The state government has expressed interest in empanelling consultants for implementing a housing scheme in an effort to provide affordable housing to economically weaker sections, especially from the low and middle income groups. This is not a new phenomenon considering that the Goa Housing Board (GHB) has been providing what is supposed to be affordable housing. Though the housing is supposed to be “affordable,” the effective price variation of flats that the GHB eventually sells to clients is marginal compared to those sold by private sector realtors.
But the state government’s recent effort to provide affordable housing may have its genesis in a Union Budget proposal wherein the Centre has offered to provide a subsidy for “low-cost housing”. In these time of high inflation and skyrocketing land rates, whether the end user will get these dwelling units for the prescribed rate is rather doubtful. Even private players which cater to an up-market clientele would surely be interested in the Centre’s scheme, at least as far as fulfilling their corporate social responsibility goals are concerned if nothing else.
The Union budget had assured that borrowings from abroad for implementing capital-intensive projects would be permitted, but a decision on the matter has been in limbo for several months. The government ought to have finalized the procedural formalities for such borrowings by now but there’s a palpable sense of inertia.
In fact, the Centre itself could have borrowed and passed on the amount to the states, enabling them to execute large projects. Had these initiatives come at the right time, the entire planning process could have been completed by August-end and work on the ground could have taken off by the end of the monsoon. No such thing has happened. Grandiose promises to the weaker sections of the society continue to remain a pipe dream.
But, on the issue of housing for the weaker sections, are Goans really in need of such housing? Traditionally, Goans have been owners of houses, though the trend in recent years has been on the decline, with growing families and inflation souring the one-family, one-home dream. Tenement housing has never been a part of Goan culture, though this is increasingly being witnessed in recent decades. With better communication facilities and road networks, people prefer to reside in villages and travel to and from their workplace. Village life is cheaper and healthier, besides offering the scope to nurture kitchen gardens and poultry. This, because there’s increasing consciousness about quality-of-life issues in rural parts when compared to housing clusters in urban areas.
In this context, there’s need for the state government to consciously make an effort to build a land bank for Goans. There has been a hue and cry over land shortage, but despite this there are reports of authorities negotiating in awarding huge tracts of land for national institutions.
While we talk about housing for middle and lower income groups, it must be remembered that most of the beneficiaries of housing under the 20-point programme were migrants, where the schemes were misused by politicians to build vote-banks in their constituencies.
GHB ought to build these tenements and offer them to the weaker sections on a long-term lease at a marginal fee, with the ownership being retained with the Board. Most GHB projects are built on land belonging to the Communidades, who ought to be paid an annual lease amount. A similar policy ought to be adopted for Communidade land wherein land banks must be created and leased out. This will not only keep the Communidades financially healthy, but help enrich the age-old system of collective land holding.