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Jun 30, 2013 |DowntoErath
Down to Earth- Cover Story
With an eye on the 2014 general election, the UPA government is expanding its ambitious Direct Benefit Transfer programme that promises welfare as cash in bank accounts. But without any groundwork it is only creating more trouble for beneficiaries
Come July 1, the UPA government will roll out the second phase of its ambitious programme, Direct Benefit Transfer or DBT. The programme aims to transfer welfare benefits, such as scholarship, pension and subsidies, directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. When the government kicked off the first phase in 43 districts in January this year, it hyped DBT as a “game changer” in the way it provides benefits to the people.
The controversy-hit UPA sees the programme as its trump card for the 2014 general election. It plans to expand DBT to 78 districts, covering almost a fifth of the country.
At the core of the scheme are bank accounts that have to be “seeded”—paired in lay lexicon—with a biometric-based Aadhaar card that assigns a unique identification number. As Down To Earth reporters travel to five states under DBT they report that thousands of beneficiaries are left out of the DBT coverage at every step of opening the Aadhaar-paired account
When it comes to percolation of benefits through the UPA government’s ambitious direct benefit transfer (DBT) programme, Jharkhand fares the worst among states that Down To Earth visited. The programme remains a nonstarter in all the four districts in the state where it was rolled out in the first phase. And it is not difficult to figure out why.
Senior officials of the districts open up the discussion on DBT with a fundamental question: “What is seeding of bank account?” To the uninitiated, it means integrating one’s bank account with his or her unique identity (UID), or Aadhaar number. This helps the government access the details of the beneficiary and transfer welfare benefits as cash to his or her bank account. Thus, it is the single most important procedure to roll out DBT.
This ignorance among government officials is indicative of the state’s progress in implementing the ambitious programme of the UPA government. Seraikella-Kharsawan, the first district in the state under DBT since January, has more than 46,500 beneficiaries of different schemes. Only 500 are receiving the benefits.
In state capital Ranchi, District Information Officer Deepak Kumar claims 53,671 people are benefitting from 11 schemes under DBT. But the figure does not remain this impressive when Kumar divulges that the government has so far disbursed only Rs 16,454. This means each beneficiary has received Rs 3.20. This is a serious mismatch.
Confusion over numbers also reigns in Hazaribagh. At a recent review meeting of DBT, state chief secretary lauded Hazaribagh for the maximum Aadhaar coverage in the state. District UID officer Neetu Bharti says her department has issued Aadhaar cards to 9,000 people in Hazaribagh and all of them have seeded the card number with their bank accounts. But she admits that only 2,023 are receiving benefits.
According to the status report of the National Payments Corporation of India, the gateway for payment under DBT, released in March this year, cash benefits have returned from the bank accounts of 10-15 per cent beneficiaries even though the accounts were integrated with Aadhaar.
Lack of expertise or vested interest?
Till date, the UPA government has brought 25 Centrally funded schemes under DBT. But in Jharkhand, most schemes under DBT are state government sponsored. The Hazaribagh district administration claims to have brought 14 Central schemes under DBT, but 80 per cent of the beneficiaries are those enrolled for the state-sponsored scholarship and pension schemes. The Seraikella-Kharsawan district administration is yet to bring any Central scheme under the programme.
Khauri Pradhan Devi of Dugdha gram panchayat in Seraikella-Kharsawan is one of the 10 people who are receiving benefits through DBT. Another 440 are waitingAnalysts say such biased implementation could be politically motivated. The district is the Assembly constituency of Chief Minister Arjun Munda who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the opposition at the Centre.
The district authorities fail to give a clear answer for the tardy implementation of DBT. Sangram Besra, deputy development commissioner of Seraikella-Kharsawan, blames it on poor Aadhaar coverage. “Kuchai and Rajnagar blocks of the district that have seen Maoist violence in the past have not been even visited by UID teams. This is when there are 357 UID enrolment centres across the state,” says Besra. “I have no qualms in revealing that the 16,162 people enrolled for UID in the district, belong to urban and semi urban areas, not rural areas.” Until Aadhaar cards are made, Besra plans to use the database of workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to disburse benefits.
Recently at a press conference in Ranchi, Nandan Nilekani, chairperson of the UID Authority of India, claimed that 20 million of a total 32.4 million people in the state have been enrolled for Aadhaar card. He also said every day about 69,000 people in Jharkhand are enrolling in Aadhaar. This means, within a year every resident of Jharkhand will have an Aadhaar card. But Nilekani evaded one crucial number, which is how many Aadhaar cards have been delivered to people and especially to those living in the hinterlands.
In Seraikella-Kharsawan’s Dugdha gram panchayat all the 450 tribals have enrolled in Aadhaar. Only 10 of them have received the card and are receiving old age pension through DBT. The rest are waiting for the card. And they are not the only ones. People in Maharashtra are also facing this problem.
*Only Post-Matric scholarship beneficiaries from Scheduled Castes and Other Backward ClassesOn record, Wardha, Maharashtra’s pilot district for DBT, has the highest percentage of Aadhaar registrations for any district in the country. According to the Unique Identification Authority of India, 1.08 million Aadhaar cards (84.6 per cent) have been generated against a population of 1.3 million. Some 360,000 beneficiaries have linked their bank accounts with Aadhaar and the district administration has disbursed Rs 2.07 crore to these accounts.
The district administration now showcases an award it received in January from management consulting firm Skoch Development Foundation for successful transfer of funds under Janani Suraksha Yojana to mothers’ bank accounts through DBT (see ‘Suraksha compromised’). But the situation is not as hunky-dory as it appears.
Despite high number of enrolments and generation of Aadhaar IDs, cards are yet to reach many in the district. Worse, the administration has no clue about the number of missing cards and the reason they are missing.
Consider Seloo tehsil. With 88 per cent cards generated, the tehsil tops in Aadhaar coverage in the district. But in Seloo’s Yelakeli gram panchayat, nearly 50 per cent of the population of 6,000 do not have Aadhaar cards. “Only 15 per cent of them had failed to enrol in Aadhaar. The rest are waiting for the cards despite enrolment for some six months now,” says sarpanch Bandu Gawhale. “In April we sent a plea to the district collector to organise an Aadhaar camp in Yelakeli, but we are yet to hear from him,” Gawhale says.
The situation is baffling in neighbouring Paonar village where people have not received Aadhaar cards even after two years. The large number of missing Aadhaar cards means equal deprivation of entitlements covered under DBT. Since January, nine Central schemes, including Janani Suraksha Yojana, education scholarships and pension for the old and widows, are under the DBT regime in Wardha.
A poster in Wardha giving information on the linkage of cooking gas subsidy with Aadhaar from June 1 (Photo: Aparna Pallavi)
In Yelakeli, 70-year-old Kaushalyabai Shete has stopped receiving old age pension since January after she failed to produce her Aadhaar card. In nearby Babhulgaon village, 17-year-old Sonali Hajare informs that six students, including her, did not receive scholarship for want of the card.
A sense of panic grips people as the district has begun disbursing important subsidies like those for cooking gas through DBT from June 1. Plans to disburse MGNREGA wages and fertiliser subsidy through Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts are also in the pipeline. These schemes target a larger mass of people. As the kharif season approaches, the greatest anxiety is regarding fertiliser subsidies.
“I could not enrol when the Aadhaar camp was organised in my village. I was visiting my relatives,” says 68-year-old Moreshwar Lonkar from Yelakeli. “Now the camp is over. The sowing season is very close and we will have to pay double the price for fertiliser, which we can ill afford,” says he.
