Thursday, November 29, 2012

Houses off the conjurer’s hat

Houses come so cheap and easy in Gujarat. Wonder why millions still sleep under tarpaulin shed

Wish assembly elections were held morefrequently.Itsoaksinbillions of rupees and millions of man hours, but social benefits far outweigh the cost. One is not so sure about the political benefits, though. Options are limited in Gujarat. The choice is between devil and the deep sea or pot and kettle, if you please. 
    Rains look like failing Gujarat this year. The political parties have stepped in. No, they have not got into cloud seeding. They are showering housesonthehomeless,hopesonthehapless.Is it is a coincidence that assembly election is just about a quarter away? 
    After reining in Gujarat Housing Board to let the land sharks and builders have an unrestrained run for a decade and a half, the government woke up in May this year, about six months before the election, and announced it would again build houses. 
    Communal polarisation is already exploited, the ‘Mian Musharraf’ imagery has already delivered, and the smog of development has begun getting less dense and opaque. Housing, somethingthatthestateinconnivancewiththe builders has denied the common people, indeed looked like a good bet. 
    Promised a good six months before the Dday, the hope would have carried the ruling BharatiyaJanataPartyonitsbacktocoastacross onceagain.Theassurancecouldhavebeenletto settle down under the silt of the overflowing Narmada dam, the fate scores of other items on the manifestos have met in the past. 
    But trust the opportunistic Opposition to play spoil sport. Under a wily politician it has punchedamassiveholeinthesailanddisturbed the voyage. Congress not only stole BJP’s agenda,butalsoworkedinthreeshiftstotakeitastep ortwoforward.Itpromisedandprestolaunched its ‘Ghar nu ghar’ housing scheme. So what if it does not have land and other resources? They can always be pulled out of that black hat. Don’t conjurers pull out rabbit from it with consummate ease? 
    The fine print can always be thrown into the faceofthehopefulswhostayedawaketheprevious night, survived the rain, the police batons and kilometer-long queues to apply for the ghar nu ghar, but are destined to stay denied in the end. “Didn’t we tell you it was meant for someone who lived below poverty line, couldn’t affordcalorieintakeofmorethan1,500aday,had only two children, contributed to society, religiouslyvotedineveryelection,ownedonlyabicycle, braved police batons and had been to jail…”. The escape route has already been firmed up even before the first pencil sketch has been drawn of the promised structure. 
    Congress wizardry has snatched BJP’s initiative.Firsttobroachtheideathroughthegovernment-owned housing board, BJP went to preparefortherun-upbeforetakingtheleap.Board chairman Jayanti Barot promised seven residential schemes – three in Ahmedabad, two in Rajkot and one each in Surat and Vadodara – with a total of 9,100 big and small units on 4,70,000squaremetresofland.Ontherun-upit realised, so said Barot, there was not sufficient demand. The ‘Ghar nu ghar’ scheme only proved him wrong, and left BJP scratching its head. 
    The Congress plot has drawn close to 3 millionapplicationssofar!Withthousandsofacres in its land bank and by building close to 2,00,000 houses, GHB had kept housing well within the reach of the lower and middle income groups, much to the chagrin of the builders in the state. No prizes for guessing why the boardwasdriventosickbed.GHBgettingcomatose, builders laughing their way to banks and houses slipping out of the grasp of the low and middle income groups is more than coincidence. There is a design in it. 
    Don’t have a tarpaulin shed over your head? Come hither, this one BHK is up for grabs. And, pray, why take one BHK? Why don’t you take two or three BHK?