Despite panchayat nod for PMAY aid, the wait gets longer for poor in Kashmirs Bandipore
Bandipore (J and amp;K), March 22: Five families in Sumlar braved the recent sub-zero temperatures in tin sheds as Rural Development Department is yet to transfer the Rs 2.25 lakh approved for building concrete houses.
"I check the pulse of my sleeping kids every morning and thank Allah for keeping them alive in this chilly weather," says Shahmeema, a mother of three from Sumlar-A in Halqa panchayat of North Kashmir's Bandipore district.
Her family comprising a carpenter husband and children aged four years, two years and 10 months has been living in a tin shed for four years, awaiting the construction of a concrete house under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G).
"I have knocked on all doors. I have approached the panchayat at least eight times recently to understand the reason for the delay in construction. My last visit was 15 days ago. Unfortunately, they just try to avoid me and come up with some unique excuses," says a disheartened Shahmeema.
"My faith in the PMAY gives me the courage to tell my children that we will also have a concrete house. But nothing has moved for the last three years. After working the entire day, all that I earn is Rs 400, which is spent on basic needs. How can I even think of building a house on my own with such a meagre income?" says her husband, Farooq Ahmad.
Four other families in Sumlar face a similar plight. Shama Begum lives in a single-room tin shed with a small kitchen. Her family comprises her son, the sole breadwinner, and two daughters.
"My son works as a labourer with the local contractor, earning Rs 400 per day," she says.
"We try to reduce the effects of freezing cold by wrapping the inside of our tin house with polythene sheets... I think it is better to shift to a rented building in this biting cold."
Another proposed beneficiary, Ghulam Nabi Khan expressed his anguish over the repeated delays in getting money under the PMAY, while lamenting that he could not even secure his children's future with his monthly income of Rs 8,000.
The delays are not restricted to Sumlar. In Tangthari area of Bandipore, a seven-member family lives a trapped life. Spending just 10 minutes in their dark, narrow room is enough to make one realise what the grave of punishment is like. Muhammad Shafi, his wife and five tiny tots have been suffering this punishment for long.
No adult can walk in without bending his/her back. Every ray of sunlight is blocked in the room. The only light that gleams is from the kitchen fireplace. Though it provides some relief from the cold, the smoke from burning wood chokes those staying there.
Coming out of this living hell, this reporter found out from neighbours that Shafi's family has been facing near starvation. One could easily discern it by throwing a glance at the place. Apart from the empty kitchen and pots, only two blankets were present for the use of seven persons.
Shafi has been ailing from a lung disease for the last few years, which has seriously affected the family's income. Neighbours are also not financially well off. As a result, only a few could bring food to the family every two or three days.
The PMAY beneficiaries are selected during the gram sabha meetings of panchayats each year. Subsequently, the Rural Development Department verifies the eligibility of the proposed beneficiaries and approves their names for receipt of funds worth Rs 2.25 lakh.
"But the problem is if five people are selected from a given village, we may probably have funds for building only two houses at our disposal. As a result, the panchayat has to recommend the names of two beneficiaries whose condition needs urgent redressal," Block Development Officer Shariq Iqbal told 101Reporters.
While provisions can be made to include the rest three proposed beneficiaries in the next financial years, access to PMAY funds continues to elude many due to the long waitlist and quota system for funds.
Three months ago, during a meeting with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, Commissioner Secretary (Rural Development and Panchayati Raj) Mandeep Kaur had informed that an exhaustive exercise was being taken up through camps at the block level in all districts to update the waitlist of PMAY-G beneficiaries.
A Right to Information document revealed that Halqa panchayat had submitted details of the five proposed beneficiaries in Sumlar to the Rural Development Department for the release of payment for housing subsidy in 2019, but payment was still pending due to "a technical issue", though no one is a position of authority is able to clarify what this issue is. Even in normal conditions, the funds reach the beneficiary almost one-and-a-half years after the panchayat/block approvals.
According to villagers, only nine beneficiaries have received the PMAY funds in Sumlar in the last several years. Manzoor Ahmad was fortunate enough to get the money in his bank account in 2018, after he applied under the PMAY a year before. The work on his concrete house was completed in 2020.
"It was really difficult living in a dilapidated mud house with my children, especially in the rainy season. Now we can brave harsh winters, thanks to the Lieutenant Governor and district administration. My children feel safe and happy now," says Ahmad, the sole breadwinner of the family.
Abdul Hamid's family, including his wife and two children, faced freezing temperatures inside a tin shed until the PMAY lent a helping hand. The panchayat recommended his name in 2018 gram sabha and he got funds in 2020.
"The families that are supposed to benefit from the scheme in Sumlar live a hand-to-mouth existence. Unfortunately, the locals are also not financially sound to shift them to rented places. I have worked a lot to bring transparency in the PMAY in many villages, by approaching the authorities several times to learn about the reasons for the delay in fund transfer," says Abdul Basit, a young local social activist.
Even as Bilal Ahmad Bhat and others await the day when the PMAY benefit would be transferred to their accounts, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din, an elder from Sumlar, is furious.
"These families are braving extreme weather, including minus 10 to 12 degrees Celsius. But the government department has been reiterating since 2019 that the money did not reach them due to technical errors. I want to ask the government if it does not even have a technician to fix this error."
(Tauseef Ahmad is a Kashmir-based journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)
Despite panchayat nod for PMAY aid, the wait gets longer for poor in Kashmir's BandiporeIANS 23 March 2023 Post Your Comments
Shared Recently!3rd ODI: Hardik, Kuldeep take three wickets each as lower order batters carry Australia to 269
Indian-origin Intel GPU chief Raja Koduri quits to form generative AI startup