NHA undertakes housing development programme up to upazila level of Bangladesh

-Shahid Ullah Khandaker

The present government is committed to achieve the national goals of vision 2021, which includes house for all by 2021, and keeping this in priority the National Housing Authority (NHA) as the principal public sector agency committed to solve the enormous housing problem of the country, particularly for the poor, the low and the middle-income group of people, said Md. Shahid Ullah Khandaker, Chairman, NHA in an exclusive interview with The Guardian.

In this context, the Chairman mentioned that since the beginning of the present government, National Housing Authority has undertaken 55 projects across the country and the implementation activities of these projects are running with progress.

He further informed that there are 30 more projects, which are to be implemented throughout the country, including site and services land development projects with a view to creating planned housing, plots with all civic facilities and these projects will help to save agricultural lands, adding that there remain another type of project to construct flats in the form of multistoried buildings.

In view of this, the Chairman said that NHA has already taken up step to restructure its organogram to play more responsibilities and accordingly has undertaken housing development programme up to upazila level of Bangladesh, considering that planned housing can save agricultural land. He mentioned that NHA is now giving necessary emphasis on flat scheme rather plot scheme so that more people can be accommodated at the same plot of land.

In reply to a specific question, the Chairman said that his realization is that the government can create a concept of land bank to meet the growing demand of housing in Bangladesh to provide loan on long term basis on an average interest to solve the problem, where from the people can take loan on easy condition to have a planned housing.

In reply to another question, he said that National Housing Authority has submitted proposals to execute two projects for poor people, of those one is at Bhasantek, Mirpur and other is at section-11, Mirpur, Dhaka.

In an exclusive interview, a highly experienced civil servant, Mr. Shahid Ullah replied to a number of questions focusing on the activities, limitations, contributions and future plans of NHA, including the overall problems and potentials of housing sector of Bangladesh. His deliberations are not simply interesting but also highly informative and educative as well. The excerpts of his valuable interview are presentd here for The Guardian readers at home and abroad:

The Guardian: Please give us a short introduction to the founding history of National Housing Authority (NHA)?

Chairman: We all know housing is generally defined as a habitable shelter but its meaning stretches far from merely a shelter. It is the total living environment which includes dwelling units, land, the neighborhood services and utilities needed for the well-being of its inhabitants. Housing is also one of the basic elements in human life which provides security and sense of belonging to the owner with the pre-requisite for health and comfort.

We also know that the end of the British rule and the partition of the subcontinent resulted in migration of millions of Muslim refugees from India to the main towns of present Bangladesh and started living on vacant government lands in this part of Pakistan. They erected makeshift houses creating unplanned and unhygienic condition. The influx of these refugees also produced heavy pressure on the existing services and infrastructures of East Pakistan. To rehabilitate these refugees the then Government of Pakistan created “Housing Wing” under the Ministry of Works, Power and Irrigation in 1958. Accordingly, the government had taken a housing programme for Refugees throughout the country and the Housing Wing was upgraded to the status of a directorate in the name of Housing and Settlement Directorate (HSD) to implement the programme in an organized way.

Liberation of Bangladesh brought about an influx of rural population to the urban areas. Bangladesh has an agriculture-based economy and most of its rural population is dependent on agriculture. There is a huge surplus of labour in the rural areas as only farming cannot support all the rural population. As a result, they remain unemployed or under employed for most of the years. All these population along with the millions affected and uprooted by the war of 1971 migrated to the cities in search of jobs and better life. Most of them started squatting on the government owned vacant land like reserved land for roads, railway stations and sides of railway tracks, launch terminals and market places. These poor people lived in appalling conditions, totally unfit for human habitation without the presence of any sanitary or utility facilities. As a result, an unhealthy condition was created causing serious threat to the public health and the overall environment of these cities.

With the initiative of the government of independent Bangladesh, the Housing and Settlement Directorate implemented housing projects to rehabilitate the low income and to provide housing for the middle income people including the refugees during the pre-liberation era. During the pre-liberation era, HSD took up various housing projects including sites and services and squatter resettlement projects. These were implemented in various urban centres of Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Dinazpur and the district headquarters.

