Karnataka's housing revolution

Published : Jun 22, 2002 00:00 IST

The S.M. Krishna government has launched a substantial expansion of housing activity, with special focus on the shelter needs of the poor.

HOUSING has been a priority area for the S.M. Krishna government in Karnataka. In 2000-2001 the government launched a massive programme to provide two lakh houses to the poor each year, a programme running for a period of five years. The government set up a Task Force on Housing to prepare an action plan to bring about a substantial expansion of housing activity in Karnataka with special focus on the shelter needs of the poor. The Task Force worked on the basis of a new and more comprehensive definition of housing and shelter, which takes into consideration the economic, social and health status of the beneficiaries of a housing programme.

"The State government is drafting a new policy on housing which should be ready in the next three to four months," Bulla Subbarao, Principal Secretary, Department of Housing, told Frontline. "The central thrust of the policy will be to ensure that persons below the poverty line, and the lower and middle income groups, get access to housing." A housing policy would substantiate the government's seriousness of purpose in looking at housing as a priority in its own right; it would also spell out the priorities within the housing sector, the roles assigned to different agencies and the overall direction in which the government would like to see housing development move.

In Karnataka the shelter programmes targeted at the poor are as following:

* The Ashraya sites programme under which the State government, through the Deputy Commissioners, form sites which are distributed free of cost.

* The Ashraya rural programme, which is the most important housing programme for the poor in Karnataka. The unit cost of a rural Ashraya house is Rs.20,000, of which Rs.10,000 constitutes subsidy and the remaining is a loan from the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO).

* The Ashraya urban housing programme where the unit cost of a house is Rs.30,000, of which the beneficiary puts up Rs.5,000 and the rest is provided as a loan by HUDCO.

* The Dr.Ambedkar Housing Scheme, which provides houses to members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The entire cost of Rs.20,000 per house is met by the government.

* The Indira Avas Yojana, which is a Centrally sponsored scheme. Here, 80 per cent of the cost is borne by the Government of India and the balance is contributed by the State government.

* Neralina Bhagya, which is a scheme for the upgradation of a thatched roof to a tiled roof, for which a subsidy of Rs.5,000 is provided per house.

"We are working towards ensuring that every BPL (below poverty line) family will have a house in the next three years," Subbarao told Frontline. "Out of the Ashraya allocation of two lakh houses in three years, 50 per cent will go to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe beneficiaries," he said. The decision to step up the scale of the government's housing programme since 2000 necessitated the establishment of a new agency with a focussed approach to housing programmes for the poor. The Rajiv Gandhi Rural Housing Corporation Ltd was designated the implementing agency for the rural and urban Ashraya sites and housing schemes, the Ambedkar Housing Scheme, Neralina Bhagya and housing for special occupational groups such as weavers, beedi workers and fisherfolk.

AT least 22 per cent of Karnataka's urban population lives in insecure and unhygienic urban slums. A major initiative in slum development has taken place under the present government. In September 1999, the Karnataka Slum Clearance Board (KSCB) identified 2,322 slums in the State with a population of around 23.79 lakhs, which is 17 per cent of the total urban population. Bangalore alone accounted for 362 slums with a population of 5.9 lakhs. This appears to be an underestimate of the actual figures. A more realistic figure came from the National Sample Survey, 49th Round, in 1993. Here, the slum population was estimated at 32.2 lakhs, making it around 23 per cent of the total urban population in the State. This study estimated the population of Bangalore's slums at 10 lakhs.

IN the last few years there has been a policy shift in favour of improvement and upgradation of slums in place of eviction and relocation of slum populations, although the primary organisation dealing with slum development continues to be called the Slum Clearance Board. Two approaches have been identified here. The first involves the recognition, regularisation and upgradation of spontaneous settlements, thus integrating them into the city. The second is the prevention of new illegal settlements where possible, by providing a legal and affordable alternative.

A Government of India slum development scheme called the Valmiki Ambedkar Avas Yojana (VAMBAY) was launched in March. Under this, in one year 10,312 houses are to be built in Bangalore and 19 other towns and cities in the State with a total project outlay of Rs.57.65 crores. Of this Rs.28.82 crore will be provided by the Central government as subsidy and the balance borne by State governments. A sum of Rs.14.46 crores has been released. Apart from the construction of houses, the project involves the construction of 279 ten-seater community toilets.

