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Diluting welfare schemes may prove Waterloo for TRS

Diluting welfare schemes may prove Waterloo for TRS
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The Telangana Government’s flagship programme Haritha Haram and two-bedroom housing are certainly most admirable schemes.

The Telangana Government’s flagship programme Haritha Haram and two-bedroom housing are certainly most admirable schemes. They are powerful enough to bring the ruling party back to power in 2019 if implemented effectively or else it can prove to be a powder keg which can cause a lot of damage.

A lot of lessons need to be learnt from the past. Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, who as the Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh, helped the Congress party to retain power with housing scheme Rajiv Swagruha and irrigation programme Jalayagnam in 2009, though with a reduced margin.

But when the programmes failed to achieve the desired results, things started going against the Congress party. The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh added to the woes of Congress party which finally had to bite the dust at the hustings. In Telangana too, it has now come to light that several irregularities had taken place in Rajiv Swagruha housing scheme. The government had even ordered a CB-CID probe on corruption charges.

This clearly shows that any ruling party cannot take people for granted forever. Hence, the TRS government needs to lay special emphasis on ensuring that the schemes they introduce reach genuine beneficiaries. The schemes should not just be on paper.

The government has pressed its entire machinery to take up the Haritha Haram project, across the state. Everyone is busy planting saplings and getting photographs taken which are being widely publicised on electronic and print media. But what is important is to ensure that at least 60 percent of the saplings planted should survive.

The government being the custodian of public money should realise that crores of rupees are being spent on the green project in terms of cost of saplings and manpower that is being used to take the scheme forward. It should sit back and analyse the success rate of Haritha Haram last year. Instead of coming out with explanations to defend why it did not succeed as anticipated, should find solutions to the problem.

For example in Warangal, around four crore saplings were planted in the first phase of Haritha Haram in 2015. An estimated 2.5 crore teak saplings were planted on farm bunds and other places. The survival rate is less than 50 percent. In Mahbubnagar, the survival rate is around 25-30 percent. In Medak district the survival rate is just 35 percent.

Similarly, the government’s another flagship programme, the two-bedroom housing scheme had raised the aspirations of the people to a new high. The Chief Minister had been invariably talking about it at every meeting. He even displayed the model houses that were constructed in Secunderabad.

But now it appears that the TS government is slowly diluting the scheme by introducing many changes in housing layout plan. It seems to be feeling that to some extent it is an impractical proposal to implement the way it was done initially.

When the government announced guidelines in 2015 it had said that in rural areas it would construct independent houses with an individual plot area of 125 sq yd. If land is scarce, the District Collectors may consider for G Plus 1 houses in major gram panchayats. In urban areas, houses shall be taken up in G Plus 2 or G Plus 3 pattern.

Each house, the government said, would have two bedrooms, hall, kitchen with platform and two toilets (bath-cum-WC) with a plinth area of 560 sq ft, In rural areas, the buildings include area of staircase and in urban it include staircase and common area.

It also promised two lofts for storage of household goods in each house. The government felt that cost of construction per flat or house shall not be more than Rs 5.3 lakh in urban areas and Rs 5.04 lakh in rural areas which includes all basic facilities of water supply, sanitary and electric connections and staircase as well as statutory taxes.

The cost of construction was expected to be less than Standard Schedule of Rates (SSR) due to economies of scale, uniform design and due to supply of sand to be made available by the District Collectors under weaker section housing programme it had felt.

But it now seems that the government is faced with some hard realities. No builder was coming forward to construct the houses at the cost the government expected. Hence on January 6, 2016, the government announced its decision to hike the construction cost of the two bedroom houses. In GHMC limits, the construction cost was hiked from Rs 5.3 lakh to Rs 7 lakh, excluding cost of infrastructure for 8,560 houses or flats.

Not just that now the government has made further amendments to the scheme. It now wants to give a stripped version of what it had promised and showcased. The beneficiaries would now have to remain contained with the absence of kitchen slab, no doors to kitchen and second bedroom.

There will be no lofts or terrace top water tank, no plastering of ceiling and single layer of plastering for the walls. The government is also examining if it can do away with the flooring. By showcasing houses with almost facilities that are available in a good gated community, the government had raised the expectations of the people to a new high and if it now downsizes them, it certainly will have to face the ire of the people.

In fact, it would have been more practical if the government had gone in for PPP mode and told the people that it would bear the cost of Rs 7 lakh per unit and the remaining cost of about Rs 2 or Rs 3 lakh that would require to provide the facilities like kitchen slab, flooring, plastering of walls and other infrastructure facilities should be borne by the beneficiaries, the scheme would have been a great success.

It would also have given a sense of belongingness for the beneficiary and the percentage of bogus beneficiaries would have been bare minimum. The stripping down of the facilities would also give a chance for the opposition to take on the ruling party. So far the opposition has been virtually searching for an issue and has been kicking in the air. But now the government seems to have provided a major weapon to the opposition.

By V RAMU SARMA

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