Strongly rejecting a controversial Government proposal to build 65,000 prefabricated steel houses in the North and East, the Tamil National Alliance tabled a new proposal in Parliament yesterday to build the same number of homes in the war-ravaged regions at less than half the cost.
Taking the issue up during his speech during the budget debate, TNA Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran said that while the steel houses would cost Rs. 2.1 million per unit, the new proposal by civil society that would be financed by five local banks, estimated the cost of a brick and mortar house more suitable to the needs of the people of the North and East at Rs. 800,000. “If the proposal is to include a community centre, parks and other facilities for the village, the cost per unit would be Rs 999,950, less than half the cost of the Government’s proposal,” Sumanthiran told Parliament. Further, the TNA MP said, local banks were willing to finance the project, which meant the Government would not have to expend foreign currency on paying for the housing scheme.
Minister of Resettlement and Rehabilitation D. Swaminathan’s USD 2 billion proposal to build pre-fabricated steel houses at a cost of Rs. 2.1 billion per house came in for sharp criticism from civil society activists, economists and Tamil political representatives on the basis that the units were pricey, flimsily constructed, could not be modified to suit individual needs and were unsuitable to the climate.
“We are not saying we don’t want houses. We don’t want people to misunderstand this. Of course our people want houses. But we want permanent houses that people can live in and pass on to their children,” Sumanthiran told the House, reiterating that the TNA was not blocking the housing proposal.
Sumanthiran informed Parliament that the TNA had helped to facilitate the alternate proposal for 65,000 houses, which was drafted by a collaboration of civil society groups and experts.
The TNA Lawmaker noted that while the steel houses would cost upwards of Rs. 2 million, houses had already been built in the North and East through the Indian housing scheme, for Rs 700,000, three times less than estimated cost in Minister Swaminathan’s proposal.
He also revealed that the Minister had been calling up TNA MPs and asking them if they wanted houses for their areas. “We don’t want prefabricated houses on which someone is making a killing,” Sumanthiran charged. “You can’t leave that to your children. We want a veedu (house), but not a koodu (cage),” he said.
“With the same amount of money the Government was willing to put down for 65,000 houses, 102,000 houses can be built according to this proposal and funded by local banks,” he stressed.