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Long Wait, Delayed Pay: Many PMAY Himachal Beneficiaries Stuck In A Rut
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman increased the allocation made towards the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) by 66 per cent to Rs 79,000 in the Union Budget 2023-24
Photo Credit : Abhishek Sharma
Tehbuna, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana beneficiary
Urmila Devi, a widowed mother in her early forties, has been waiting for two long years to receive the first installment of financial assistance under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY)— the Modi government’s flagship program, which aims at providing a pucca house to all houseless people and those living in kutcha and dilapidated houses.
Devi, who lives in a remote village in the district of Sirmaur in Himachal Pradesh, applied for PMAY in the year 2020, however, as the day passes, her hope to get monetary assistance from the government is fading away.
Interestingly, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman increased the allocation made towards the PMAY by 66 per cent to Rs 79,000 in the Union Budget 2023-24.
House of Urmila Devi in a remote village of district Sirmaur of Himachal Pradesh. Photo: Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld
Devi, however, unaware of all of these developments, is just seeking financial assistance so she can build a house. "I applied for this scheme in 2020 and since then I have been hearing that money will be credited to the bank account soon. But now I feel these are only promises and I am losing my hope with each passing day," Devi said.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his government is committed to the goal of providing houses to every needy family, asserting it is making sincere efforts to bring positive changes in the lives of citizens through various welfare schemes.
Modi wrote this in his reply to a beneficiary of the 'PMAY', saying the happiness of getting your own roof and house is priceless. However, many beneficiaries of the PMAY in rural Himachal are awaiting payments so they can start the construction of their houses. Under PMAY-Gramin, the minimum size of a house is 25 square meters, including a dedicated area for hygienic cooking.
"Look at my house, it is not easy to live in these conditions. My kids and I face difficulties in every season— whether it is harsh winter, hot summer and heavy monsoon," she added furiously. Devi believes that she is stuck in a never-ending cycle of misery. She lost her husband a few years ago and since then her son who is in his early 20s is the only one who is working to feed the family.
In Sirmaur (HP) especially in rural areas, Devi is not the only one who is waiting for the money to build a house. Two to three kilometres away from her, Rita Devi, 38, another beneficiary is worried as her house made up of mud could collapse at any time.
"I along with my husband and children have been living in this house for ages. I was very happy when we got enrolled in this scheme. I thought I would get a safe home, but now it looks like an illusion. My biggest worry is that my house could collapse at any time and I don't know what to do about it," said Rita Devi.
House of Rita Devi in a remote village of district Sirmaur of Himachal Pradesh. Photo: Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld
To achieve the target of “Housing for All” in rural areas, the Ministry of Rural Development implemented Pradhan PMAY-G on 1 April 2016 to provide assistance to construct pucca houses with basic amenities. The initial timeline for PMAY-G was 2022, which has now been extended to March 2024.
As per Ministry of Rural Development data, (MoRD), a target of 2.92 crore houses had been allocated to states/union territories UTs, out of which, 2.49 crore have been sanctioned to beneficiaries by various states/UTs and 2.10 crore houses have been completed as on 7 December 2022.
For PMAY (rural), the data available on the MoRD website stated that against the target of 2,94,03,621, a total of 2,84,98,022 houses have been sanctioned and 2,15,35,623 completed while a fund of Rs 2,84,844.55 crore has been transferred by government.
As of 2 March 2023, according to the data, in 2021-22, a total of 32,31,952 houses have been completed in the entire country. About 4,55,687 houses were built in Uttar Pradesh, 7,50,600 in Madhya Pradesh, 2,88,785 in Jharkhand and only 958 in Himachal Pradesh.
So far, under PMAY (urban), 122.69 lakh houses have been sanctioned out of which 71.01 lakh houses are completed and the Centre has released assistance of Rs 14,09,59 crore, according to the data available on the MoRD website.
BW Businessworld did not receive a response to the email queries sent to central government officials at the time of filing the report.
Meanwhile, about 30 kilometres away from Urmila and Rita, Tehbuna and her husband Asif, who lives in Paonta Sahib, a small town situated at the shores of the Yumana river at the Himachal- Uttarakhand border— are also confused about what to do with her half-built home as they ran out of money. Asif applied for PMAY in the year 2020, however, waiting for the second installment so they can finish the construction work of the half-built house.
Tehbuna inside her one-room house/hut in Paonta Sahib, district Sirmaur of Himachal Pradesh. Photo: Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld
Tehbuna, who is in her mid-20s said, “We received the first installment of Rs 65,000 and started the construction which ultimately stopped as we ran out of money. We also used our own money (Rs 20,000). We are poor people and we used all of our money on this; however, it is still not enough. My husband hardly earns Rs 400- Rs 500 per day and it is not enough for the family of five people.”
Tehbuna standing in front of her half-constructed house in Paonta Sahib, district Sirmaur of Himachal Pradesh. Photo: Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld
What are authorities saying?
Under the PMAY-G, there is a grievance redressal mechanism set up at different levels of administration for example— Gram Panchayat, block, district and the state. An official of the state government is to be designated at each level to ensure the disposal of grievances to the satisfaction of the complainant, as per the guidelines.
