'Ashrayan', a unique project designed to benefit the rural poor having no shelter of their own, is close to the heart of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. None of his predecessors steering the statecraft has ever started a project like this.
Every time Sheikh Hasina handed over semi-pucca small dwellings among poor rural families, she beamed with joy and satisfaction.
But what has been happening with some houses built under the project at different places in the country lately must have saddened her deeply.
Local authorities, reportedly, had to dismantle several houses that either developed major cracks or collapsed because of their faulty construction at different places. In Sarisabari under Jamalpur district, at least a dozen poor families had to rush to safety as rainwater entered their Asrayan project houses. The houses have been built on low-lying marshy land. Inhabitants fear that in the event of a flood, the situation might become even worse.
Allegations of constructing the houses under the project at wrong locations and using substandard building materials have surfaced. Factors such as corruption and indifference by people in charge of execution of projects at the local level have been responsible for such unwanted developments.
An allocation worth Tk 171,000 made for building a two-room 22.5 ft long and 19.5 ft wide dwelling house is considered sufficient. There should be no reason for a house developing crack/s or collapsing if the amount allocated by the government was used properly.
The local level officials, people's representatives and contractors involved in irregularities in the construction of houses under the project deserve exemplary punishment. Some officials have already got it. Others should not get away.
Under the Ashrayan project, 2,153,777 poor and homeless families have become owners of new houses until now. The government has a plan to distribute 100,000 more houses.
It was a dream come true for thousands of families who got the houses under the project. Heads of families expressed deep satisfaction and happiness while receiving the ownership. They also thanked the prime minister for her personal attention to the welfare of poor people like them. Nothing can be more distressing if these people are forced to leave their newly found abodes just because of ill-planning and corruption by a section of people.
The incidents involving the Ashrayan projects have again brought to the fore irregularities, financial or otherwise, in the execution of public sector development projects. Even projects meant to benefit the poor and distressed people do hardly matter to a section of dishonest people. What matters most to them is reaping the undue gains, no matter how those come and at whose cost.