Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series that looks into the irregularities in Kerala government's Life Mission project.
The Kerala government has launched the Life Mission scheme to ensure housing for the homeless poor in the state.
One of the projects under the scheme is in Charalparambu in Wadakkanchery municipality in Thrissur district. It is being built with Rs 20 crore assistance from the UAE-based Red Crescent. However, the project got mired in controversy after revelations that the building contractor – Unitec - had paid a bribe of Rs 4.25 lakh to intermediaries after it won the contract. The intermediaries are Swapna Suresh, P S Sarith and Sandeep Nair, the prime accused in the sensational gold smuggling case.
The revelation has raised concerns about the quality of flats that will be delivered.
The project site is about 200-feet above the ground level. The construction company has had to spend a huge amount of money not only in bringing construction materials but also water to the site that faces huge water scarcity.
According to locals, in some of the residential areas in Charalparambu, water couldn’t be found even after digging tube-wells to a depth of 300 to 400 feet. That being the case, it is highly unlikely that the Life Mission flats which will be 50 feet above these residential areas will get clean water.
Also, people's representatives are clueless about the progress of the project. The division councillor, for instance, isn’t aware that the soil test required to start the construction has already been completed.
One can only imagine the difficulties the beneficiaries of the Life Mission project would face. But these problems may, perhaps, seem insignificant compared to the hurdles they would have faced to make it to the beneficiary list.
Losing an appeal
Many eligible people are still waiting for a house after their names were removed from the beneficiary list in the first phase of the scheme in 2017.
After the list for the first phase was finalised on December 31, 2017, the government had announced that those who were removed should file an appeal and their eligibility would be reconsidered. Many appeals were filed and they were examined from the district level to the ward level. But nothing changed.
Now, the government says that those who had filed the appeal should apply again for a house. But for many landless poor, it is a herculean task to arrange for the documents required to make the application — they have to get an income certificate, a certificate stating that they have no house or land, and a caste certificate if the applicant belongs to the Scheduled Castes.
Those very weak economically and are sick got some help when the government said they can be admitted through special permission. Some people were included under this category, but the actual number is quite low. You could say they were lucky, given how some people, like Suhra who lives in Chettamkunnu in Thalassery in Kannur district, have been running from pillar to post to get the benefit.
On the beneficiaries’ list, but home still a dream
Technically speaking, Suhra was included in the Life Mission project three years ago. She was also named first in a survey conducted in the division to determine those eligible.
She had applied for a house in the municipality in 2017. She even got an intimation saying her name has been included in the list of those eligible. But, as there was no government follow-up, her wait for a house continues.
She has paid many visits to the municipal office to get an update, but there is no clarity on when she will get a house.
Suhra lives in a rented house with her family — her husband, two children and an elderly mother. Her husband, who worked in a hotel, is now without a job. She has to pay Rs 8,000 per month as rent.
This is the plight of people who the government itself has acknowledged are eligible for the scheme. So, you can imagine the condition of those declared ineligible due to ‘technical’ reasons.
Caught in technicalities
Twins Sudha and Suma of West Kallada in Kollam have a house but they are as good as homeless.
The roof of their small house at Puthanthara in Aithottuva on the banks of Kalladayar is damaged with a gaping hole, which means water will fill the home during rain. The walls of the house are so weak that they could collapse anytime.
The house suffered heavy damage during the floods last year. The twins had to spend weeks in a relief camp after it got submerged in floodwaters.
The two live alone without any support. Their mother died in 1991 and their father in 2012. Both are educated but they don’t have jobs and one of them is sick.
All that they possess is the two cents of land on which the house stands. They applied for the Life Mission scheme in 2017 because they are poor, but authorities cited a technical problem and did not include them. They said the scheme was meant only for landless people but since the twins possessed two cents of land, they would not be eligible.
Similar is the case of Nabeesa, whose dilapidated house at Kottavalappu, North Kottol in Perumpilavu, Thrissur, was completely destroyed in the floods of 2018. She then had to shift to a rented house in Pannithadam.
Nabeesa, whose limb movements are limited, is unable to rebuild her house due to financial difficulties. She made countless trips to government offices for six months to get compensation for the damaged house. But she was denied the assistance because there was no title deed for the land.
She had applied for the Life Mission scheme four years ago when her house was in very bad shape. She first heard that her name was on the list of eligible people, but later when she inquired, she was told that it had been deleted. She has applied again for the scheme this year.
Rohini and her relatives of Urumui, in Kozhikode, too, had applied for the scheme. The family, which owns 10 cents of land, had previously applied for a house several times. But the applications were rejected because they were told their names did not match in the land documents. Rohini's husband is bedridden.
Meanwhile, allegations of corruption have started coming from projects in places other than Wadakkancery.
Corruption in Palakkad scheme?
The work on the Palakkad Life Mission project started two-and-a-half years after the foundation stone was laid.
K Madhu, president of the Chittoor-Thathamangalam municipality, who gave 50 cents of land for the project, suspects that it has been delayed due to corruption and for commission. He said he would demand an investigation into the project in Palakkad in view of the controversies surrounding the project at Wadakkanchery.
When Minister AK Balan laid the foundation stone on May 28, 2017, he had said that the project would be implemented in six months. The administrative sanction for a project was Rs 6.16 crore.
But the dealings that followed were mysterious as the tender was changed several times. When the municipality inquired about the non-commencement of work, it did not get a proper response.
Finally, in December 2019, the tender was awarded to a company based in Telangana, but the work resumed only seven months later.
Reporting team: Jayan Menon, Zakir Hussain, M A Johnson, Jayachandran Ilankath, K Jayaprakash Babu, Mahesh Guptah, Ramesh Ezhuthachan, Arun Ezhuthachan, Mintu P Jacob, Nahas Muhammad, Joji Simon, Pratheesh G Nair, Naseeb Karattil, Shinto Joseph, Jiku Varghese Jacob and Sijith Payyannur.
Compilation: Ajeesh Muraleedharan
Tomorrow: Mafia influence in Life Mission projects