Kolkata: In the run-up to the state panchayat elections next year, the West Bengal government, armed with a “draft action plan for minorities”, has written to realty firms engaged in private-public partnerships in the state, asking them to ensure that such communities are accommodated in all new housing projects.
Adequate representation: Joint sector realty companies in the state have to reserve more than half of the housing space for the economically weaker sections.
This may well be a first instance of a state government seeking some sort of a quota in housing projects for minority communities. The move comes almost a year after the Sachar Committee Report on socioeconomic and educational status of Muslims in India painted a rather dismal picture of the community in the state. From the point of empowerment of Muslims, West Bengal was at the bottom of the list and the representation of Muslims in the state’s public sector undertakings was found to near zero. Within a month of that report, the West Bengal Minorities Development and Finance Corp., a state agency, announced plans to offer 200 apartments, of between 750 and 1,000 sq. ft, at Rajarhat New Town, on the eastern fringe of Kolkata.
Now, the state government has tabled a 10-page draft action plan for minorities, which, among other things, says “adequate representation of minorities should be ensured in new housing projects and other projects”. J.N. Bandopadhyay, the state’s special secretary for Housing, confirmed he had written to the firms engaged in such private-public projects, and also sent the draft plan. “This is just a guideline,” he explains. “No numbers are being set right now.”
The government’s request “can be accommodated in the quota that the promoters have in the projects, provided we have applicants from the minority community,” responds Rahul Todi, managing director, Bengal Shrachi Housing Development Ltd.
The joint sector firms, in which the private promoter and the West Bengal Housing Board has 49.5% stake each, with the state government holding a token 1%, allocate subsidized apartments to applicants from low- and middle-income groups on the basis of a lottery. However, they usually hold back about 10% of the apartments for allotment at the discretion of the company’s board of directors, representing both the private and public sector promoters.
West Bengal has about 23 approved joint sector realty companies, of which about 13 have projects and are either completed, or under construction. It is estimated that 85% of the branded housing properties in Kolkata have been built by these joint sector firms.
Abhijit Das, a regional director of the realty consultancy agency Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj, estimates that the projects have already created housing space of about 800,000 sq. ft. These projects are aimed at fulfilling a social commitment to meet the housing requirement of the economically weaker section and only 45% of the sq. ft area in each project is allowed to be allocated to cater to the high income group clientele.
“The report, followed by the violence over acquisition of farmland at Nandigram (where around 71% of the population is Muslim) and then Rizwanur Rahman’s death (he was the son-in-law of a well-known entrepreneur where the role of the state police has come under scrutiny) are alienating the Muslim votes from the Left Front,” admits a member of ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), who did not wish to be identified. “People have tried to add a communal overtone to the events at Nandigram and the Rizwanur issue, but it has not stuck,” argues Kshiti Goswami, senior Revolutionary Socialist Party leader and the state minister in charge of public works department. However, he, too,?admits that a certain alienation of the Muslim votes may have happened. “This is a community that depends heavily on land than on jobs and if the government policy threatens to grab away that land they are bound to react against certain quarters of the Left Front,” he adds.