Later, the government realized to formulate a National Housing Policy to ascertain shelter for all. In the light of the National Housing policy, the national Assembly has adopted and approved the National Housing Authority Act-2000. In accordance with the Act, Housing and settlement Direction (HSD) and Deputy Commissioner Settlement (DCS) office had been abolished and a new organization NHA has been formed by merging these two organizations. The National Housing Authority Act- 2000 has been implemented on 15th July, 2001 through the government notification.

So, the existence of National Housing Authority came into being from 15th July 2001 as an autonomous body under the Ministry of Housing & Public Works. Thus the new journey of Housing and Settlement Directorate started in the new name with a new status as the National Housing Authority (NHA). This is in simple the history of NHA through which it has come to its today’s position.

The Guardian: In this context, would you discuss the aims and objectives on the basis of which NHA has been established to attain new goals?

Chairman: There are some certain aims and objectives of NHA and on the basis of those it has been established to attain particular goals.

Adoption of a very pragmatic National Housing Policy by the government is considered as a milestone in the housing sector activities of Bangladesh. The main objectives of the National Housing Policy that are the aims and objectives of NHA for implementation are:

*          Ensuring housing for all with particular emphasis on the disadvantaged, destitute, shelterless poor people and low and middle income group of people.

*          Make available, suitable land for housing at affordable price.

*          Developing mechanisms to discharge formation of slums and squatter settlements, unauthorized constructions ad encroachments.

*          Mobilization of resources for housing through personal savings and financial institutions.

*          Developing institutional and legal framework for facilitating housing.

*          Providing encouragement to universities, research institutions ad research centers for research on housing oriented.

The Guardian: Keeping this in mind, would you inform us about the present activities of NHA across the country?

Chairman: You know NHA performs different development activities. Among all those, presently NHA is working on developing some land and flat projects. Some of the main projects are given below:

*          Flat project in Mohammadpur F-Block

*          Flat project in Mirpur named “Shopna Nagor”

*          Flat project in Mirpur I-Block

*          Flat project in Anandanagar, Mirpur

*          Flat project in Halishahar, Chittagong

*          Flat project in Dohar

*          Flat project in Bogra

Plot project in Gopalganj

*          Site and services project in Shariatpur

*          Site and services project in Madaripur

*          Site and services project in Shibchor

*          Site and services project in Maijdee, Noakhali

*          Site and services project in Moulovibazar, Sylhet

*          Site and services project in Raujan, Chittagong

*          Site and services project in Bagmara, Rajshahi

*          Site and services project in Dinajpur

*          Site and services project Cox’s Bazar

The Guardian: In this context, would you  inform us about the institutional network, capacity, manpower and other facilities of NHA?

Chairman: Presently, NHA is run by a board of 5 members, which consists of

I.          Chairman

II.        Member (Admin & Finance)

III.       Member (Land & Asset Management)

IV.       Member (Engineering & Co- ordination)

V.        Member (Planning , Design & Special Project)

Currently approved manpower of NHA is 529. These personnel are working in the head office and 15 other regional offices across the country. The summery of manpower is stated below.

The Guardian: Would you say what further steps should be taken to enhance the overall facilities and manpower of NHA to make it fully effective and time-congenial to perform its responsibilities expectedly?

Chairman: Appraising the present activities of NHA throughout the country, the strength of present manpower and other relevant facilities are not sufficient to handle it efficiently. A revised organogram enhancing its capacity has been submitted to the Ministry of Public Administration for approval.

The Guardian: Please discuss the functions currently entrusted on NHA to perform?

Chairman: To meet the demand and solve the acute housing problem of the urban and rural areas of the country including the capital city, the following functions are entrusted on NHA to perform:

1.         To conduct survey and study, collecting and preserving information regarding housing throughout the country.

2.         Further development of National Housing Policies and presenting it to the government for approval.

3.         Taking up low cost housing projects and projects on self-help basis both in urban and rural areas subject to the approval of the government.