The beneficiaries want local authorities to solve their issues, however, when BW Businessworld contacted the local administration which deals with this scheme, narrated a different story.
Ravi Prakash Joshi, Social Education and Block Planning Officer (SEBPO), Panchayat Samiti, Paonta Sahib said, "Earlier we used to select beneficiaries through Panchayat, however, now it is managed via district level and they allot targets to every Panchayat. Secondly, the number of houses sanctioned by the Centre is low. In 2021, we received about 71 sanctioned houses for 55 Panchayats. For 2022, we are yet to get any assistance under this scheme."
Joshi said that this is a centrally sponsored scheme and there is no delay from local authorities and they release the money to beneficiaries as soon as they get funds from the central government.
Notably, to know more, BW Businessworld talked to experts and they said that this scheme has worked in the favour of the women heads of the benefiting families, as funding is in their favour with a share in property ownership. However, the scheme also has its own challenges to deal with.
Aarti Harbhajanka, Co-founder and CFO, Primus Partners said, "One of the major reasons behind the delays in assistance under this scheme is administrative issues and reaching out to the beneficiaries. There are also geographical obstacles, especially in hilly areas that are out of reach."
Harbhajanka added that last year, the government-imposed penalties on states where there was a delay in aiding the beneficiaries. Such strict measures need to continue, and there should be transparency in the selection of beneficiaries based on the three-stage validation process, as stated by the ministry.”
MGNREGA: a lost cause or ray of hope?
There is one thing that is common among all these beneficiaries— their monthly earnings. Almost everyone earns around Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 per month which is not enough amid the fluctuating inflation. That is where schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) help the poor to sustain and earn money.
MNREGA— touted as one of the largest public workfare programs in the world, has been instrumental in addressing the issue of rural poverty and unemployment and at the same time, boosting rural consumption demand. It has helped several during the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, however, the Modi government has slashed the budgetary allocation by 30 per cent to Rs 61,032.65 crore for 2023-24 in the Union Budget.
Interestingly, this is 30 per cent less than the revised estimate of Rs 89,154.65 crore for 2022-23. It's the second straight cut in the MNREGA budgetary allocation, as in the 2022-23 budget, it had been slashed by 25 per cent to Rs 73,000 crore from the revised estimate of Rs 98,000 crore.
As per government data, the number of total workers in 2022-23 is 28,22,18,808 out of which 14,91,69,946 are active workers. In Himachal Pradesh, active workers are at 14,29,913, while the total workers are at 27,38,814.
Notably, hundreds of NREGA workers from different states have come to Delhi to demand immediate payment of their wages that have been pending for months. NREGA Sangharsh Morcha— a national platform for workers in a statement said, "Last fund transfer order (FTO) to West Bengal was released on 26 December 2021 and no payment order has been released after that."
Consequently, NREGA workers have not been paid wages for over a year. The centre has withheld the release of over Rs 7,500 crore MGNREGA funds to the state for 'non-compliance of central government directives' invoking Section 27 of the Act. Out of this amount, the pending wages are touching a staggering figure of Rs 2,744 crore, it alleged.
Saket Dalmia, President, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the cutting down of the budgetary allocations of MGNREGA by 30 per cent seems contradictory. However, if seen from a broader lens, it was equally important for the budget to set the vision for the next 25 years (Amrit Kaal) where Atmanirbharta is at the core.
"The rationale behind reducing the allocation is that MGNREGA is a demand-driven scheme and the government shows flexibility under MNREGA with the additional budget allocation as and when required. A classic example of this is the multi-fold increase in MNREGA allocation during the pandemic so as to ensure support to rural households at such a critical time," he stated.
Also, the Economic Survey 2022-23 pointed out that on a year-to-year basis, there has been a clear noticeable decline in the monthly demand for manual work in the rural economy, as the economy is bouncing back from the impact of the pandemic. Agricultural productivity has improved and we have registered very strong agricultural growth in the past two years.
Digitally capturing the attendance of workers employed under MNREGA has been made universal by the Centre from 01 January 2023 via a mobile application, the National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS). This requires uploading two time-stamped and geotagged photographs of the workers.
There have been widespread complaints over the lack of technical support, the necessity to own a smartphone, paying for an internet connection, and issues with erratic Internet connectivity.
Many women from poorer households— a large number of whom belong to SC/ST communities— do not have access to smartphones. Besides, the app is designed in English. All messages, errors and instructions are available only in English, making it even more “inaccessible” to rural women workers.
While talking about ground challenges, an MNREGA, who wished to remain anonymous, said, "There are many challenges we face. If we miss our online attendance due to reasons like a bad network, or failed server, we miss the wages of that day. There is no way to mark attendance."
"Of course, MNREGA MIS cannot stay away from digitisation; however, the digitisation has to be done in a citizen-centric manner. All supervisors should be trained and given smartphones. And the digitisation process should be introduced in a phased manner, with both options being available for the initial time period. Then only we can transform the digital divide into a digital dividend," said Dalmia.