The first phase will take up work in 84 slums - 13 in Bangalore and 71 in other cities. There are three categories of houses that the scheme provides for. Those in mega-cities will cost Rs.60,000 per house; in towns with a population of between five and 10 lakhs the figure will be Rs.50,000, and in yet smaller towns it will be Rs.40,000. Half the cost will be provided as subsidy and the remaining will constitute a loan.

There are three agencies that are implementing the project, namely, the KSCB, the Karnataka Land Army Corporation and the Nirmithi Kendras, or district level building centres. "Out of the 10,312 houses planned, work on 2,270 has started," M.A. Sadiq, Commissioner, KSCB, told Frontline. Several of these are in Bangalore. "One of the problems we are encountering is providing shelter for beneficiaries in the interim period until their new homes are built and ready for occupation," Sadiq said.

The Karnataka Housing Board (KHB) has made a determined effort to reinvent itself, shedding its image as procedure-bound and slow-moving government institution. The KHB was established in 1962 with the primary objectives of implementing schemes necessary to meet the needs of housing and accommodation, particularly for the poor. Indeed, despite the boom in private housing in large cities and towns in Karnataka, the KHB is still regarded as the chief source of affordable housing.

With a separate organisation (the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Housing Corporation Ltd) now created to take up housing projects for the poor, the KHB is focussing on meeting the demands of middle and lower income groups. The Task Force on Housing took a hard and critical look at the KHB and recommended several changes in the profile, working style and priorities of the KHB. It mentioned, for instance, the need to reverse an earlier trend in the KHB, when the number of MIG (middle income group) and HIG (higher income group) units built by the Board exceeded the number of units for LIG (lower income group) and EWS (economically weaker sections). They also pointed to management failures within the KHB.

There is, however, a new thrust and direction within the KHB today. "There was a lull in the activities of the Housing Board for five to six years," Subbarao said. "But the government has asked them to come out with self-financing housing projects and joint ventures." The KHB has already listed a hundred new housing projects for the lower middle classes and blue collar workers who, although they constitute a large segment of the buyers' market for housing, have been by and large ignored by private housing developers. According to Subbarao, 18 of these projects are nearing completion. The Chief Minister is to launch a 500-unit housing project in Mandya on June 20. In these projects the KHB is following a new policy of associating the beneficiaries with the construction process. In some cases the KHB will offer to provide sites and services instead of handing over pre-constructed houses. The outlay for the 100 housing projects is Rs.880 crores, out of which the Government of Karnataka has given a Rs.100-crore revolving guarantee to the Housing Board. "With this we believe that the KHB will come out of the red in the next two years," Subbarao said.

Apart from such projects, the KHB is initiating seven to eight large-scale joint venture housing projects. The first of these is being developed on 270 acres (109 hectares) of land in Chandapura, 15 km from Hosur on the Hosur-Bangalore highway. Two joint venture partners, one a Singapore company and the other a Dubai company, have been shortlisted and the choice has been left to the State Cabinet. The foreign partner will bring capital equal to the value of the land which forms the seed money. The later part of the project is financed by prospective beneficiaries. The Chandapura project will have 10,000 houses. Of these 5,000 will be reserved for economically weaker groups, and the remaining 5,000 will constitute MIG and HIG housing. The work on the project is due to start later this month. Another five to six joint venture projects are in the pipeline.

AN ambitious project of the KHB is the National Games Village in Bangalore. Five thousand flats built by the KHB for the use of athletes during the National Games in 1997 were later put on the market for sale. Although the flats are in a prime location in Koramangala, the KHB is struggling to sell the last 800 flats, for which prices have been slashed. According to KHB sources, the private land developers lobby combined with housing brokers and agents have conspired to hold down the market value of the flats. KHB sources also allege that the media have contributed to the situation through unfair reportage. "There is an enormous amount of disinformation being spread about the project, which is a huge complex with all infrastructural facilities, and of course it is a fine location," Subbarao told Frontline.

In order to attract buyers, the KHB has given permission for a school to be built on the premises which will give preference to children from the complex. A private club has been set up on the premises which will also offer membership at reduced rates.

If the ambitious housing plans of the State government bear fruition, a revolution in housing is on the anvil in Karnataka. The yet-to-be-released housing policy document will set out the vision and philosophy underlying the government's plans for housing in the future.

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