4.         Formulate housing programme for natural disaster and emergency situation and its implementation.

5.         To undertake housing programme for the destitute women, for the helpless and for the poor.

7.         Construction of buildings, houses, apartments and flats on NHA’s land and land handed over to it by the overnment.

7.         To organize national and international conferences, seminars, symposium and workshops etc. regarding housing.

8.         To conduct research work on housing.

9.         Allotment of flats, plots etc. and execution of lease deeds, permission for sale, mortgage, mutation and collection of rent, revenue and other charges.

10.       Development of urban centers at upazila level.

11.       To attract foreign and local investment to implement housing projects.

12.       To take any other activities necessary to carryout the above functions.

The Guardian: In this context, would you inform us what kinds of projects NHA has currently undertaken to implement?

Chairman: Since the assumption of the offices by present government, National Housing Authority has undertaken 55 projects across the country and the implementation activities of these projects are going on with progress. Besides, 30 more projects are going to be approved. These projects include:

*          Site and services land development projects with a view to creating planned housing, plots with all civic facilities. These projects will help to save agricultural lands.

*          Another type of project is to construct flats in form of multistoried buildings.

The Guardian: Please say how many projects it has completed since its inception till to date?

Chairman: Of course, NHA has completed 34 housing estates since its establishment.

The Guardian: Would you also mention the number of its ongoing projects across the country and the progress of their implementation?

Chairman: I think you’ve already got the answer to a similar question. I am, however, informing you that 35 projects are ongoing throughout the country. Of them 16 are flat projects and rest 19 are site and services plot projects.

The Guardian: It is said that in Bangladesh middle and lower middle class people are always deprived of getting their legitimate constitutional rights to housing facilities provided by the government due to tricks of law and institutional mechanism. As result, only the rich section of the society is being benefited by the activities of NHA or RAJUK or the organizations like across the country. Would you give your reaction to this?

Chairman:  You know since its inception National Housing Authority by its former name Housing Wing and Housing & Settlement Directorate rendered its services to rehabilitate refugees and middle and lower income groups of people at its different housing estates. Still National Housing Authority is taking different schemes for poor like rehabilitation of squatters and slum dwellers at Bhasantek and Mirpur.

The Guardian: Would you also say what specific steps should be taken by NHA to help the middle and lower middle classes of the society?

Chairman:  I think you’ll be happy to know that National housing authority has submitted proposal to execute two projects for poor people. One of those is at Bhasantek, Mirpur and other is at section-11, Mirpur, Dhaka.

The Guardian: As a matter of relevance, would you say what interactions NHA maintains with other similar organizations like RAJUK, CDA, KDA , RDA and others and also say how the NHA as the single national housing authority of the country differs from others to serve the people in true sense on the basis of its national character?

Chairman: To be a similar agency under the same Ministry, NHA always interacts with other agencies like RAJUK, CDA, KDA and RDA. Before preparing any project proposal, NHA has to look after whether the proposed project location is overlapped with any of the other similar authorities or not.

The jurisdiction of NHA is vast rather than any other authorities. NHA deals with the projects up to upazila level of the whole country. It t works in both urban and rural areas of the country. In spite of that, NHA has been empowered recently to engage different real estate developers to create plot and flat projects for the people of areas of whole country except the areas of RAJUK, CDA, KDA, RDA, City Corporation and Cantonment Board.

The Guardian: In this context, would you inform us about the current number of houses in Bangladesh as well as the number of housing deficits in Bangladesh?

Chairman:  The current number of housing unit is known but it is said that about 5 million houses are short in both cities and rural areas.

The Guardian: Would you also discuss the reasons behind housing problems in Bangladesh and suggest what steps should be taken to solve these problems?

Chairman:  The reasons behind shortfall of houses are non-availability of land for all to build houses, financial incapability and high population density.

I think the Government of Bangladesh should come forward to take projects to build houses in planned way using fewer amounts of land in the form of plots and flats in multistoried building. The government should also sanction long term housing loan.