District collector N Nawin Sona admits that the Aadhaar enrolment drive did not turn out as it should have been. The district started with 35 UID machines and is now left with only 17. “With most of the works done here, the machines have been moved to other districts,” says Sona.
Social activists and panchayat members give a different reason for the poor Aadhaar coverage. They say camps were held without proper awareness among people about the programme and without any coordination with panchayats. “The UID team shut camps and left when they pleased, regardless of whether all people in the village had been enrolled or not,” says Aruna Bahadure, panchayat member of Yelakeli.
Card or no card, one thing that worries everyone is whether the subsidies that are proposed to be DBT-linked will really be credited to the bank account, and in time. “Once the linkage is made, the price of fertilisers will double,” says Pilaram Champatrao Raut, a farmer from Ghorad village, one of the showcase villages of the district administration for DBT implementation. If subsidy reaches late, farmers will be in deep trouble, says farmer Ambadas Chambhare. “It will not make fertilisers any cheaper. What is wrong with the subsidy system?” he asks.
Input dealers are equally apprehensive. “Once the subsidised supply stops we will have to make a higher investment to procure stocks,” says Pankaj Kamdi, a dealer from Seloo. “We will not be able to give farmers the informal loan because of high risks. It will impact farmer’s economy as well as our business,” he adds.
Sona says his administration is
making all efforts to ensure that subsidies are credited to the beneficiary’s account within 24 hours. However, at this moment, assurances are cold comfort. The poor of Wardha have their fingers crossed.
“How can a government, which is not able to transfer welfare benefits even after months, credit subsidies within 24 hours?” asks Pushpa Behade of Ghorad. Behade, a farm hand, has not received widow pension since January, although she has an Aadhaar card and a bank account. It appears Behade’s Aadhaar number has not been integrated with her bank account. This lack of knowledge has left thousands of beneficiaries like Behade bereft of their dues, particularly in Rajasthan.
No bank account meant no benefit for Deepali Thakre (Photo: Aparna Pallavi)The Wardha district administration has been much lauded for its prompt implementation of Janani Suraksha Yojana through DBT. It was one of the first schemes to be brought under DBT in Wardha. The administration held camps to enrol pregnant women all over the district and roped in anganwadi workers and auxiliary nurse midwives to open their bank accounts. Anupam Hivlekar, medical officer of Wardha Civil Hospital, says there were initial hitches in transferring the benefits due to lack of Aadhaar cards. But that has been sorted out. “We now have the district collector’s instruction to pay all beneficiaries regardless of Aadhaar. Women who do not have bank accounts are being paid through account payee cheques,” says Hivlekar.
But everyone appears to have missed out the fact that a disturbingly large number of women do not have bank accounts, a must for encashing account payee cheques. The civil hospital’s own figures show 1,718 of the 1,873 beneficiaries were paid through account payee cheques till May 23. The cheques have a validity of three months. Bearer cheque option has been stopped since DBT was introduced.
Even the cash-on-bedside through micro-ATM option works only for account holders. The civil hospital’s report mentions that beneficiaries paid through cheques could not cash them in the absence of bank accounts, but provides no numbers. There is no explanation why such a situation has arisen. When Down To Earth shared the report with district collector N Nawin Sona and Mohan Mahshankar, general manager of Bank of India, lead bank for DBT in Wardha, they expressed bewilderment. Sona said there may have been laxity in implementation, and that he would ask hospitals to refer all cases where cheques have been issued to the bank for action.
Udaipur, Ajmer and Alwar of Rajasthan are among the first 20 districts in the country to roll out DBT in January. Five months on, many beneficiaries say they prefer the earlier system of payment through cash or bearer cheques. Their aversion is not unreasonable. Barely 23 per cent of the beneficiaries in these districts have received government benefits in their accounts since DBT was introduced. Of the rest, most have been left out of DBT as their accounts are not seeded with Aadhaar. As of April, 24,000 of the 33,000 beneficiaries in Udaipur were not receiving benefits due to this reason.
Those who have Aadhaar-enabled bank accounts also face problems, mostly due to technical glitches at the bank. M P Dungarwal, manager of the Malwa Ka Choura branch of Punjab National Bank, that has been assigned to facilitate DBT, told Down To Earth that increasing workload without a robust technical backup is hindering the roll-out. Before DBT, the bank had 4,500 accounts. Now there are 15,000. All these accounts must be seeded with Aadhaar and linked to the electronic payment system. But the branch suffers from poor internet connectivity that cripples the programme, says Dungarwal. Incomplete information on the Aadhaar card is another problem. Many names do not have surnames. It is difficult to process such incomplete identity information from banking point of view, he adds.
People’s woes do not end here. The account opened for DBT does not accept cheques that the beneficiary receives under government schemes yet to be brought under the DBT regime.
Dharamchand Grecia, a banking correspondent of Punjab National Bank for Kyari panchayat in Udaipur, says he has helped people open some 200 DBT accounts. “But they have limited features and people end up opening another bank account by shelling out Rs 1,000 to encash government cheques.”
In February, Naveli Bai of Piparmal village in Udaipur received a cheque of Rs 1,400 under Janani Suraksha Yojana, which offers incentive for institutional delivery. “The cheque will lapse next month if I fail to open another account by then,” she says. Naveli already has an Aadhaar-enabled bank account.
Maternity benefit programmes are losing appeal since DBT was rolled out in Rajasthan. Consider Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana. The scheme promises Rs 4,000 to a pregnant woman after she attains a certain nutrition status and receives vaccinations before and after delivery. Documents available at the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) office of Jhadol block in Udaipur show only 10 of the 35 pregnant women registered under the scheme have availed the incentive since January 2013. Maya Parmar, supervisor of Mahila Bal Vikas Kendra under Jhadol ICDS, says, “We have been asked to provide benefits to only those who have Aadhaar cards. But very few have the card.” Most do not have the required documents like voter identity cards and other residential proofs to get themselves enrolled in Aadhaar. It is difficult for expecting mothers to stand in the long queue for enrolment, she adds.
|Middlemen continue to rule the roost
Bhagwan Choudhury from Kotasim block buys diesel for lighting his house after government stopped providing kerosene through PDS as an experiment to disburse subsidies through DBT (Photo: Jitendra)Kotasim block in Alwar district hosts India’s first experiment to directly transfer cash subsidy instead of distributing kerosene through the public distribution system (PDS). This is supposed to be an experiment that will craft the government’s future plan to disburse subsidies through direct benefit transfer (DBT).
Started in December 2011, the experiment suffers from the same glitches that DBT faces in other areas. Ram Avtaar Yadav, a 60-year-old, partially blind resident of Kanherka village, has a regular question to any stranger he thinks is a government official: “Why have I not received kerosene subsidy in my account?” For the past seven months Yadav has been buying kerosene from open market as the government has stopped supplying it through PDS. Since the cost of kerosene is more than that of diesel, many people like Yadav have started using diesel for lighting their houses.
Says Mukesh Sharma, manager of Rajasthan Rural Bank, “Earlier, PDS dealers acted as middlemen. They kept ration cards of beneficiaries with them and filled them as per their wish. The system exists even now, though in a different way.” Sharma, whose bank is facilitating DBT in Kotasim, elaborates: instead of ration card, beneficiaries submit a bank account number at the fair price shop while buying kerosene. The shop owner must share the account number with the bank along with the bill so that the beneficiary receives the subsidy in his account. But shop owners often write their account numbers or that of their kins on the bill. Sharma suggests that the government should rope in gram sevaks (village development officer) and patwaris (village accountants) to check this practice.
