Preparations are underway for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to come and hand over 8,448 rehabilitation flats to slum-dwellers next month. But a key question remains.
Can this truly be called rehabilitation in the absence of any support infrastructure such as schools, medical facilities or community centres?
The flats are targeted at removing the largest slum of the UT -- Colony Number 5 - and the project is executed by the Chandigarh Housing Board. Though the UT administration has given the nod for the construction of two four-floor government high schools in the area at an estimated cost of Rs 24 crore, there is no visible deadline. The education department has estimated that around 5,000 children of the allottees would need schools, most of them in primary classes. In all, around 40,000 people will live in these flats.
"The construction of the schools would take another year or two. Till then, where will the children study? The school at Dhanas is already overcrowded," rued Shashi Shankar Tiwari, chairman, Chandigarh Congress colony cell. "I would call it lack of farsightedness of the administration for failing to provide facilities like schools, healthcare, post office and community centre at the new site. The administration should have started construction of these facilities along with that of the flats," added Tiwari.
The BJP, too, is peeved. Shakti Prakash Devshali, district-4 president of the Chandigarh BJP, said "This is unplanned rehabilitation in a planned city; I's nothing more than eyewash. The residents were promised two-room sets but are being now shifted to one-room houses, defeating the very purpose of the scheme. The Congress is just using this scheme to get votes."
Sources in the administration said work on the amenities such as stormwater pipes, electricity connections and a sewage treatment plant was nearing completion. CHB had started the project in 2008 and completed it in 2010; but the eligibility determination process took time. The flats have been constructed on 162.5 acres.
"We are told that the PM will come to hand over the possession of the flats. But shifting immediately to a place which does not have facilities is still a question mark," said Raj Kumar Yadav, a beneficiary from Colony Number 5.
He added, "I have five daughters who are studying in a school in Sector 45. How am I expected to shift to a place where there is no school, medical facility or even a police post? Thousands of schoolchildren will be shifted and be forced to travel to their schools faraway. The administration has promised transportation, but how many buses will they deploy? Also, there is still no sewerage line."
But councillor Harphool Chand Kalyan explained the stopgaps: "The administration will retain about 100 flats for facilities like police post, dispensary and running a school. We will ensure that these facilities are provided at the earliest."
Efforts to contact finance secretary VK Singh for the administration's side of the story did not succeed as he did not take calls.
The UT, as per official data, has 18 slums with 23,974 houses and a population of more than 1.5 lakh. This means every seventh resident of the UT is a slum-dweller.
In 2006, the administration floated two proposals for construction of 25,728 small flats in two phases (6,368 and 19,360). Locations were picked and Chandigarh Housing Board (CHB) was made the nodal body.
So far, CHB has constructed 12,736 flats at five places (Sector 38W and 49, Dhanas, Mauli Jagran-2 and Ram Darbar). Of these, 2,720 have been handed over to beneficiaries.