Three years ago, 63-year-old Julama Mushahar agreed to dismantle his straw hut in Bhangaha Municipality-3 of Mahottari as he was promised a new concrete house under the government’s Janata Awas (‘people’s housing’) program. He had little idea that he was going to be homeless in the hope of a better house as the government money was enough for only some foundational work on the new house.
With no money left to complete the house by himself, and no hut to go back to, he was left out on the fields. He spent cruel winter nights either under open skies or under a threadbare tarpaulin tent. Battered by rains, he succumbed to the sickness that followed and breathed his last in August last year. He never saw a hospital in life.
This scribe had met Julama in late December last year. He was shivering with cold and crying. “The government told me to pull down my hut. Now I don’t have money to build a new house,” he had said. “It’s too cold here and I can’t sleep. I stay up the whole night in front of fire.”
Julama’s wife Munesari told this scribe recently, “The government is a savior for the poor. But this savior is making us suffer more than a
Musahar’s was one of the 63 families in Bhangaha who were told by government officials that they would get new concrete houses under the Janata Awas program. But there is no sign that the promise will be fulfilled. The families are left stranded on the fields or streets waiting for the promised houses.
Locals say the program has made thousands of Musahar and Dome people homeless in the eight districts in the province: Mahottari, Dhanusha, Siraha, Saptari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Bara, and Parsa. The elders suffer from common cold, cough, cold-diarrhea, and pneumonia—the diseases either caused or aggravated by cold.
Kamodhiya Sada, also from Bhangaha, is worried for her newborn granddaughter Sandhya. She is trying to save the child from winter cold-wave by putting her under a makeshift hut roofed with straw. The child has common cold, and Kamodiya can only hope warmer days come soon. Hope of a new house seems so distant
Likewise, 70-year-old Rajiya Sada has also lost hope she will get a new house. “We used to live in a hut, and that was okay. At least it gave us a shelter,” laments Rajiya. “The govnerment has left us in the lurch by destroying our huts.” The eight members of her family have no roof over their heads.
Locals blame the indifferent attitude of the federal and provincial governments for the torment of these destitute families.
In 2015/16, urban development and building construction division offices based in Rajbiraj, Janakpur, and Parsa had signed contracts
with 522 beneficiary families to build houses. They are yet to be completed. In fiscal years 2016/17 and 2017/18, construction for 8,200 houses began in Province 2 under this scheme. Work on 75 percent of those houses was abandoned in the middle. In some places only the foundation has been built, while elsewhere just the walls have been
Binod Yadav, acting chief of the Urban Development and Building Construction Division Office based in Janakpur, says it is due to the ‘middlemen’ that the houses could not be completed.
“The government gives Rs 350,000 to these beneficiaries, that too, in installments. It takes at least Rs 500,000 to build the two-room house under approved design,” Yadav says. “They have to find the deficit money on their own. But the poor don’t have that money.”
“On top of that, some middlemen take away a cut from their instalment money,” Yadav adds O