Aadhaar card a dream in Mumbai
Applicant Yash Rathod may have to wait for months for Aadhaar cardThe urban poor is worse off than his rural counterpart when it comes to getting benefits through DBT. Mumbai’s poor have redefined DBT to Delayed Benefits Transfer, and twisted UPA’s slogan aapka paisa, aapke haath (your money in your hands) into aapka paisa, Aadhaar bharose (your money depends on Aadhaar). They have a reason. Most of them have stopped benefitting from government schemes since the launch of DBT. Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburban fare the lowest when it comes to distributing Aadhaar cards to the target sections. The worst affected are students belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes and other backward sections who receive scholarships. It provides for the course fees and a nominal grant for students’ expenses.
Pratik Jadhav, a student of South Mumbai’s Siddharth College, says he did not receive the Post-Matric scholarship for SCs this year as he does not have an Aadhaar card. “My father had to take loans for paying the fee,” he says. At Shindewadi municipal school, Kiran Rathod was taken aback when the school authorities told her that her children would not receive Pre-Matric scholarship this year. The scheme supports education of children whose parents are engaged in occupations such as manual scavenging and tanning. When asked why the children were deprived of the benefits, an official from the Social Justice and Special Assistance Department says, inadequate Central grants for scholarship schemes is always a problem. Unavailability of Aadhaar cards is making it worse. Since the introduction of DBT, only 2,471 of the 10,920 SC students and 1,459 of the 8,796 Other Backward Class students have received the annual scholarship. Of the 8,405 beneficiaries from manual scavenging and tanning professions, the administration could reach only 689. Though the Rathods have applied for Aadhaar cards, officials say it would take them four to five months to issue the cards.
What is complicating the scenario is the state’s changing decision. “Soon after launching DBT, the government made Aadhaar card mandatory for all schemes. However, when questions were raised in the Assembly about the inconvenience to people, the government relaxed it in last week of March. Now it has again made it mandatory.
The Delhi government claims 95 per cent success in providing an Aadhaar number to citizens. But its achievement does not seem to be trickling down to the poor of the national capital.
According to Dharampal, divisional commissioner of Delhi and nodal officer of DBT for the state, Delhi has brought nine Central schemes under DBT. Though 22,000 beneficiaries have Aadhaar cards and their UID numbers seeded with bank accounts, only 9,000 are receiving benefits. Dharampal says the state-sponsored Annshree Yojana is doing well in comparison to the Central schemes under DBT. All the 45,000 identified beneficiaries of Annshree Yojana are receiving benefits. Their number would increase to 100,000 in next couple of months, he claims. Ground realities paint a different picture.
All 50 Bengali Muslim families living in Shahbad Dairy slum in North Delhi earn their bread by ragpicking on the streets. They are eligible for Annshree, under which a BPL family without a ration card receives Rs 600 a month for food. Almost all of them have enrolled themselves in Aadhaar and have seeded their UID number with their bank accounts.
Murshid Bibi is a chance beneficiary of Annshree in Shahbad Dairy slum (Photo: Jitendra)Yet they are running from pillar to post to avail the benefits. So far, only seven families have received the benefits. One of them is Murshid Bibi’s family.
In April, Bibi’s account was credited with Rs 7,199. But her relatives Hadisa Bibi and Tojila Bibi are yet to receive the benefit. In January, they had spent Rs 1,000 each for opening new accounts after bank officials told them that their old accounts cannot be integrated with Aadhaar. But their hopes have turned into frustration.
*Only scholarship and pension beneficiariesAndhra Pradesh is arguably the only state that was prepared to roll out DBT. It ran a two-year campaign to enroll people under Aadhaar and also experimented with models to implement DBT. In the first phase, the state selected five districts where it had already implemented a state-initiated cash transfer programme for scholarship and pension schemes. According to M V S Rami Reddy, deputy director general of UIDAI, Andhra Pradesh, about 75 million of the 85 million population in the state have been enrolled in the programme as of May 15. More than 58 million cards have been generated. The five first-phase districts have a population of 27.5 million, of which 90 per cent have been enrolled in Aadhaar. Reddy says the postal department is now grappling with the problem of delivering the huge volume of cards.
The state launched Aadhaar-linked scholarship in Hyderabad, Chittoor and East Godavari on May 1 on a pilot basis. And it was a cake walk. The state was already making scholarship payments through bank accounts and had streamlined the process. “We do not see a distinct value-addition in Aadhaar linkage in terms of disbursement, because we had cleaned the data system and almost eliminated duplicates and bogus holders,” says P V Ramesh, principal secretary, finance, and nodal officer for implementing DBT. However, Ramesh says, Aadhaar is certainly one more check. Every year the state government disburses Rs 5,000 crore as scholarship to 2.7 million students. Even before DBT was launched, 80-85 per cent of scholarship holders had seeded their Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts. In East Godavari, the seeding percentage is 90 per cent, says Ramesh.
Yerra Ravi of Rangareddy says he first needs cash to buy gas cylinder (Photo: M Suchitra)Housalla Bhujappa, a security guard in Malkapur village in Rangareddy district, whose two daughters receive scholarships, says there will not be much difference if scholarship is linked to Aadhaar since it is already being disbursed through banks. Pension is the other programme that was brought under DBT on May 1. It was rightly launched in Chittoor district as a pilot project. In Chittoor, post-office linked disbursement of pension through women’s self-help groups (SHGs) was already in place. SHG members are given hand-held devices linked with the bank or post office accounts. The pensioners go to the SHGs and give their thumb impression and get the money. After introduction of DBT all they had to do was link their Aadhaar numbers with the bank accounts.
The state’s real test began on June 1 when it brought subsidies for cooking gas under DBT. It has to cater to 4.6 million cooking gas consumers in the five DBT districts. Though 80 per cent of them are enrolled in Aadhaar, the challenge lies in linking their Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts as well as with the database of gas agencies. As of May, 55 per cent of the consumers had got their Aadhaar numbers seeded with gas companies but only 25 per cent with their bank accounts. Sensing a big trouble the government has extended the the deadline till August.
People are rushing to get their Aadhaar numbers integrated with gas agencies and bank accounts. But they are apprehensive about the new scheme, under which one has to buy cooking gas at unsubsidised rate and the Rs 435 subsidy will be credited to their accounts later. “No one knows how many days the government will take to credit the subsidy in our accounts,” says N D N Kishore, a stationery shop owner in Hyderabad. M Sathyanarayana, an internet cafe owner in the city, prefers the earlier system of getting subsidised cylinders. Both Kishore and Sathyanarayana point out that there is a possibility of the subsidy being capped and prices of cooking gas going up.
Challenges ahead are immense
(Photo: Soumik Mukherjee)UPA’s political leadership has focused all its attention on DBT. The ruling alliance is only a few months away from the general election and its two other big-ticket initiatives—the Right to Food Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill—are uncertain. But the first phase of DBT is unfolding more like a nightmare than a sweet political dream. At the core of the mess are poor banking coverage and lack of foolproof planning before launching the ambitious programme.
