EDITORIAL: Failed scheme

The government should launch an inquiry as to why the marginalised families abandoned the houses built for them

While addressing a meeting of the House of Representatives on January 6, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli made tall claims that the Janata Awas (People’s Housing) scheme had been successful in addressing the housing problem faced by the marginalised communities across the country. The PM said that a total of 17,000 low-cost houses had been built and handed over to the poor marginalised families. Currently, 38,880 houses are under construction, and they will be completed within this fiscal. The Janata Awas scheme, introduced in 2009 in three select districts, has now been expanded to 27 districts. According to Census 2011, around 12 per cent (over three million) of the total population is homeless. Until this scheme was introduced, the government’s direct involvement in the housing sector had been minimal. According to data provided by the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction, Nepal is spending only 0.05 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product in housing. The new constitution, promulgated in September 2015, has guaranteed the right to a shelter, and it has been included as one of the fundamental rights of the citizens. The scheme aims to construct low-cost modern housing using locally available materials for the marginalised and poor families.

The government claims that the Janata Awas scheme has gained popularity among the marginalised and poor families identified by the government. PM Oli himself claimed it to be a successful venture when he addressed the House on January 6. However, the ground reality is just the opposite of his claim. A report from Tikapur, Kailali says that the low-cost houses built under the scheme for the Badi community have collapsed as the families for whom the houses were built have either migrated to India or have shifted to other cities of Nepal in search of work or better opportunity. The government had built 31 low-cost houses in Tikapur Municipality for the marginalised Badi and Raji families. The Dhangadhi-based Division Office of the department had built as many as 660 houses in the district for the Badis, Rajis and Muslim communities in the last four years.

Most of the low-cost houses built for the poor families have collapsed within a few years of their abandonment by the families. Some Badi family members said they had to leave the houses as they “did not feel safe staying in the houses”, which, they said, were built using “sub-standard materials”. Most of the beneficiaries interviewed said they preferred a piece of land to the “unsafe houses”. Building low-cost houses using locally available materials and skills might have been a novel idea. However, the scheme has failed to attract the beneficiaries, who it detached from their livelihood problems. Housing is a basic need. But finding work at the local level is equally important for their livelihood. As the government has already spent tens of millions of rupees on the scheme, it is high time it reviewed its sustainability. Were there any irregularities while building the houses? The local levels should also make sure that the poor and marginalised families get some kind of employment opportunity at the local level for their survival. People tend to migrate elsewhere when they find it hard to make a living in their locality.

Welcome move

The registration of a new bill that proposes having earning children deposit 10 per cent of their earnings into a bank account for the maintenance of their old parents is welcome. The decision comes in the wake of parents being neglected in old age as traditional family values where the sons looked after their old parents are slowly crumbling. Unlike in the past, when families grew up and stayed in one place, today’s young generation is highly mobile, scouting for better opportunities not only across Nepal but also outside the country.

This has made the senior citizens highly vulnerable as they are left behind to fend for themselves in old age when they need the support of their children the most. The bill has been registered in Parliament in good faith, but it will invite a lot of arguments once it is passed into law. The mandatory provision of maintenance could even invite conflict in the family. So the children should be convinced that they have an obligation to see their parents through old age for having done what they could to bring them up properly.