With wife and three children, Bede community man Sohel Mia lives in a polythene-made tent by the road at a nondescript village in Kaliganj upazila. The gypsy family travel all around the country round the year. Sohel says he cannot admit his kids to school thanks to their lack of a permanent address.
"If I had a permanent house, I would be travelling around leaving the family at home. My daughters then could have schooling and medical treatment when required," the man told The Business Standard.
Like Sohel Mia, some 31 Bede families are now staying at the Kaliganj village. Their gypsy days are nearing an end as 59 homes are being built for them on a vast land by a water body under the Ashrayan-2 Project.
The project aiming at providing shelter to 50,000 families was taken up in 2014. At the first phase, half of the targeted people were handed over with land and houses. Though the project had been struggling with implementation initially, now Ashrayan-2 – which is supervised by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) while the houses are said to be a gift from the PM to the poor — is one of the fast-moving projects in the Annual Development Programme (ADP).
Centring the Mujib Year celebration, the project beneficiaries were raised to 6 lakh families. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the number of homeless people in the country will come down to almost zero once the project is implemented.
According to sources in the PMO, in the first phase on 23 January last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handed over land and homes to 66,189 families across the country. On the same day, rehabilitation for 3,715 families in 743 barracks was also inaugurated.
On June 20 of the same year, land and new houses were given to another 53,340 families in the second phase. In the first two phases, more than 1.17 lakh families got houses. In the third phase, another 65,474 single houses are under construction.
Tofazzel Hossain Miah, senior secretary to the PMO, told The Business Standard that the dream of the premier is to improve the quality of life of the people. The housing project helps the country attain at least eight of the 17 goals of the sustainable development goal (SDG).
Cost escalation for stronger houses
The government increased Tk88,500 for per unit of house under the project and set it at Tk2.59 lakh, which was Tk1.71 lakh in the first phase.
Tofazzel Hossain Miah said the cost escalation is to enhance the strength and durability of the houses.
He told TBS that third phase houses would use the cement concrete base, while shelters in previous two phases were built on brick foundations.
In the third phase, homes for the poor are being constructed in Magura Sadar. Magura Upazila Nirhabi Officer Yasin Kabir said the houses are being built focusing on durability.
Abu Saleh Mohammad Ferdous Khan, project director of Asrayan-2, said they have taken special measures to make the third phase houses more durable and strong.
Portable homes for erosion-prone areas
For fishermen, portable homes are being built in river erosion-prone areas under the project. Such 5,078 housing units will cost Tk370 crore. Besides, there will be special houses for the ethnic people in the three districts of the Chattogram Hill Tracts.
Although people of small ethnic groups in the plains will get semi-pucca houses like other homeless people, 20 "tong ghars" will be built for the Rakhine community in Barguna.
Tofazzel Hossain Miah said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has instructed them to build houses according to the needs of the beneficiaries.
"Many char areas erode and inundate during the monsoons. Portable houses are being built there to avert property damages," he added.
Floating Manta people get home
From birth to death, the landless Manta community used to spend their entire lives on water in Patuakhali's Rangabali upazila. Parents of the community would tie the babies to the bed of their boats so that the kids do not roll into water.
The government has already provided houses to 29 of 96 Manta families who have been living in boats floating on River Rangabali since 1984. The PMO officials said the remaining families will be rehabilitated gradually.
Nayan Tara, 80, has been able to sleep in a house on the land for the first time since birth. The Manta woman said she had been on the boat since she was born.
"I have been at peace for a year now after getting home," she told TBS.
Her home has a power connection, energy-saving lights and a ceiling fan. "We don't have to pay any electricity bill," she said. However, Nayan Tara has installed a small solar panel recently with her own money.
Another Manta woman Julekha Begum got her house two months ago. She used to catch and sell fish with her husband while she used to live on the boat. Now she no longer goes fishing, as she wants to do household chores and educate her two daughters and one son.
Environment in focus
Magura Upazila Nirhabi Officer Yasin Kabir said they have arranged mushroom cultivation training for the families to be rehabilitated under the housing project.
He said there are empty spaces next to each house, where it is possible to increase income through mushroom cultivation.
Meanwhile, Kaliganj Upazila Nirbahi Officer Sadia Jerin also said arrangements will be made for income generating works for the beneficiaries.
She said the housing site to rehabilitate the Bede community has already been brought under road communication. "A mosque and a park will be built there. There will also be arrangements for income generating work according to qualifications and skills of the people."
Tofazzel Hossain Miah said each housing unit will have empty space next to it. There will be arrangements for vegetable cultivation and poultry farming on the free space. Besides, various types of training and tree planting are being arranged with a special focus on the environment.
In a separate note, the PMO officials said 155 acres of public land worth around Tk3,000 crore has been reclaimed across the country so far while implementing the Ashrayan-2 Project.