DBT aims at reducing the administrative cost of delivering benefits and weeding out siphoning off of benefits (see ‘Kind to cash’, Down To Earth, February 1-15, 2011). It does so by pairing the unique identity number in the Aadhaar card with the bank account of a person. This enables the government to identify the right beneficiary and to send monetised benefits directly to his or her account. The International Monetary Fund has estimated the impact DBT can have in India, and according to it, the combination of cash transfer and the Aadhaar system of identification will reduce wrongful diversion of benefits in welfare programmes by 15 per cent. This can save the government Rs 56,859 crore in 2013-14 which is more than half the rural development budget.
Using the Planning Commission’s data on DBT, Down To Earth (DTE) calculated the current status of the programme’s actual reach in the 43 districts covered in the first phase. The findings are a harsh verdict on its progress. In the past four months, of the estimated 1.6 million beneficiaries of some 25 schemes, only 4 per cent have been able to get benefits in their accounts (see ‘Not so direct’ ). The benefits include mostly old age pension and cash incentives for institutional delivery. In fact, in the five states DTE travelled to not all schemes have been implemented under DBT. This is despite the fact that states like Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have almost two years of experience in direct benefit transfer.
Illustration: Anirban Bora
There are three key reasons for this dismal performance which are also fundamental to a cash transfer programme. They are: low coverage of formal banking system; Aadhaar enrollment not keeping pace with the rolling out of the programme; and significantly low level of pairing of beneficiaries’ accounts with their Aadhaar numbers.
Currently, there is one bank branch for every 12,100 people, making India one of the least covered countries. DBT increases the demand for coverage by several times. The government either has to set up new branches or increase the existing branches’ capacity. Going by the state of banking in rural areas, one rural branch has the capacity to open up not more than 15 accounts in a day. But DBT experience in various states shows that a branch has to manage 70-90 accounts a day. In October 2011, the government made it compulsory for banks to open branches in all habitations with a population of 5,000 or more. There were 3,925 such habitations to be covered. By April 2013, nearly 15 per cent habitations were yet to have a bank. Then, there are not enough ATMs for people to access their money easily. According to RBI’S estimate, the country needs at least 34,668 on-site ATMs but only 1,097 ATMs could be opened till April. This has affected DBT’s outreach because absence of ATMs means the already overburdened banks have to handle the withdrawal transactions as well.
Opening an account under DBT is a little different. For this people require enrolment with Aadhaar. This presents the next obstacle. Only half of the beneficiaries have enrolled with Aadhaar till date and one-third have opened the account. Importantly, there is hardly any visible effort to pair the accounts with the Aadhaar numbers, thus, leaving out 96 per cent of the beneficiaries.
The recently launched cooking gas subsidy transfer also faces this problem, with added intensity. An LPG consumer has to pair his Aadhaar number with not only the bank account but also the service provider. Soon after bringing LPG under DBT, the government celebrated a million transactions by June end. But there are widespread complaints also. Only 20 per cent of the consumers had paired their numbers with accounts, while about 58 per cent paired with service providers. This is despite the fact that the 20 districts where LPG was brought under DBT have more than 90 per cent Aadhaar coverage. Sujata Chaturvedi, deputy director general of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), says, “Some states started late, so they lagged. We want to keep pace but problems like lack of machines, staff and awareness among people came to the fore.” She warns, “The process of seeding of account would be another uphill task.”
On April 29, the Planning Commission convened a meeting to take stock of DBT’s progress. Collectors of all the 121 districts to be covered under the programme from July 1 and other key players attended the meeting. Sources inform that to the shock of Finance Minister P Chidambaram, the banks and district officials blamed each other for the shortcomings, reflecting a sorry state of affairs. Notable was the absence of any representative from the DBT gateway, National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI), which came under severe criticism at the meeting.
It seems nobody wants to take responsibility (see ‘Initial hiccups…’). The Union Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) blames the banks for not expanding their reach. The ministry is implementing a pilot programme of direct cash transfer of wages under the rural employment guarantee programme in five states. It is using the national electronic fund transfer system, the usual money transfer one does electronically using individual account. Since its launch in October 2012 it has transferred Rs 389 crore till the end of May this year. “The value addition under DBT will be when the money is paid at the doorstep. It is only possible if banks recruit business correspondents in every panchayat with micro-ATM,” suggests Rajesh Bhushan, joint secretary of MoRD. But banks informally blame the Aadhaar system and the high administrative cost of the programme that is not adequately compensated. DTE reached out to many banks but none of them agreed to speak on the subject.
Banks also refuse to take responsibility for the identity generated under the Aadhaar number. All banks are supposed to keep a record of their customers’ identity under RBI’s “know your customer” rules. UIDAI has refused to take the responsibility, saying its job is only to create the identification number.
The troubles do not end there. “Many accounts seeded with Aadhaar numbers still do not get direct payment,” points out Vaibhav Galeria, district collector of Ajmer. “There is lack of coordination among different agencies, largely between banks and NPCI.” A P Hota, managing director and CEO of NPCI, blames banks for the glitches. Responding to DTE queries, Hota denies any technical problem at the gateway. “For felicitating DBT, NPCI maintains the Aadhaar Mapper (software that keeps all the subscribers’ data). This Mapper is updated remotely by banks by logging into the NPCI system. If banks do not update the Mapper, the transactions are likely to be returned unprocessed. Therefore, it is necessary that banks update the Mapper on a day-to-day basis.”
The problems are set to multiply as the government rolls out the second phase of DBT with 78 more districts from July 1. In June, it launched transfer of subsidy for cooking gas. In October, the rural employment guarantee programme will be brought under DBT. From 1.6 million beneficiaries at present the programme will cover close to 25 million beneficiaries by July. With coverage of MGNREGA, the number of beneficiaries will jump to 34 million. That the government is nervous is visible. Since April, there have been hectic attempts to salvage the situation, with the Prime Minister’s Office taking direct charge of DBT monitoring.
However, there are pertinent lessons for the government to make the future transfers smooth. The experiences of transferring pension in Andhra Pradesh and transferring wage under the rural employment programme in Rajasthan are instructive. In both the cases, the government embarked on a preparatory stage. This resulted in innovation. In Andhra Pradesh, the pension receivers go to the local self-help group and give thumb impression to a hand-held device for verification to get pension right there. This device is linked to the person’s account in post office or the local bank. In Jharkhand, government simply used the electronic transfer system to give wages. There are merits in these experiments in terms of simplifying the system. But these experiments may not be leakage-proof. Teething problems like delay in benefit transfer and absence of value addition in DBT also need to be addressed innovatively.
But the question that still needs to be asked and answered is whether the country is prepared for this roll-out? If not, will this election initiative backfire on the ruling UPA? Clearly, god is in the details, and the details are missing.
|DBT: Initial hiccups or a mistake in haste?
