AS A collection agent for a credit society, Manisha Shinde made daily visits to slums in Pune to collect savings from women working with self-help groups. During these visits, the women often shared with her their stories of struggle, which usually ended in a wish: “If only we had a house of our own”. But in a city where, according to the Pune Municipal Corporation, around 40 per cent people live in slums, they knew they didn’t stand much of a chance.
Their dream is now taking shape, thanks to Shinde and other collection agents of the Navchetna Mahila Nagri Pat Sanstha, the credit society with which the women — mostly members of self-help groups, where they made papads and pickles — held accounts. A 30-apartment building, with homes of 450 sq ft each, is coming up on a 17,000-sq-ft plot, 14 km from Pune city.
“Sometime in 2013, I thought, why can’t they simply pool in their money to buy a plot and build homes,” says Shinde. She took the idea to 10 other agents of the credit society and they decided to go ahead.
But first, they had to convince the women to invest a part of their savings. “There are around 2,000 women who have accounts with us. Ours was a relationship based on trust,” says Shinde. So when she told them about their plan to invest in a home, many of them instantly agreed. Soon, 50 women signed up. “We collected money — Rs 50,000 onwards — from each of them,” says Shinde.
There was more to be done. Acting on the advice of a chartered accountant, Shinde and two other collection agents, Mangal Anpat and Meenaz Sheikh, started Zep Women’s Infrastructure Pvt Ltd — “Zep” in Marathi means taking a leap.
Vaishali Parkhi, 35, who lives in a 120-sq-ft rented room in a slum in Pune’s Mangalwar Peth, is among those who signed up for the project. As a member of a self-help group, she stitches cotton bags to supplement her husband’s income as a driver. “It was impossible for us to own a house in the city. But my son is in college and a better home is essential to his future. So when the ZEP directors asked me, I said yes,” says Parkhi.
Shantaram Matele, founder of the credit society for which Shinde, Anpat and Sheikh worked, is the fourth — and the only male — director of Zep. “The women would tell me and our collection agents, ‘you handle our finances, please do something to take us out of these slums’. The three women directors took on the responsibility and I decided to be a part of their efforts,” says Matele, who lives in a slum in Bibwewadi area of Pune. All the directors of Zep live in slums.
Shinde and the others soon realised that skyrocketing prices made it impossible for their project to be located within the city. So they finally bought the 17,000-sq-ft plot at Wadki near Phursungi for Rs 80 lakh.
“We are fortunate that many people helped us. The building plan was done by professionals and approved by the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority. Since we are new to this, it took us a lot of time and some women who had invested in the project backtracked,” says Anpat, who lives with her brother in a rented slum at Pulachiwadi near Deccan in Pune.
“So we decided to develop a 30-apartment building instead of the 50 we had initially planned. We are sure that after the project is ready, more people will approach us,” says Anpat.
However, hurdles remain. The project is estimated to cost Rs 2.5 crore and a private housing finance company, Aspire Home Finance Corporation Ltd, has promised to provide loans to the women at an interest rate of 9 per cent.
But before that, they have to arrange Rs 10 lakh for the stamp duty to register the flats. “The finance company cannot disburse the loan amount unless there is formal agreement of property,” says Sheikh, who lives in a slum in Bhavani Peth. “We don’t expect any donation but need someone to lend us the money for the stamp duty, which we will return as soon as the finance company disburses the loan,” she says.
Pune Mayor Mukta Tilak says she is “proud of their hard work”. “I have even visited the construction site,” she says, adding the administration is providing “all help” to complete the project.
Says PMRDA’s metropolitan town planner, Vivek Kharwadkar, “They have optimised the project cost by reducing the height of the building, besides taking other such steps. This project will definitely set an example for others wanting to construct affordable houses.”