MANY of the families given shelter in villages built under housing project Ashrayan Prakalpa, one of the prime minister’s priority projects, are reported to have become homeless after the houses were lost to river erosion in recent flooding. At least 215 families are reported to have lost their houses built under the project in Jamalpur and Chandpur. There are other villages built under the project elsewhere, especially in Kurigram and Gaibandha, that were also lost to river erosion in the recent flooding. Dozens of families, as New Age reported on Saturday, also lose their houses, built under government-funded scheme across the country, to flooding every year. A situation like this is said to have resulted from a failure of the authorities that have never carried out any feasibility study on the sites selected for the creation of villages and the erection of barracks of houses, built with brick walls and tin roofs. The project director has also subscribed to the allegation that no feasibility study has ever been done before the creation of the villages and the erection of the barracks. No feasibility study on the sites for the creation of the villages under the project has so far, thus, wasted public money, which remains gravely worrying.
The other problems that the project is mired in have also frustrated the purpose of the initiative for the poor. In most cases, the villages are created on the riverside of embankments or on river islands that are not usually protected against river erosion. The authorities have so far mostly ignored the health aspect of the housing as, as a resident of such a village in Barguna says, the people living in the barracks often need to live with water-borne and cold-related diseases. Besides, the villages having been set up on government land are often far away from places that offer employment opportunities, which makes it difficult for people having no job to live in such barracks of houses. They are rather more interested in migrating to cities and towns looking for a living than staying back in such villages with no earning. A project implementation officer for a village at Kalapara in Patuakhali has recently been suspended on charges of embezzling more than Tk 10 million meant for the housing project. This shows that funds may have been often misappropriated. An upazila nirbahi officer in Sirajganj is reported to have found that 35 out of the 90 families sheltered in an Ashrayan village are not homeless or landless. This speaks of the abuse of the project and the misuse of the purpose.
While the absence of feasibility studies on village sites squanders away a huge amount of public money, as villages thus created are reported to hardly last for two years, associated ills have rendered the good initiative, aimed at affording housing to the poor, unsuccessful. When the government spends such a huge amount of money on the project, the government must buy or acquire land on suitable locations for the creation of the villages while it must plug the holes and mend the flaws in the project planning. A pro-poor initiative must be of good use to the poor.
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