Different schemes Have different challenges
Till date, the 25 schemes rolled out under DBT are Centrally funded. So it has been easy to send money directly to the beneficiaries’ accounts. But implementing those pension schemes that have state budgets as well is going to be tough. The finance ministry is the key body for such schemes, but it is unable to send money directly to the beneficiary’s account because of varying structures of schemes across states. I believe the scheme will be effective if payment is made at the doorstep. And this can be made possible by recruiting millions of business correspondents of banks in every panchayat with Micro-ATM
Aadhaar Should Have Been Implemented Years Ago
The idea of providing unique identity number should have been implemented 25 years ago. We have registered nearly 300 million people under Aadhaar. It is the duty of the state government to organise camps to enrol its people. Sometimes seasonal problems like floods and festivals slow the enrolment process. I agree that the process of seeding of Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts would be another uphill task
Blame Banks For The Glitches And Non-Cooperation
A P Hota,
There is no technical problem at the National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI). For facilitating DBT, NPCI maintains the Aadhaar Mapper. Banks update this Mapper remotely by logging into the NPCI system. If the banks do not do so, the transactions are likely to be returned unprocessed. Therefore, it is necessary that banks update the Mapper on a day-to-day basis
Seeding Of Accounts Taking Time
There is a delay in enrolments under Aadhaar and seeding of accounts. It is a time-consuming exercise. But the fact is there is a growing acceptance of cash incentives offered through DBT
Don’t replace goods and Services with cash
We are not against the idea of Aadhaar-related cash transfer. Our main concern is replacement of goods and services with cash. Government’s own data shows that DBT has failed to benefit the poor. Pension scheme is good option for cash transfer. Janani Surksha Yojana is successful without technology
Things Will Be Good
Montek Singh Ahluwalia
I agree that there is lack of coordination among different agencies. Even the prime minister is working on it. The glitches and delays are all transitional issues. It will definitely be sorted out in the coming months
Jitendra reported from Rajasthan and Delhi; Aparna Pallavi and Akshay Deshmane from Maharashtra; Alok Gupta from Jharkhand and M Suchitra from Andhra Pradesh
RANCHI: To create awareness among SC/ST and OBC students about ongoing scholarship schemes in all the states, as well the Centre, a website (www.scstscholarships.com) was launched by the Aryan group of colleges in the state.
According to the website’s developers, around Rs 6,500 crore is disbursed annually by the Union government to all the states that gets diverted due to lack of awareness the students.
Dr Anshu Kataria, chairman of the Aryan group, said, “The objective behind launching the website is to make the students know about their rights. Due to lack of understanding about the schemes many students fail to avail the benefits of these scholarships.”
Scholarships are to fund higher studies after Class X. Several of the scholarships come in also for students who want to study abroad.
Kataria said former IPS officer and Team Anna member Kiran Bedi was associated with the Aryan Group of Colleges and she came up with the idea to start this kind of a website that will help students about the schemes.
Anumeha Yadav, The Hindu
Deep inside the Saranda sal forest, Thalkobad lies at the core of what was a CPI (Maoist) “liberated zone” in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district along the Odisha border. Thalkobad, along with 24 other villages, was reclaimed by the Indian state after a massive military operation — Operation Anaconda-I in August 2011 to destroy the CPI (Maoist) Eastern Regional Bureau and several training camps inside Saranda. The village bears scars of conflict — a high machaan used by the then rebel government of the village is intact but the secondary school building the Maoists took cover in to return fire at the CRPF is gone. The rebels blew up the school before escaping.
Saranda is a “laboratory for how to consolidate on security successes,” Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, in a recent interview. Mr. Ramesh launched the Rs. 250-crore Saranda Development Plan (SDP) in 56 villages here in 2011 and has since announced similar plans for rebel-controlled zones in Latehar and Bokaro districts recovered through recent paramilitary operations. Two years on, Saranda villagers are still awaiting schools and health centres, even as mining companies have lined up to invest in the newly secured forests.
In Thalkobad, the adivasi villagers recall the pitched battle that August: most families fled to Karampada 13 km away for a month, 18-year-old Munna Soya and his father were taken by the Central Reserve Police Force in a helicopter to Ranchi on suspicion, detained and beaten in several police camps and later released, 50-year-old Jarda Honhaga was beaten so severely that he died in the hospital. From the 25 villages, 37 persons were arrested, more than 100 were detained.
The CRPF returned six months later bearing sarees, blankets, and farm implements. In the last few months, the villagers have watched the construction of a security camp next to their village, and then a road connecting Karampada to Jaraikela. Some have found temporary work with the road contractor and in MGNREGA. Others fear new mines will be opened in the forest. “If mines open our land will be ruined. The river will have only red water. We are not literate. How many of us will find jobs?” said Binodini Purti who cooked meals at the secondary school that was blown up.
Red area to ‘Lal paani’
Almost all the villages in Saranda struggle for drinking water. The forest is the catchment of three large rivers — Koina, Subarnrekha, and Damodar, and several streams flow through it. But there are 12 large mining companies operating in 200 sq km of this 800 sq km forest which holds one-fourth of India’s iron-ore reserves. The Ho adivasi living in the forest first launched ‘Lal Paani Andolan’ against the pollution of the streams from effluents and surface-run off in 1978 at Noamundi and their resistance has continued. “All 56 villages are in need of potable water. There is a problem of high iron content in the water,” notes the Saranda Plan outline of October 2011.
Thalkobad, Tirilposi, Baliba lie downstream of Steel Authority of India (SAIL)’s crushing plant at Kiriburu where ore is washed and crushed into uniform pieces. At Kiriburu, SAIL’s Rs. 4.23 crore-slime beneficiation machine meant to extract ore from the water that is discharged back into the river does not work. “It has not worked even once since it was inaugurated in 2010. When the inspection teams come, the guesthouses are full and the orchestra comes from Jamshedpur,” says a SAIL official. SAIL’s mines in Saranda accounted for over 80 per cent of its 15 million tonne production last year.
Downstream, villagers dig shallow pits, a few inches deep by the river to collect drinking water. Farms in Thalkobad, Karampada, Navgaon, Bandhgaon, Mirchgada, Bahada, Kalaita, Jumbaiburu have been ruined by the ore-laden water. “I cannot say about the beneficiation plant but the Kiriburu plant is being modernised. The river is polluted because private mining companies wash 200-250 dumpers carrying iron, oil and grease everyday in the river. I check them when I spot them,” said Dilip Bhargava SAIL General Manager (Mines).
More mining leases
Since January, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure headed by the Prime Minister has recommended clearance for opencast mining in Saranda forest in areas that form the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve to three private firms. JSW Steel owned by Sajjan Jindal got lease of 998.7 hectares in Ankua forest division, Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) led by Congressman and industrialist Naveen Jindal got 512 hectares in Ghatkuri forest. The approval of 138.8 hectares forestland in Ghatkuri to Rungta Mines Limited was nearly completed last month. There are 155 proposals on the anvil for leases in 500 sq km — nearly two-thirds of the forest.
On paper, the proposals must first be recommended from the state government. “We have little say in the recommendations,” says a senior forest official. “There are over 600 elephants in Saranda. More mining may disturb their migration intensifying their attacks on villages,” says state Principal Chief Conservator of Forests A.K. Malhotra in Ranchi. A proposal by the department of forest to notify 63199 hectares forest in Saranda as inviolate is pending since 2006.
Ironically, the recent approvals to private firms are riding on the back of clearance given to SAIL in February 2011 to mine iron ore in Chiria in Saranda by Mr. Ramesh. Mr. Ramesh, then Minister of State for Environment and Forests had overturned the Forest Advisory Committee’s decision to grant approval to SAIL citing the Public Sector Unit (PSU)’s “Rs. 18,000 crore IPO on the anvil”. Private mining firms have cited the proximity of Ankua and Ghatkuri to SAIL’s Chiria mines to argue they too be granted permits in the already “broken,” what is no longer pristine, forest. Mr. Ramesh in 2011 said that in Saranda, he was in favour of mining only by the PSU but there was no executive order to back this or grant it legal status.
