The state may be rich when it comes to housing policies and schemes for the under-privileged. But in reality, most of it is on paper. The poor, especially the Dalits, still await a roof over their heads.
About a lakh or more houses are needed to shelter the safai karamcharis in Gujarat. There are over 12,000 manual scavengers and about 65,000 sweepers in the state. In Ahmedabad alone, about 80 per cent of these people do not have a house.
Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana (VAMBAY), an initiative of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was launched by the Central government with a motive to house the valmiki samaj, who are placed at the bottom of the social ladder and live below the poverty line. Nevertheless, after a few constructions by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC)
and the Ahmedabad Development Authority (AUDA), the scheme is virtually non-existent.
“We have achieved the target estimate and finished constructing 2,176 units in Sardarnagar, Ranip, Vastrapur, Jodhpur and other areas. We do not know if the scheme has stopped functioning, but there has been no construction under the scheme for the last four years,” said officials from the Estate Department of AUDA.
VAMBAY was a joint scheme by the Centre and the state government, which had to fund constructions through subsidies and loans. AUDA had received Rs 544 lakh from the Centre to build houses, and the cost of construction of a house ranged between Rs 40,000 and Rs 80,000.
“VAMBAY has been now merged with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Since a parallel scheme had been running for the urban poor, we stopped constructing houses under this scheme,” said Anand Patel, the Additional City Chief Engineer of the AMC.
“A few houses had been constructed for the valmiki samaj a few years ago. But today, there is only EWS (economically weaker sections) housing for the poor,” added AMC officials.
It is worth mentioning that a target estimate of 3,000 houses for safai karamcharis was mentioned in the AMC budget under the VAMBAY scheme. The AMC constructed only 1,024 houses in the city and discontinued construction on the pretext of constructing the remaining under JNNURM.
Contrary to AMC’s claims, H P Mishra, director, Kamdar Swasthya Suraksha Mandal, said: “VAMBAY was initiated to build houses for the Dalits and the valmiki samaj. It was clearly mentioned that under the scheme, safai karamcharis will get the first preference when the houses are allotted. Although the government claims that there are no manual scavengers in Gujarat, there is a huge chunk of people still working in the gutters.”
AUDA officials revealed that with the coming of new schemes, construction under a new project is given more importance. EWS houses were constructed first, followed by those under VAMBAY. With the arrival of the JNNURM, AUDA is busy constructing EWS houses scheduled to be completed shortly. “We construct houses under a scheme that is more beneficial to the people,” said AUDA officials.
VAMBAY had housing, sanitation and training (education) under its purview, but today, its responsibilities are confined to constructing public toilets. Under the Nirmal Bharat Yojana, which is a component of VAMBAY, pay-and-use toilets have been constructed for the people in the city. Meanwhile, AUDA has finished constructing 440 units across the city and has received Rs 88 lakh from the Centre for the same.
When asked, the government bodies denied having any housing scheme for Dalits. Their only hope— the Dalit quota fixed in the EWS housing scheme under JNNURM. With both AMC and AUDA looking forward to the EWS housing scheme, VAMBAY is almost history.