Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan

Acute Distress in Bundelkhand

If anyone wants to see how much publicised government schemes function in actual practice, then Jagannathpur hamlet in Itwa panchayat (Manikpur block of Banda district, UP) can give plenty of evidence of the vast difference between rhetoric and reality. Even though Chitrakut district had been selected for the implementation of rural employment guarantee scheme in its very first year, there is hardly any evidence of people getting support form this scheme or distress-related migration being checked. In household after household inquiries made in mid-December revealed that men who could work in stone quarries in Madhya Pradesh have already gone there to work (at low wages and in hazardous conditions). Just the same as before. No difference has been made here by the advent of the employment guarantee scheme.

Activists of the Akhil Byartiya Samaj Seva Sansthan (ABSSS) had seen to it that job cards are made and proper applications following due procedures are made for the implementation of the rural employment guarantee scheme. But the pradhan (or rather the pradhanpati, the husband of the lady who was elected as pradhan, who effectively functions as pradhan) is keeping the job-cards with himself and providing work on paper. The pradhanpati is employed as a railway gangman but actually spends his time manipulating the village development schemes and funds with the help of a team of goons, the people complained bitterly.

ICDS, mid-day meals – all other schemes are also in a mess. Children said the quality of mid-day meals is so bad that they prefer to eat at home, despite the extreme poverty of these families. And what happens if there is a protest against the corruption that is so obvious in the development and nutrition programmes? There are several stories of villagers who were beaten up, or women of their families were humiliated just because they dared to question some of the irregularities.

What about the public distribution system? We learnt that following complaints of genuinely poor people not being provided antyodaya and BPL cards, an investigation team had come about three months back but the visiting official simply carried away the existing cards with him so that for three months people have had no cards and no ration.

What about pensions for the poorest infirm people, widows or those unable to earn their livelihood? We were told that the annapurna scheme for free grain has been discontinued to genuinely needy persons.

Eighty-year old Fakhar lives in a small hug with a cot as perhaps his main possession. He once got a little grain from the government but now he does not even get that. There is no pension either. Both his sons have migrated.

Seventy-year old Shobha Kaka is very weak. He should not do any hard work and certainly deserves a pension. But due to poverty he too has taken up stone-breaking work. Working slowly, he is able to break stone worth about Rs 10 in a day.

Fifty-year old Chunkawan has breathing problems and badly needs some help for his survival and the survival of his children who were not yet grown up enough to work.

Kanhaiya, his wife and daughter are almost entirely blind and badly need some help. Ram Prasad's wife died in youth and as he has to work after three children, it is not easy for him to always get daily wage employment. Bhondu earlier made a living from collecting forest produce like gum and honey but at the age of 70 cannot continue this and needs help. Gullaiya Kol (age 50) has no one to support him and his only possessions are one plate, two glasses, one bucket, one cot, one plastic mug used for toilet.

All the above are Kol tribals. In addition there is Kushiya Arak (80 years) who is employed in grazing cattle and gets one roti from each family he serves. This employment is only for some months as during other months people leave their cattle for open grazing.

This list of badly distressed persons continued in the next hamlet we visited – Dipu Kolan in Kihuniya panchayat of the same Manikpur block. 70 years old Kodiyan (everyone calls her Vijay ki amma) finds it difficult to walk and badly needs support. Ramdulare is blid and does not even have a hut. Sixty year old Ratiya is all done and badly needs support.

Chiaita, Bhagvatiya – the list can easily be extended. What is shocking is that even though social activists have helped most of these genuinely needy and deserving persons to send applications for pension, they have not received support so far?

Kesar, a social activist of Chingari organisation in Bartarh area, says:

In Gram panchayat Doriya there are thirty widows who really need pension but they don't get it. As quarry workers here suffer on a large scale from silicosis or TB, the need for pension exists on a large scale.

Will the government wake up only after starvation deaths? Or will it not wake even then? In Nahri village of neighbouring Banda district, five starvation deaths have taken place while in Padui village eight suicides relating to poverty and indebtedness have taken place. Yet little has been done to improve overall conditions in these villages.

Due to this official apathy, despite the advent of rural employment guarantee scheme, tribals of Deepu Kolan are still forced to migrate to far away Bhiwani district of Haryana to work in risky, exploitative and hazardous conditions. If the employment guarantee scheme was properly implemented, then forced migration at least to places of extreme exploitation and hazards could've stopped.

In this panchayat a kol woman has been elected and her husband Desraj was helping her to give a pro-poor orientation to panchayat. But on December 15 when he was travelling in a motorcycle he was hit by a tractor-trolley. He as well as his companion suffered serious injuries. A proper investigation is needed to find out if this was just an accident.

Raja Bhaiya is a social activist who has worked with the greatest commitment to help the poor in Banda district. Recently he was framed in a dacoity case. He has received threats that he may be attacked. Can't the government give any protection to those who give their all for the poor?

The crisis in the Bundelkhad region is building up a fast pace. For the last three years this region has suffered from drought-like conditions and adverse weather conditions. This was clearly a time for improving the implementation of all programmes to help farmers and workers, but actually apathy and corruption have flourished. Where will this lead us? Even in winter months water sources in several places are drying up. What will happen in the summer months? How will people and animals quench their thirst? Will farm animals (and other animals) die in large numbers due to lack of fodder and water? These are questions which deserve the highest priority immediately. Preparation for the difficult times ahead have to start here and now. A beginning can be made by starting drought-relief works and also by proper implementation of the rural employment guarantee scheme in the true spirit of the recently enacted legislation.

Bhagwat Prasad, Director of Samaj Seva Sansthaan (ABSSS), an organisation which has been in the forefront of mobilising the poor says:

The coming months will be very difficult and the government as well as voluntary organisations need to work in a well-planned, well-coordinated way to reduce the distress of people as well as animals.

Bharat Dogra, Mainstream, February 9-15, 2007

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