As the government has issued a slew of mining permits, the Minister in interviews to the media asked for a 10-year moratorium on mining in Saranda. “A gap of 10 years will allow the situation to stabilise, will allow building trust among the locals, and allow time to train and educate local people to take advantage of the economic opportunities that mining throws up but there seems to be a desire on the part of the government to allow mining in Saranda,” said Mr. Ramesh to The Hindu. There has been no public reaction from the UPA to Mr. Ramesh’s suggestion.
No new schools, or health centres
While in Thalkobad where the secondary school building was blown up by Maoists, Surendra Purti, a high school graduate from the village volunteers to teach teenaged children in the primary school building. He is not paid any wages. The teachers stopped coming long back and the nearest high school is in Manoharpur, 45 km away. At Tirilposi, the next village 17 km away, there are 90 school-going children but no building. “CRP sahib broke the roof,” explains village munda Budhram Gudiya.
The SDP’s original outline proposed 10 residential schools. Now, that seems all, but abandoned. “There is a plan to build one ashram school at Manoharpur,” says the recently-posted District Collector Abu Bakr. Mr. Ramesh explained the conceptual change in the SDP as both the interiority of the villages and the fact that “education and health are different ministries.”
The plan lists building 10 Integrated Development Centers (IDCs) — each will have a hospital, besides an anganwadi, ration shop, banks — only one has been completed at Digha this April. To improve health services, a mobile health unit has deputed since last October to visit all villages. “The ambulance visits regularly,” say villagers in Thalkobad. But it has not yet been spotted in Tirilposi though a motorable village road exists. In January an eye-health camp was held by a private hospital. “More than a third of over 1000 villagers had pterygium — a painful inflammation which may lead to blindness — because of exposure to mine dust,” said Dr. Bharti Kashyap.
There is hectic activity in all villages to build new Indira Awas houses. This March as part of the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society’s efforts to provide long-term livelihood security, a team of trainers of Self-Help Groups from Andhra Pradesh visited Saranda. The team stayed 15 days in Thalkobad but no meetings have been held since it left. Villagers say they are unsure what to make of their visitors. “They said “hum se judiye”(join us). That is what the party (Maoists) used to say too, and look what followed,” said Binodini Purti. At Tirilposi, villagers explain it differently. “Most families earn Rs. 60 a day after selling siali leaves in the market in Barsovan in Odisha. What will we save?” asks Budhram Gudiya. Then there are families in debt to pay legal expenses. Guvida Honhaga (60) among those arrested by CRPF got bail last year after his son Bimal, a mine worker, spent Rs. 1,60,000 on legal expenses. “I borrowed Rs. 40,000 each from four people at 20 per cent interest. Now he is required to go Chaibasa court thrice a month and that costs Rs. 900 — a fourth of my salary,” said Bimal Honhaga.
Rubber stamp by gram sabhas
At Manoharpur block office, 40 km away, an official waved a sheet of blank paper with 40 signatures. “This is what the mining firms submit as gram sabha’s consent for mining. They call people to football matches and get them to sign anything,” he says.
Bilarman Kandulna, 25, a political science graduate from a Manoharpur college was elected panchayat representative in Digha in 2010. “Some manki-munda (community leaders) now roam in Scorpio SUVs, but a few boycotted the Electrosteel public hearing for Kudalibad mines last year. Last April, we held demonstrations in the villages. The company then shifted its public hearing in Bahihatu, 20 km away,” says Kandulna. “What is the use of forest pattas when they give mining leases in the same forest?” he asks. Of 812 claims for individual forest rights, 511 were accepted till April, the rest were rejected as they fell in mining lease areas. Though a significant number of community rights — over 1200 — have been granted under SDP.
At Jamkundiya at the house of Laguda Devgam, the manki of 22 villages, there is no Scorpio car, but there are three solar street light poles towering on three sides of his house — the only streetlights in the otherwise non-electrified villages in Saranda. They are inscribed as gifts from Rungta Mines Limited, Usha Martin Industries, and Tata Steel.
At Sonapi, one of the six villages that boycotted the public hearing, there is anger. “If anyone comes to your courtyard, something will be disturbed,” said Mary Barla. “We asked for a written commitment that the company will provide health, education, jobs but they did not do it. Instead they shifted the public hearing site. Now they are back again with blankets.”
Reckless dumping of radioactive waste in Jharkhand is contaminating surface and ground water, putting thousands of locals at risk of developing cancer, according to a report by independent researchers.
The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), a subsidiary of the Department of Atomic Energy, supplies uranium (yellow cake) to nuclear power plants in the country. It mines and processes uranium at seven mines in Jharkhand’s Jaduguda area. According to atomic experts, sludge and waste from uranium mines has to be scientifically disposed of as it contains around 85% radioactive substances.
Scientific disposal means creating pits that are covered, protected, cordoned off and made flood-proof. A tailing pond over an area of 30-40 acres must be created for disposal of sludge. These ponds too have to be cordoned off, made flood-proof and ensure that it prevents overflow. The waste decays to produce radium-226, which in turn produces Radon gas, a very powerful cancer-causing agent. For its three new mines i.e. Turamdih, Banduhurang and Mohuldih Uranium Mine, UCIL has one tailing pond at Talsa village, which fails to prevent sludge overflow and is not even fenced.
PT George, director of research institute Intercultural Resources, and independent writer Tarun Kanti Bose, spent six months studying the effects of uranium mining in the areas around the mines. Their report, Paradise Lost, released recently, states that UCIL’s irresponsible dumping in the vicinity of Jaduguda village (in Purbi Singhbhum district) is extremely worrisome as continued exposure to radiation will lead to increased cases of leukaemia and other blood diseases.
Heaps of uranium mining wastes have been abandoned in Dhodanga, Kerwadungri villages and those around Banduhurang open cast mine, according to the report. “The dumping has been going on for the last five years,” said Ghanshyam Birulee, a 45-year-old resident of Jaduguda village. “Despite complaints to UCIL, it has failed to take any action.”
Their report, Paradise Lost, states that UCIL’s irresponsible dumping in the vicinity of Jaduguda village (in Purbi Singhbhum district) is extremely worrisome as continued exposure to radiation will lead to increased cases of leukaemia and other blood diseases
However, the nuclear regulator Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) said that it has not received any complaint so far on water contamination due to careless dumping of wastes by UCIL.
“AERB periodically inspects UCIL facilities to ensure that the waste management practices are followed and only treated effluent is discharged in Jhuria nallah which eventually meets the Gara River. Sludge generated in the effluent treatment plant is also disposed securely at the tailings pond. According to the site sample collected and analyzed the concentrations of uranium and radium observed in surface and ground water around Jaduguda are well within the specified drinking water limits.”
Activist-journalist Dayamani Barla has won many awards, the latest being the Ellen L Lutz Indigenous Rights Award from Cultural Survival. The first journalist from the Munda tribe in Jharkhand Dayamani wields her pen and leads the struggles of fellow tribals equally powerfully against the machinations of the state and big business.
Moushumi Basu (firstname.lastname@example.org)is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata
The email status message of Dayamani Barla, the tribal activist from Jharkhand always reads, “Ladenge.. Jeetenge…” (We will fight… we will win). Fighting against the establishment’s unjust policies and protecting her fellow tribals from displacement has become second nature for Dayamani. Along with the struggles however, there have also been awards and accolades.
The awards she has won include the Counter Media Award for Rural Journalism, the National Foundation for India Fellowship, and the Chingari Award. The latest is the 2013 Ellen L Lutz Indigenous Rights Award from Cultural Survival, an international non-governmental organization (NGO) in recognition of her pioneering grass root leadership for tribal rights. Cultural Survival works with indigenous peoples across the world to defend their lands, language and culture. Barla was chosen from amongst 60 nominees from across the world.
