Kerala’s LIFE Mission crosses a milestone—2 lakh homes for the homeless

Published : March 03, 2020 18:00 IST

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (second from left) along with Ministers A.C. Moideen (extreme left), Kadakampally Surendran and K. Raju at the function organised to declare the completion of two lakh houses in the LIFE project, in Thiruvananthapuram on February 29. Photo: S.Mahinsha

It was a proud moment for the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala, when, at a village near Thiruvananthapuram, a woman, her disabled husband and their college-going daughter received the key to a brand-new house from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at a modest housewarming ceremony on February 29.

The house, built under the Livelihood, Inclusion and Financial Empowerment (LIFE) Mission, one of the four flagship “mission mode” programmes launched by the LDF government as soon as it came to power, marked a milestone—the handing over of two lakh plus such units to the homeless in the State. The three members of the beneficiary family had been living separately until now for want of a home of their own.

Kerala can now claim to be the State that has completed the maximum number of houses for the homeless within such a short time, the State government said. The aim, it has been announced, is to soon make Kerala the first State in India where there are no homeless people.

Later in the day, at a gathering of nearly 35,000 beneficiary family members of the programme from Thiruvananthapuram district, the Chief Minister formally announced the completion of 2,14,262 houses under the LIFE Mission, and said: “When we came to power, the most heard grievance in Kerala was from people who did not have a house to live in. Despite having several housing schemes under various departments and agencies, a house remained the dream of a large number of marginalised and destitute people. We had to find a solution. Our preliminary estimate showed there were five lakh homeless people still in the State. We decided to bring all the housing schemes under one agency and implement them through a fast-track process.”

Such gatherings of beneficiary families were organised in all 14 districts of Kerala on February 29. The LDF Government can legitimately be proud of its achievement, and the political import, with the local body elections around the corner, was not lost on anyone. The opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) boycotted the event and claimed that it was originally a programme launched by the UDF when it was in power and that the government figures of two lakh plus completed houses was “suspect”. The BJP, too, criticised the programme, and its leaders wanted the government to disclose the Central government’s contribution to the houses that were built.

The Chief Minister described the opposition’s reaction to all such issues that had a bearing on the development of the State as “cruelty to the State and its future”. He said: “It is not when exactly you started constructing the houses, but the fact that finally so many people are going to live in them that makes all of us happy. As part of their political decision, the opposition has boycotted the function. But what exactly are they boycotting? This programme became such a big success only because the entire State came together to support it. If we cannot join hands in such programmes, then what is the meaning of calling ourselves social workers?”

If one goes by the joyful, proud reactions of the beneficiaries at the gatherings organised in the districts, the political squabbles were the only jarring note that seemed to mar LIFE Mission’s achievements.

In all such events that day, Kerala saw joyful faces of people delivered from a life of misery, insecurity, indignity and uncertainty by a focussed fast-track government programme whose objectives went beyond mere delivery of completed houses. Indeed, it was meant to provide safe and decent housing to all eligible families without land or housing in the State. But unlike other such projects, it also aimed at financial empowerment of the beneficiaries and provision of means of a livelihood for them.

The LIFE Mission has already launched its third stage initiative, building flat complexes in 28 centres in 64 local bodies in the State that would benefit 1.6 lakh landless people. These housing complexes would have all modern facilities and would offer livelihood training and social security services to the beneficiaries. They are scheduled to be completed within a year, by the end of the government’s tenure, according to Minister for Local Self Government A.C. Moideen.

One such complex, of 217 flats benefiting 167 people, has been opened at Adimali in Idukki district.

Stage one of the LIFE Mission project had aimed at bringing to reality the dream of a home for the beneficiaries of government programmes launched between 2001 and 2016 (which included 10 years of UDF rule) whose houses could not be completed with the financial assistance they had received. Of the 54,173 houses in this category, 52,050 houses (96.08 per cent) had so far been completed, with the LDF government spending Rs.670 crore, the Minister said.

Stage two was meant for the construction of houses for those who had land but not the resources to build a house. Under this, funds available under the PMAY scheme of the Central government, as well as the housing schemes under the SC-ST and Fisheries departments were included, even though the Central assistance accounted for only a small share of the Rs.4 lakh that the Kerala Government has promised to each beneficiary under the LIFE Mission programme.

“Kerala is a model for other States in many respects. Now it aims to be a place where all people have a roof over their heads. LIFE Mission is not just a housing scheme. For instance, government departments conducted joint adalats at many places to make available the basic needs of the beneficiaries, such as ration cards, voter ID cards, Aadhaar cards, land ownership documents and so on. A programme to offer livelihood training to at least one member of the beneficiary families has also been launched. The government’s aim is not merely to hand over the keys of a home to the beneficiaries. It is a programme that will help shore up their future too,” the Minister said.

“It is a different housing scheme that aims to provide a continuing support system for a decent life for the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries are selected based on a transparent process and clear cut norms. There has been no complaint so far that the selected beneficiaries are ineligible in any way. I am sure that from the moment their names appeared in the eligibility list to the phase when the houses were completed, each and every beneficiary has felt in their hearts that they are not alone in this, but the government and the people are with them. The houses are registered in the name of the woman in the family, another factor that has helped in the success of the programme,” said U.V. Jose, CEO of Life Mission.

The houses may have cost more than the Rs.4 lakh sanctioned for each of them. Additional resources have come in the form of man-hours under the job guarantee programme, provision of building materials at concessional rates and from exemplary philanthropy from individuals such as Abdulla, who took a substantial loan and bought an acre of land at Kadakkal in Kollam district and offered it to LIFE Mission, and whom the Chief Minister particularly referred to in his speech.

The State government estimates that a total of over 10 lakh people from over two lakh beneficiary families have benefited from the programme. Referring to the comment made by the beneficiary householder after the housewarming ceremony earlier that day, the Chief Minister said: “This morning we saw tears of joy. ‘I am crying because I am happy’, that was what the man told me. We have to realise this is the situation in almost all beneficiary families. Surely, they are people who need to be held closely by society. That is the objective of the LIFE Mission. It provides homes, livelihood, and facilities for education of students, treatment of the sick, even palliative care for those who are bedridden. Because they come from different strata of society, and as they come under one umbrella, LIFE Mission also becomes a social intervention that creates for them a new way of life. In all such respects, we can say, it has been a model intervention.”

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