Dream home for the poorest closer to reality in Bihar

May 28th, 2009 - 1:27 pm ICT by IANS  

By Imran Khan
Patna, May 28 (IANS) Rickshaw puller Haria Bhuiyan and daily wage labourer Mangru Manjhi are elated. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has said a housing scheme for the poorest of the poor is being finalised and will be implemented soon.

The Maha Dalits think their dream of owning their own home is a bit closer to reality.

For generations, the Maha Dalits - as the poorest of the Dalit sub-castes are called - have been dreaming of their own homes. It has remained a dream with people like Manjhi, 46, and Bhuiyan, 42, struggling to feed their families after earning Rs.100 on a good day.

Manjhi, who has a small thatched hut in a village in Jehanabad district, 50 km from here, was waiting at a roadside tea shop for the day’s employer. Somebody read out the news report about the housing scheme being finalised to him and he erupted in joy.

“We were told that Hindi papers published news that Nitish Kumar is serious to provide land and houses to Maha Dalit families,” an elated Manjhi told IANS near the tea stall at Gandhi Maidan in Patna.

“A house of our own will change the mindset of our children, our future. It is big news,” Manjhi said. “Our forefathers died dreaming of their own house, but it seems their dream will be fulfilled soon.”

Bhuiyan has been spending his nights on the pavement. “If the news is true, it will fulfil our dreams. My father, grandfather and his father died without a proper roof over their heads,” he said, flashing a smile after learning about the “big news”.

Manjhi and Bhuiyan are among the thousands of poor, landless and homeless Dalits in Bihar who see the government decision as a beginning of a new life for them.

A government commission set up two years ago for the welfare of certain Dalit groups, which are socially and educationally more backward than others, painted a bleak picture of their lives in its first interim report submitted a few months ago.

Dalits constitute nearly 15 percent of Bihar’s 83 million people. The commission identified 18 of the 22 Dalit sub-castes, including Musahar, Bhuiyan, Dom and Nat, as the most backward. They constitute 31 percent of the Dalit population in the state.

On Wednesday, Nitish Kumar discussed with top government officials to finalise the modalities of the implementation of the special scheme launched last year to give 120 sq metres of land to the poorest families in the state. The government has also promised to provide funds to these families so that they can build their houses.

“Now the Lok Sabha elections are over, Nitish Kumar at a meeting with the members of the Maha Dalit Vikas Mission directed to speed up the implementation of the scheme,” an official in the chief minister’s office said.

The mission has identified the number of families who would benefit from the schemes, according to the official. Nitish Kumar asked his officials to re-check and complete the survey by June end.

Nearly 160,000 Maha Dalit families would benefit from the housing scheme. The government has earmarked Rs.8.15 billion for the purpose. Around 9,500 acres of land is required. At present, however, the government has only 4,055 acres. The rest will be acquired soon, officials said.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran.k@ians.in)

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