Described as the “Iron Lady of Jharkhand” for her fearless opposition against the infringement of adivasi rights, she was presented the award, which includes a US $10,000 cash prize, at a ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York on 23 May. The event also coincides with the twelfth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). The award has been instituted in the memory of late Ellen L Lutz (1955-2010), a well-known human rights lawyer and former executive director of Cultural Survival.
“Cultural Survival is honored to present Dayamani Barla, an Indigenous human rights activist and journalist from the Munda tribe in the Indian state of Jharkhand, with the award,” said its Executive Director Suzanne Benally. Barla has been at the forefront of people’s movements against corporate and government-led land grabs and other injustices that threaten the survival, dignity, and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples. “This award is presented in recognition of outstanding human rights work, dedicated leadership for Indigenous Peoples rights, and a deep life commitment to protecting, sustaining, and revitalising indigenous cultures, lands, and languages,” Benally added.
Protecting Every Inch of Land
Her crusade to protect the rights of fellow tribals began from the days of agitation against the Koel Karo hydel power project in the 1990s, near Ranchi, in then undivided Bihar. The proposed dam threatened to submerge nearly 55,000 acres of agricultural land displacing about 2,50,000 indigenous people. Further, 27,000 acres of forests would have met a watery grave alongwith the sarna sasan diri (religious sites) of the tribal communities. The agitation gave birth to a new slogan “We will not part with an inch of our land….” which continues to reverberate in the tribal areas of Jharkhand even today. The proposal of the dam had to be finally shelved by the state government, after nearly eight tribals lost their lives in police firing on 2 February, 2001.
Barla points out:
Koel and Karo are not just rivers for us – they represent our cultural identity forming the basis of our livelihoods. When eight adivasis were martyred on 2 February, we realised that the state whose foundation stone was laid on 15 November 2000 is not actually for us tribals, but simply for the exploitation and plunder of the natural resources of our native state and jeopardisation of our existence….
She took the challenge headlong on behalf of her tribal community, leading several agitations in the state against land grabs. She dared to rise against the world steel giant Arcelor Mittal who had proposed a 12 MT steel plant by taking away about 12,000 acres of land spread across nearly 40 villages in Khunti and Gumla districts of the state. In 2006 she began mobilising the public against such attempts at forcible land acquisition under the banner of the Adivasi Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch (Forum for the Protection of Indigenous People).
“ Loha nahi anaj chahiye!” (“We want grains, not iron!”) was the rallying cry of indigenous communities protesting against this project. “The government says that those getting displaced will be compensated and rehabilitated. But the question is – what will the government and the companies compensate for?” asks Barla. “Can they rehabilitate our pure air, forests, rivers, waterfalls, our language culture, Sarna-Sasan Diri, our identity and our history? No, that is absolutely impossible…for us adivasis land is just not land but the heritage of our ancestors who cleared the forests and made the land worth living and cultivating,” she adds. Finally, the steel baron had to give up his dreams of setting up a steel plant in the tribal state.
Tribal Model of Development
Barla however clarifies that the tribals are not against development but it should be sustainable and not at the cost of uprooting them. “We should also be a part of this development process by getting access to health, education, jobs etc. We want development of our identity and our history— social values, language and culture. We want the polluted rivers to be pollution free. We want wastelands to be turned green…. This is our model of development”, she says.
Recently, the state government was locked in a major anti-displacement struggle against adivasi farmers at Nagri. Barla who was at the forefront of the agitation was jailed from 16 October to 24 December, for taking part in demonstrations with the farmers of Jharkhand. The battle was over 227 acres of fertile land that has sustained the tribals in the region for generations. However, the government had allotted it to the Indian Institute of Management, the Indian Institute of Information Technology and the National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL). Caught in this crossfire were about 128 affected families, who claim to be the lawful owners of the land. They contend that neither they nor their forefathers had agreed to sell their lands and had not accepted the amounts for the deal at that time.
Is This Freedom?
Coming from a family of bonded labourers who had lost their lands in the name of national development, Barla could well identify with their sufferings. Barla argued that the instituions be allotted alternative area for their campuses instead of their fertile paddy land. “If we demand a National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) card, they issue a property warrant. If we demand our land, water, forests, the Jharkhand government says we are a danger to the state. They book us in false cases, by calling us Maoists…. Is this the freedom that leaders like Birsa Munda fought for?” she asks.
Considered as the “Voice of Jharkhand” for her struggles and powerful pen, she is also the first journalist from the Munda tribe. “Barla has charted new waters as an Indigenous woman to ensure the voices and perspectives of Adivasi people are heard by the larger mainstream society,” says her nominator Terry Odendahl, executive director and CEO of Global Greengrants Fund. She funded her education by working as a domestic help. Even today, her source of livelihood is a road side tea and snacks stall “Jharkhand Hotel”, run by her husband Nelson.
For Barla, activism and journalism go hand in hand. “When I visit different villages as a journalist I listen to their issues first. Then they ask for possible solutions to their concerns and in the process, I find myself getting involved in their struggles”, she confesses.
But to be involved with the struggles and stand with the people does not mean that she has to quit writing. “I am an activist as well as a journalist.” However, it has not been easy for her to make forays into mainstream journalism “It has always looked down upon us adivasis as uncivilised, naïve and foolish. It is a stereotype to say that adivasi are stupid. Now we are trying to prove that we are not… ” she says, smiling.
Amidst a clamour for police reforms while the nation focuses on rapes of minors in metro cities, two police officers have been accused of raping minors in two separate incidents in Deoghardistrict of Jharkhand.
In one incident, which took place in Deoghar town on 25 May, two teenage daughters of a policeman were kidnapped, raped and murdered when they were on their way to a friend’s house. The bodies were found a day later. Police officer Sudhir Das, who was accused in the case, was arrested last week.
A police official told Tehelka that the post mortem report confirmed rape but the FIR did not contain a charge of rape but was later amended after public protests were held in Deoghar demanding a proper investigation while the victims’ father, also a policeman, said that the crime was committed by more than one person. Reportedly, he also fears the collusion of other policemen in destroying evidence. The FIR mentions destruction of evidence as a charge.
“The post mortem report revealed that the victim’s hymen was ruptured but did not confirm rape. Though no rape charge was made in the original chargesheet, we have now amended it adding rape under section 376 (b) of the Indian Penal Code after a direction from the inspector general of police,” Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Santhal Parganas, Dadanji Sharma told TEHELKA.
Sharma said that the public outrage and the resultant protests were understandable but the police were probing every conceivable angle. “The accused did not give up any information or tell us about any other persons he acted with or their whereabouts and we have arrested him on the basis of circumstantial evidence. We have started DNA profiling and are using other forensic tools in our investigations,” he added. The accused was remanded to police custody but after interrogation failed to adduce a statement or any fresh evidence, he has been remanded to judicial custody.
This incident has drawn the attention of political parties as well. CPM politburo member Brinda Karat protested along with Deogarh locals for several days. Former Jharkhand chief minister and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) chief Babulal Marandi has announced an indefinite fast from 9 June claiming police inaction.
In the other incident, which was reported a few days earlier, the victim knew the accused. Radhe Shyam Das, the Station House Officer (SHO) of Jarmundi police station in neighbouring Dumka district, surrendered after an FIR was lodged against him. In the FIR, he was accused of raping his minor domestic help.
