To stem rural disquiet caused by falling crop prices, the central government has turned to the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G). Over 51 lakh permanent houses are slated to be built in 2017-18 and the government hopes to equal the number of rural houses in the coming fiscal.
Of the 51 lakh houses slated for construction under the scheme in 2017-18, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan — eight lakh, 4.5 lakh and four lakh — account for more than 30 per cent of the houses to be built. All three states go to polls later this year just before the general elections in 2019. West Bengal accounts for eight lakh houses and Odisha another six lakh houses, both states where the BJP seeks to emerge as the main opposition party.
“We have so far completed 16.02 lakh houses. There are another 35-36 lakh, where beneficiaries have already received the final instalment of money to enable completion before March-end. In all, we expect construction of 54 lakh units this fiscal, including about three lakh under the old Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) scheme,” a top Rural Development Ministry official told The Indian Express.
If achieved, the 54 lakh rural houses to be built under central schemes in 2017-18 will be far higher than the 32.24 lakh in 2016-17, 18.24 lakh in 2015-16, 11.89 lakh in 2014-15, 10.49 lakh in 2013-14 and 10.47 lakh in 2012-13.
The idea of constructing pucca homes for one crore-plus rural families may prove politically useful, as beneficiaries would mainly comprise Dalit, Adivasi and Most Backward Classes. The crash in farm commodity prices is seen to have largely impacted the so-called dominant landowning communities such as Jats, Marathas, Patidars, Kapus and Yadavs.
While the landless have also been hit, with average all-India annual rural wage growth falling from 6.8 to 4.9 per cent between July and October, the decline is sharper for agricultural (from 8.1 to 4.7 per cent) than for non-agricultural occupations (5.7 to 5.1 per cent).
The beneficiaries under PMAY-G are largely poor rural families without or in houses with less than two rooms made of kutcha walls and roof. The Modi government has identified 2.95 crore such households, based on data from the Socio Economic and Caste Census of 2011 (undertaken under the previous UPA regime) and verified by the Gram Sabha concerned (to ensure they actually stay in a kutcha home). Out of the 2.95 crore beneficiaries, one crore are to be covered before March 2019 and the rest by 2022.
Also, National Sample Survey Office data shows only 57.8 per cent of rural households in India to be “agricultural”. Even the latter derive 40.2 per cent of their average income from non-farm sources. A well-funded programme such as PMAY-G can, to that extent, help neutralise rural discontent that is purely “agrarian” in nature.
For the ensuing fiscal, the target under PMAY-G is another 51 lakh, taking the total number of houses constructed under the programme, launched November 20, 2016, to over a crore. “We will be spending Rs 1,24,000 crore in just over two years, making it the largest and most focussed rural housing programme ever. The Centre’s share alone will be Rs 81,795 crore, with the states contributing Rs 44,000 crore,” said the official.
The Union Budget allocated Rs 16,000 crore towards PMAY-G in 2016-17 and Rs 23,000 crore for this fiscal. “We expect another Rs 23,000 crore of budgetary support for 2018-19. The remaining nearly Rs 20,000 crore we will raise through borrowings by NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Bank), of which the first tranche of Rs 9,000 crore should be available in a week’s time,” the official added.
Under PMAY-G, the minimum house size has been raised to 25 square metres (from 20 sq m under IAY) along with enhanced government assistance of Rs 1.2 lakh (Rs 70,000) in plains and Rs 1.3 lakh (Rs 75,000) for hilly/difficult areas.
Beneficiaries are also entitled to an additional support of Rs 12,000 for building toilets through the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin scheme and 90 days of wages worth Rs 18,000 under MGNREGA (which they can avail directly or use to pay other workers for house construction). Besides, convergence is being sought with the Pradhan Mantri “Ujjwala” and “Saubhagya” schemes. The free LPG and electricity connections under these are being specifically directed at PMAY-G beneficiaries.
Electoral appeal notwithstanding, not many are convinced of the flagship rural housing programme’s economic stimulus impact. An average PMAY-G house, it is estimated, would require some 750 kg of steel and 110 bags of cement. That, for one crore houses over two years, translates into 7.5 million tonnes (mt) and 55 mt, respectively. It may not be much in a country, where annual steel consumption is roughly 90 mt and 270 mt for cement.
Moreover, there are limits to what PMAY-G can do, if urban housing is not picking up and the usual people in rural areas (mainly farmers) aren’t building or expanding their homes. When farm incomes were growing till around 2013, one crore new pucca houses were getting built every year in rural India and, that too, without government support,” points out a senior research analyst with a leading global investment firm.