The politics of housing continues in Gujarat.
After the overwhelming success of its scheme promising affordable houses to economically weaker sections of women in urban areas, the state Congress has promised land to women in rural Gujarat.
The latest scheme offers a 100 sq yard plot free to women who are homeless and landless if the Congress is voted to power in the assembly elections due in December.
"The government will also make arrangements for an interest-free loan of upto Rs 1 lakh to build a house on the plot. The loan will be repaid in affordable instalments over 15 years," said Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil.
The party is hoping for a repeat of the huge response its housing scheme for urban areas received recently, with more than 35 lakh forms being distributed across seven cities and 159 towns.
Pushed to a corner by the Congress offensive, the Narendra Modi government rushed to promise 6,000 affordable housing units in Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot and Vadodara, to be built by the Gujarat Housing Board (GHB).
The plan was received with unabashed scepticism by not only the opposition, but also by bureaucrats and experts in the housing sector.
The GHB, they pointed out, had been defunct for a decade. Currently, it does not even have technical staff except a secretary and a politically appointed chairman – former BJP MP Jayantibhai Barot.
"It's a poll gimmick meant to counter the housing scheme promised by the opposition party," said a senior bureaucrat. "Over the past 10 years, private builders have cornered the real estate market completely in the absence of any government body building houses in urban centres."
"The ground reality is that the people suffer abysmally due to lack of affordable housing in the state. According to figures gathered from census data and the government's socio-economic surveys, close to 19 lakh families live without proper housing facilities in rural areas," said Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modvadia.
"The problem is acute in coastal and tribal areas," he said, adding, "Gujarat has a 15% tribal population. In coastal areas, people belonging to other backward communities – landless labourers and fisherfolk – too, have housing problems."