A local said that the victim was about the age of four when she started working as a domestic help in the accused Das’ house. Das has allegedly been sexually abusing the minor victim since his wife passed away last year.
After the victim filed a complaint, Das went absconding and surrendered on 4 June after he was suspended from service and the Jharkhand Director General of Police (DGP) ordered swift action to apprehend him.
DIG Sharma said that in such cases the matters come to light only when the victim finds courage to complain since it happens in the confines of homes. “The accused police officer was suspended and he went absconding but later surrendered in court,” he added.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2011, 85 crimes against children were reported from Jharkhand. Of these, the rate of accused being chargesheeted was 97.3% in rape cases and 70.8% in cases of kidnapping. Of a total 784 rape cases reported from Jharkhand across all age groups, seven of the victims were in the age bracket of 10-14 years, same as that of the victims in these cases.
May 29, 2013
We strongly condemn the absolutely arbitrary and unprecedented action of the Jharkhand police administration in detaining eight members of a CDRO (Coordination of Democratic Rights Organizations) fact-finding team while they were addressing a press conference in Ranchi. The team had just returned from a fact-finding mission to Chatra, where ten members of the CPI(Maoist) had been supposedly killed in a long gun battle with the TPC, a splinter group actively supported by the state government, in March 2013. However, at that time, there were local media reports that the CPI(Maoist) members had been poisoned and then shot to death in a false encounter. The fact-finding team, consisting of members from PUCL Jharkhand, APDR West Bengal and PUDR Delhi, had gone to investigate the veracity of these reports and the circumstances behind the incident. They were in the process of addressing the press and releasing their report while officials of the Jharkhand police, accompanied by a large number of policemen came and picked them up without providing any explanation.
The audaciousness of the act, committed in presence of the assembled press, clearly shows the scant respect for democracy and democratic procedures which the Jharkhand police has. The members of the team, including a woman, were detained in the Kotwali police station for a long time till they were released late in the evening. The police maintained that they had just been picked up for finding information, although it is unclear what information the former were seeking which could only be obtained by picking them up from the venue of a press conference using a posse of armed policemen. This is clearly a tactic of intimidation by the Jharkhand government to dissuade future fact-finding teams from visiting sites of incidents where the state government, or groups supported by the state government, are complicit in criminal activities. However, it is incredible that such a thing can happen in broad daylight and in open view of the public and press. We unequivocally condemn this blatant attack on the activities of democratic rights organizations and the attempt to muzzle them in order to hide the criminal complicity of the state government in encounter killings and other illegal activities.
A team of activists from Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO), an alliance of 20 human rights advocacy bodies, was detained for questioning at a police station in Ranchi for over three hours on Sunday evening.
The activists said they had visited Jharkhand to do an independent fact-finding into the killing of 10 Maoists by the banned Tritiya Prastuti Committee, a breakaway faction of Maoists, in Kunda panchayat in Chatra district on March 29 this year.
The TPC had allegedly killed 10 Maoists in Lakarmanda village and taken 25 hostage for four days. Eye-witnesses in the village had at the time reported that they seen the TPC hand over the bodies of the Maoists to security personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force, who reached the site the next day but did not attempt to arrest any of the TPC cadre.
“We were talking to journalists at Albert Ekka Chowk in the city when policemen called [us] aside for questioning. [They] insisted we accompany them to the police station,” said Shashi Bhushan Pathak, a Ranchi-based CDRO activist.
Chatra Superintendent of Police Anoop Birtharay said the district police had informed Ranchi police to probe the team after local intelligence inputs from Kunda. “[The activists] spoke to the villagers portraying Maoist leader Laleshji, who was killed by the TPC in the encounter, as a “people’s protector”,” said Mr. Birtharay.
Jharkhand Director-General of Police Rajeev Kumar said his state’s police were on high alert following Saturday’s Maoist attack on a Congress motorcade in Chhattisgarh in which over 27 were killed.
The Big Apple is renowned as the home of investment banks, glitzy fashion shows and other 21st-century tributes to prodigious wealth accumulation. But on Thursday it played host to a powerful symbol of Indian adivasis’ struggle against oppression, Jharkhand activist and journalist Dayamani Barla.
On a rainy and blustering evening in Manhattan, Ms. Barla, who has been described as the “Iron Lady of Jharkhand” for her fearless opposition to the infringement of adivasi rights was presented with the first ever Ellen L. Lutz Indigenous Rights Award by Cultural Survival, an indigenous peoples’ rights organisation.
After an eloquent address at the reception in her honour at New York’s National Museum of the American Indian, Ms. Barla told The Hindu that she doubted whether this international recognition would make a difference to the situation in Jharkhand, but added that those who opposed the adivasis’ struggle to preserve “jal, jungle, jameen” may now have pause to consider why the U.S. had thus honoured their cause.
The self-made scribe, who rose from humble beginnings to become the voice of the Munda tribe and other deprived communities, has reason to worry about the situation back home. In all Ms. Barla is said to have nine cases foisted on her by the government and people associated with the award indicated that she had faced obstacles in leaving Jharkhand for this event in the U.S.
On October 18 last year, she was jailed for two months for demanding job cards for the rural poor in Angada block under the NREGA scheme, a charge that stemmed from a 2006 case against her.
Although she got bail two days later, she was immediately re-arrested in relation to two other cases, where she was accused of disrupting law and order during a protest. Keeping up her journalistic mission, she wrote from her jail cell that the “looters of the state have become well-wishers in the eyes of the government.”
On that occasion Nagri residents and activists stepped up the demand for her release and prominent intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, signed a petition “strongly condemning [her] unjust incarceration… and demand that the false cases against her be dropped and that she be released immediately.”
Terry Odendahl of Global Greengrants Fund, who nominated Ms. Barla for the award, reflected on the Jharkhand police’s attempts to silence her protests when she said, “Dayamani’s jailing was a reminder to civil rights activists across the nation of the unfriendly role the Jharkhand state is taking towards drivers of democratic change.”
Ms. Barla’s determination to keep the forces of India’s modern capitalist machine from eating into adivasi land clearly caught the eye of the award selection committee, which picked her out of a group of nearly 60 nominees.
Alongside her colleagues from the Adivasi Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Manch, Ms. Barla in 2008, succeeded in preventing global steel and mining industry behemoth ArcelorMittal, from proceeding with the establishment of a $8.79 billion steel plant based on the proposed seizure of 12,000 acres of land and the displacement of 40 villages, not to mention the likely ecosystem and indigenous livelihoods damage.
In an article written at the time she was quoted saying, “We will not allow the ArcelorMittal Company to enter into the villages because one cannot be rehabilitated once displaced. The lands which we cultivate belong to our ancestors; therefore we will not leave it.”
Since 2010, she has also led numerous protests in Nagri village, nearly 16 km from Ranchi, against the Jharkhand government’s efforts to acquire over 200 acres of farmland to set up IIM, IIT and National Law School campuses.
On Thursday, a captivated audience of human rights lawyers, academics, and members of indigenous communities from across the world listened as Ms. Barla said that in the span of 12 years, the Jharkhand government had signed 104 MoUs with corporate, 98 per cent of which were mining interests with a strong demand for natural resources in the region.
“If the government gives land for mining to all companies, Jharkhand will lose its environment and the land will become infertile,” Ms. Barla explained, adding that in 10 years, the population of displaced people would increase four-fold, permanently destroying indigenous habitats and livelihoods.