The Guardian: In this context, would you assess the roles of private housing companies in Bangladesh and suggest how these companies can be made more effective, transparent and accountable?

Chairman: There is no denial of the fact that the private housing companies play an important role in the field of housing sector. But their projects are mainly for the well-off people. Moreover, they do not always take prior approval for the projects and due to this sometimes the buyers suffer buying plot or flat from the private companies.

Presently the government has enacted laws for private housing companies. So, the development authorities of the government, say RAJUK and some others are acting as regulatory body for giving registration to the private housing companies and approval of their projects. If the laws are strictly followed for giving registration to the private housing companies and approval of their projects, there will be no scope to trouble with the buyers by the housing companies.

The Guardian: Would you also inform us about the number of different public and private organizations involved with the activities of NHA across the country and say what kinds of activities they perform with the NHA?

Chairman: The public organizations like Public Works Department, Department of Architecture and Urban Development Directorate are involved with the activities on NHA across the country. They help the NHA in different ways, say buying, providing plan, design, suggestions and etc. Moreover, the Ministry of Housing & Public Works and Ministry of Planning help the NHA in many ways and also by giving approval to its projects.

The Guardian: Would you assess the successes and failures of NHA?

Chairman: Of course, NHA has successfully completed many housing projects in planned ways. People have got Clearance of Plot of NHA land and flats at very cheaper rate compared to that of private companies. NHA is reliable to the people and it is the big success of NHA.

NHA executes project by acquisition of land. It is now a days a very hard task. NHA is sometimes is to go through legal procedure that causes the delay of execution of the project, sometimes affecting the plan to change.

The Guardian: Keeping this in consideration, would you disclose what further strategies and development plans the NHA should undertake for its future course of action?

Chairman: You know NHA has taken step to strengthen its organogram to shoulder more responsibilities. NHA has programme to take housing project up to Upazila level. Planned housing can save agricultural land. NHA is now giving emphasis on flat scheme rather plot scheme so that more people can be accommodated at the same piece of land.

The Guardian: Would you reflect on the existing housing policy of the government and say how far this policy is effective to fulfil the growing demand of the age and the people?

Chairman: Revision work on existing housing policy of the government is going on. It will be finalized soon. It will be very effective to fulfill the growing demand on the age and he people.

The Guardian: In this context, would you suggest what further steps the government should take to meet the growing demand of hosing in Bangladesh?

Chairman: It is my personal realization that the government can crate a land bank to meet the growing demand of housing in Bangladesh. Loan on long term basis on an average interest may solve the problem, where from the people can take loan on easy condition to have a planned housing.

The Guardian: In the end, would you please give your valuable message for all concerned with the activities of housing sector, and especially for the people of all walks of life in the country?

Chairman: Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated developing countries in the world. Its total population is about 160 million out of which 25% is living in urban areas. Urban people are scattered in 7 divisions, 64 districts and 481 upazila headquarters.

Rural people are living in 4500 unions and 68000 villages. The country is facing a shortage of affordable housing in both the urban and rural areas. Access to shelter or housing is difficult for the low and middle income groups of people and it is extremely acute for the poor.

Unplanned housing in urban and rural areas requires more land and extends settlement in valuable productive agricultural land. It is the demand of the time to be selective to undertake plan for growing up an effective housing structure with the minimum land use.

You know the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh guarantees the citizens for shelter, which is a basic need. The present government emphasizes on the national goals of Vision 2021, which includes “House for all by 2021.” The National Housing Authority as the principal public sector agency engaged in solving the enormous housing problem of the country, particularly for the poor, the low and the middle-income group of people, excels all its efforts in achieving this goal within the timeframe.

Realizing this, I call upon all to construct house by following the rules, to avoid scattered way of housing and to prepare a good plan before going for execution. I also urge all to think whether the project is dully approved before purchasing it. Finally, I urge the cooperation from all for National Housing Authority to reach it the desired goal.