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Amid Allegations, Kerala’s Life Mission Project Provides a Lifeline to the Homeless

As of August 31, 2020, as many as 2,26,490 houses have been built under the Kerala government scheme, which is being implemented in three phases.
Kerala Life Mission

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a case on September 25 for violation of Foreign Contribution (Regulations) Act (FCRA) in the Kerala government’s Life Mission housing project for poor and homeless people. The agency will probe the alleged discrepancies in the project, mainly whether the Kerala government violated the FCRA by accepting funds from Emirates Red Crescent, a United Arab Emirates-based NGO affiliated to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

This comes close on the heels of Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala, the Leader of Opposition in Kerala, had demanded a CBI inquiry into the matter. The Kerala government had earlier said that it had not sought the nod of the Union government while accepting funds from the UAE-based organisation for building apartment complexes under the project.

The Congress called out the controversies and allegations against the Pinarayi Vijayan government after it surfaced that a key accused in the controversial gold smuggling case, Swapna Suresh, had accepted commission as part of the project. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) seized Rs 1 crore after it raided the bank locker of Suresh, who is also a former staff of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. She had claimed that she had received the amount as commission from Unitac Builder as part of the Life Mission project.

The Opposition has alleged corruption in the selection of the contractor, Unitac Builders, and accused Suresh of receiving a commission from them for securing the contract.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by Red Crescent, under which Red Crescent, an international humanitarian movement, had agreed to provide Rs 20 crore funds towards the Life Mission project.

Chennithala said the chief minister has failed to hand over a copy of the MoU signed between the Red Crescent and the state government, alleging that the commission involved in the case was nearly Rs 9 crore. 

Read more: Lessons from 2018 Floods: Flood-resistant Houses in Kerala Show Way Forward

With CBI onboard, this is the second central agency that is probing the allegations related to Life Mission, a pet project of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. In August, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had sought the details of the MoU signed between the Kerala government and the Emirates Red Crescent.

Life Mission: Making a Difference

Since its inception, Opposition parties have been campaign against the Life Mission project that seeks to provide housing for all and has  brought impacted the lives of many homeless people in the state.

As of August 31, 2020, as many as 2,26,490 houses have been built under the Life Mission, which is being implemented in three phases across the state. The first phase of the mission focused on completing houses that had been unfinished under various schemes between 2000-01 and 2015-16. In this phase, 52,298 houses had been completed out of total 54,173 as of August 31. For the first phase alone, state government had spent more than Rs 670 crore, as per government data.

The second phase of the mission is focused on building houses for families that own land. In this phase, 92,213 families had applied for government assistance. Of this, 81,840 houses have already been built.

The third phase of the mission focuses on building houses for landless families. For this, the government is expected to find land and will build apartments. For this phase, 1,35,769 beneficiaries have been identified till now, says Kerala government data.

As a pilot project, an apartment complex which can accommodate 217 families has been built in Adimali of Idukki district, where 163 families have already houses allotted. The complex has a primary healthcare centre, an anganwadi and livelihood facilities for the residents.

A total of 1,765 families have got secure homes in the third phase of mission, the government said.

The construction of 101 housing units in different districts is also expected to be completed within the next year. Of these, the work of 12 flat complexes is progressing rapidly. The changing climate conditions- recurring floods and landslides- are also taken into consideration while building the new housings.

Flood Resistant houses under Life Mission

Flood Resistant. houses under Life Mission

The Wadakkanchery project flats, in which the Opposition had alleged the paying commission, was in this phase of the project. As part of the third phase, the government will acquire land in various places to build apartments for the homeless. Earlier, for the primary work of phase Rs 30 crore has been spent as of now, and the government has sanctioned another Rs 448 crore. The government has also acquired 524.05 acres in 311 locations.

Under the Life Mission, the Kerala government had also implemented Life PMAY (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana) as well. But, while the Centre is allotting only Rs 72,000 per house in rural areas, the state government is giving Rs 3,28,000 per house. In the case of PMAY, the Centre’s share stands at Rs 1,50,000, whereas the state bears a cost of Rs 2,50,000 per house.

As many as 16,973 houses have been built in PMAY Rural scheme and 48,445 houses have been built under PMAY Urban scheme, as per state government data.

The Scheduled Castes Development Department, Scheduled Tribes Development Department and Fisheries Department have also joined the Life Mission to “fulfill the dream of secure housing for all in the state”. From 2016 to August 30, 2020, the Scheduled Castes Development Department completed construction of 19,247 houses and Scheduled Tribes Development Department had completed 1,745 houses, whereas. the Fisheries department had completed 4,177 houses.

Also, house construction works were made part of MGNREGA which the beneficiaries of the rural job guarantee scheme avail 90 days of work.

CM hits back at Opposition

Undeterred by Opposition allegations against Life Mission, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on September 24 that his government would not abandon any development project benefitting the people fearing charges. He was speaking after inaugurating online the construction work of 29 housing complexes as part of the Life Mission.

"The government is working to provide housing and better living conditions for the homeless. But those who do not like such gains are trying to ridicule and undermine it. The government will not abandon any development projects fearing allegations. The dream of a home will come true when the new housing complexes for 1,285 families are completed. It is not just a house, it offers new life to the homeless," he said.

Pointing out that the Life Mission was launched to ensure that none was left homeless in the state, Vijayan appreciated cooperation from the people, as well as the good work done by local bodies.

At present, the construction of housing for one and a half lakh people is in progress, he said, adding that the support from the departments concerned was ‘valuable’ as that is how the government was able to make the construction of houses for Rs 8,068 crore a reality.

(With inputs from PTI)

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