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Home dreams crash as MP govt trims beneficiary list midway, wants money back

After releasing two instalments of grant under PM housing scheme, govt decides to strike several beneficiaries off the list.

india Updated: May 01, 2017 10:31 IST
Shruti Tomar
Suresh Kumar VIshwakarma outside his incomplete pucca house, in Berasia, Madhya Pradesh.
Suresh Kumar VIshwakarma outside his incomplete pucca house, in Berasia, Madhya Pradesh.(Mujeeb Faruqui/HT Photo)

After a lifetime of hardship and poverty, Kalabai Sehariya had thought her life had finally turned a corner. The 70-year-old widow was eligible for a government grant under the Prime Minister Housing for All Scheme (rural), and could fulfill her dream of a ‘pucca’ house.

In February, she demolished her hutment in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal district and started building her house with two instalments of Rs 40,000 each under the scheme. Very soon, she thought, she and her mentally challenged son would have a permanent roof to live under.

That was not to be. In March, the state administration told her she had been struck off the list of beneficiaries because she owned a three-acre irrigated land with a well.

Not just that, she was ordered to return Rs 80,000, despite her belonging to a “primitive tribe” category that is supposed to be prioritised under the scheme. A hapless Kalabai says she would get less than an acre after the land is divided within the family and that she is struggling under this new debt.

“I don’t have anything other than a cooking gas but administration feels that I am not poor. How will I prove my poverty?” she asks, tears streaming down her sunken cheeks.

Kalabai is not alone. Scores of villagers across the state are struggling to pay back government installments after the administration abruptly cancelled their benefits because the people were deemed ineligible.

Under the scheme, a beneficiary can be struck off the rolls for 13 reasons. Owning a car or motorbike, a fridge, a Kisan Credit card with limit of at least Rs 50,000 or 2.5 acre irrigated land are some of the criteria.

Villagers say they were given two installments but before releasing the third tranche of money, the rural development department noticed the exclusion criteria and hastily cancelled the transactions.

The government rubbishes these charges and says most of the people complaining wanted to cheat the system and were caught. “The rules existed from the very first day but when we received complaints, we asked the officers to conduct a survey and cancel the names of ineligible people. They are protesting to save themselves from action,” panchayat and rural development department additional chief secretary Radheshyam Julaniya said.

He also denied that many people had been affected by the move, saying that only a few people were declared ineligible.

But the assurance is unlikely to come as any solace to Ramesh Kushwaha, who has had to abandon his home construction after he borrowed Rs 50,000 under Kisan Credit Card and got excluded. Without any roof over his head, he worries for his family during the monsoon.

Another resident of the village, Hariprasad Ahirwar, was excluded as he recently purchased a motorbike second hand.

“I earn Rs 150 a day as a labourer but soon my family will face starvation because I would be sent to the jail for not returning Rs 80,000,” he says.

“Either I have to return Rs 80,000 or face criminal charges. To return the money, I have to work 530 days without spending a penny on food.”

But how did this happen? Village heads say the state government listed about 532,000 beneficiaries in December – based on the 2011 census -- in a bid to achieve the target of 100,000 houses till June, 2017 under the scheme, possibly without adequate scrutiny.

When the first installments were released in February, local panchayat leaders asked people to raze their hutments and immediately begin construction on new buildings.

On March 23, the department released an order to exclude people on the basis of the 13-point exclusion process. Village heads and government agents were ordered to make a list of ineligible people and ask them to return money or face criminal action. In the haste, villagers allege there is no clear number of the people who have been struck off the list.

“When (Union minister) Narendra Singh Tomar clearly stated that all the beneficiaries would be selected on the basis of 2011 census, why does the MP government now have a problem with it?” asked Janpad president in Bhopal Manmohan Nagar. Janpad is a local cluster of villages.

“We are not denying that the economic condition of some improved in seven years but most are living in poverty. To declare some people ineligible is injustice to genuine people,” said Dayalbai Sahu, a village head.