by the authorities.

Yet, the total cost has almost touched Rs. 9 lakh. “I have not yet completed the house. I am deeply worried,” she says.

Bageshwari, a mother of two young children near Naguleswaram, also feels that one has to spend a minimum of Rs. 7 lakh. Velayutham in the Kilinochchi district says that it costs a minimum of Rs.50,000 to build a toilet.

However, the project authorities reject the contention that the allocated amount is inadequate.

“There are many, many houses across the Northern Province which have been completed well within the cost stipulation. We have arrived at the figure, after considering a number of factors,” says A. Natarajan, India’s Consul-General in Jaffna. Workshops have been held to sensitise beneficiaries to the specifications.

Mukesh Singh, a senior executive with the International Federation of Red Cross [one of the implementing agencies for the second phase], says the emphasis has been on the use of local, cost-effective materials.

‘A realistic figure’

L.S. Palansooriya, Chairman of the National Housing Development Authority of the Sri Lanka government, says the overall figure of Rs. 5.5 lakh is a realistic one. “As my organisation has been handling a number of other housing projects, I can say that the amount is appropriate. But, the problem lies in the nature of assistance. When you give the money as grant, people expect everything from the government.

At least, next time, when the Indian government contemplates any such project, the assistance should be in the form of loan,” he adds.

A cross section of beneficiaries feel that the amount of Rs.5.5 lakh given in the form of grant is not adequate

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