Bengaluru: Building free houses for all the homeless in Kerala -- more than half-a-million at last count -- is one of the flagship projects of the Communist government. A cabinet meeting held on Tuesday night offers glimpses into the project’s nitty-gritty.

The aim is to build 500 sq. ft houses costing Rs4 lakh each, for which the state has tweaked the Union government’s housing programme, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY).

PMAY envisages spending Rs3 lakh per house, out of which Rs1.5 lakh will be centre’s share, while Rs50,000 each will put in by the state government, the local government and the user. But the state cabinet on Tuesday removed the user’s fee part, and took up the local government’s share as Rs2 lakh. The rest remains the same.

For houses not eligible for PMAY, the state government will put in Rs1 lakh and the local governments must raise the rest, state finance minister Thomas Isaac said on the phone. Isaac has earmarked Rs2,500 crore for the scheme in his latest budget, and Tuesday’s revised norms will put an additional burden of Rs459 crore on the government.

To help local governments raise their share, the budget has proposed the setting up of a financial company to raise debt from the market. The loan principal will be repaid using deductions from future plan funds of the local governments, while the state government will foot the bill of loan interests, as per the budget.

Earlier this month, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is personally monitoring the scheme, told the state assembly that 513,000 people have been identified as beneficiaries of the housing project.

The government aims to build 176,000 free houses for them in 2018-19, out of which 66,750 will be finished by this March, he said, according to a PTI report on 7 February.

Out of the identified beneficiaries, 75,065 belong to scheduled castes, 14,085 to scheduled tribes and 6,000 are fisherfolk, as per the report.

The private sector has also chipped in -- from business forums like Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) agreeing to build some houses to cement companies agreeing to provide cement at subsidized rates, as per an official who did not want to be named, who is part of a high-power Kerala government committee formed last year to fast-track the scheme. The housing project comes under the Kerala government’s larger Mission LIFE (Livelihood Inclusion and Financial Empowerment) plan.

Mission LIFE wants to focus on four major thrust areas: Affordable housing, improving public infrastructure, strengthening agriculture, and improving management of natural resources.

Once the first stage of the housing project finishes by next year, the government will start procuring land and build houses for over 3 lakh landless people, said Isaac.

Right after its once-in-four years state conference concluded last Sunday, where it decided to reach out to masses in a big way, Vijayan’s Communist Party of India (Marxist) said it will sponsor construction of 2,000 houses to the project.

“We will make sure the LIFE mission will be made into a successful people’s movement like the literacy campaign and the People’s Plan Campaign," said CPM Kerala secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan on Sunday.

Both the literacy movement and the People’s Plan campaign, launched in the 1990s, were among the first decisions of the then Left Front government. They brought laurels for Kerala by achieving almost universal literacy rates, initiating large-scale rural development as well as decentralisation of powers.

Close