Defence personnel and their long battle for houses
A group of serving and retired armed forces personnel have moved the national and State consumer courts against the Air Force Naval Housing Board (AFNHB), demanding compensation for inordinate delay in handing over possession of houses that have been allotted on a self-funded basis.
Some of them have moved the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) in Uttarakhand, which covers ongoing projects since it came into existence, seeking compensation for over five years delay and seeking an explanation for the cost escalation.
At the heart of the dispute is a housing scheme at Premnagar in Dehradun, launched in 2008. Work on the project was to start in 2009 and it was to be handed over in 2012 at ₹24.5 lakh for a large apartment. But after four revisions, the price escalated to ₹40.51 lakh in 2016. The price of a low value flat had risen by 97%.
Housing scheme members say they are yet to get possession of the completed project. “It was poorly managed. Frivolous reasons were given for the delay. The board did not take any responsibility and passed on all unreasonable additional costs to us,” an officer said.
A questionnaire on the members’ demands emailed to the Director General, AFNHB, elicited no response, and phone calls were not answered.
The RERA, in an order, asked the AFNHB to ensure compliance with quality and standards and hand over the apartments as per the terms and conditions. It has asked the board to safeguard and not to compromise the interests of the allottees.
The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi, while hearing a petitition on the delay in the Dehradun project allowed the petitioners to press charges under class action. “The matter is maintainable under Section 12 (1) 9(c) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Therefore, the application moved by the complainants is allowed,” the Commission’s order said.
The State Consumer court in Delhi also has issued an injunction against any extra demand for payment by the AFNHB. The court observed that one of the allottees had already paid ₹30 lakh against the total consideration of ₹22 lakh for an apartment.
Delayed in many cities
Officers who spoke to The Hindu claimed that AFNHB projects at Dehradun, Jalandhar, Meerut, Mohali and Jaipur were also delayed. At Dehradun, house construction is in the final stages. Some people, who paid an extra ₹10 lakh as demanded, have taken possession of their houses, but occupancy certificates are yet to be issued. Two of 15 planned towers are yet to be completed.
“I joined the scheme as I planned to retire in 2013. Due to project delay, I had to stay in my mother’s house. I don’t know where to arrange the additional funds from. As a non-profit body, the AFNHB is far from being transparent,” said Lt. Commander Neetu Choudhary (retd.), an allottee at Dehradun. “We don’t like the way the projects are handled. But we cannot speak out and are suffering silently,” said another officer.
Members said the continued cost escalation made it difficult for them to arrange funds. “A scheme at Kharar was to be completed by 2009. I got my flat in April 2016 but the construction was defective. I had to pay ₹22 lakh instead of the original cost of ₹14.4 lakh. The project is still not ready,” said Squadron Leader O.P. Singh (retd.).
An AFNHB project at Meerut at Panchwati Enclave was inaugurated in 2010. It was to be completed by mid- 2012. It is still under construction and there has been a cost escalation of over 25%.
“Our hard-earned money is stuck. The future is bleak. This is the price we pay for serving the country,” an Air Force officer said.
The AFNHB, which operates on a ‘no profit no loss’ basis was created to assist serving and retired Air Force and Navy personnel to get affordable housing. It does not construct houses on its own but contracts it to private builders. Over the years, the organisation has delivered 18,000 flats to defence personnel as per its website.