#Odisha – In Malkangiri, losing the fight for hearts and minds #Tribalrights


May 15, 2013

Niranjan Patnaik

Last month, 65 representatives of panchayati raj institutions in Malkangiri, Odisha, resigned en masse protesting against the apathy of the State government. All Adivasis, their principal demands have been the extension of an irrigation canal, road repair, and the supply of drinking water to villages. They had been making representations to the State Government and meeting officials but to no avail. Even after they resigned, Bhubaneswar has hardly taken note of the grave constitutional and governance crisis this has caused. What would the reaction have been had this happened in say Jammu and Kashmir?

Tackling Naxals

Panchayat raj institutions are integral to our constitutional edifice. No minister or bureaucrat from Bhubaneswar has decided to visit the district to establish an interface with the elected adivasi leaders. What can be more insensitive?

In early 2009, the Central Government decided on a significant initiative to deal with rising Maoist violence. Here, the deployment of Central forces was increased and States given support to add to their capability in coping with Maoist violence. The expectation was that a grid pattern of deployment of Central forces, supported by special forces with deep penetration capability, would facilitate developmental and governance initiatives. Affected districts were provided assistance under the Integrated Action Plan (IAP), which was one more method of gap-funding after the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRFG). Besides, the districts were given additional funds under various Centrally-sponsored schemes. The strategy has worked wherever State governments have been able to benefit from Central assistance. Where the State administration is disinterested, the Central effort has yielded limited benefits.

Neither money nor security forces individually or together can win the hearts and minds of people, if money remains unspent and all that people see are large numbers of heavily armed personnel. This is precisely what happened to Malkangiri four years later. The State Government has been unable to create capacity or improve governance. Development schemes can hardly be implemented. Ministers and bureaucrats are unwilling to visit the district to personally take charge, review implementation or assuage the frustration of the Adivasis. There is a case for a rethink on our strategy to deal with what the Prime Minister has termed the biggest internal security threat to India.

Underutilised funds

During a recent visit to Malkangiri I met the Adivasi leaders. They were simple and straightforward in talking about the issues that affected them and expressed a great sense of helplessness at having been cheated by the government. They no longer trust it. Ironically, Malkangiri is among the top three Naxal-affected districts of the country with 60 per cent Adivasis and 81 per cent people below poverty line. The district gets generous funds under Central schemes as well as under BRGF and IAP yet fares poorly on all development indicators besides reporting extremely poor utilisation of Central funds. Malkangiri’s misery is being perpetuated by the insensitivity, inaction and neglect of a callous State government. Unfortunately, civil society has little time for the Adivasis. Innocent children are dying of diseases, youth are unemployed, women are vulnerable, farmers do not have access to irrigation and there is an atmosphere of bedlam and unprecedented institutional decay.

Poor infrastructure

Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the district has received Rs.35.39 crore till February this year, but only Rs.14.78 crore has been spent. Out of the 3,024 units sanctioned under the Indira Awaas Yojana housing scheme, about 30 houses have been built. Under the IAP, the district has received Rs.85 crore out of which Rs.30 crore remains unspent. Malkangiri has as many as 36 health centres apart from the district headquarters hospital. But they remain non-functional as at least 40 posts of doctors, including specialists, are vacant against the sanctioned strength of 87.

Roads are in bad shape and people have been repeatedly blocking them to voice their anger, but to no avail. Road projects worth Rs.460 crore, of the Public Works Department, and Rs.630 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) are yet to take off. Only 35 per cent of the funds under PMGSY have been used. Ironically, the Chief Minister holds the Works portfolio, which is supposed to maintain all major roads and look after the Water Resources department. Political executives from Bhubaneswar hardly ever visit the district. When they do, they never spend a night even at the fortified district headquarters. When Ministers, secretaries and bureaucrats are unwilling to visit the district and senior police officers move around in helicopters provided by the Central Government for security reasons, we cannot blame the district officials for their unwillingness to visit the interiors, particularly after the kidnapping of two Collectors from the Bastar region. The State Government has failed to build a bridge across the Gurupriya river that separates the cut-off areas from the mainland of Malkangiri district. The cut-off areas are essentially the eight gram panchayats of Kudumulugumma block separated from the mainland district by the Balimela reservoir constructed in 1977. The dam project separated some 33,400 people in 151 villages from the Odisha mainland though they are connected on the other side to Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh.

Rights violations

In 2001, the Collector and Superintendent of Police “ran away” from the district. On the Chief Minister’s request, the Central Government sent four battalions of Central forces as well as a helicopter. Money has also been provided for the modernisation of the police force. The State Government meets the entire expenditure on fighting Naxalites under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme of the Central Government. To this, the Central Government has now sanctioned two engineer battalions to attend to road work in areas where contractors are not taking up work. Instead of providing security cover, the security forces have become the only government agency present or visible. There are repeated allegations of human rights violations. This when the purpose of security cover was to implement development work and sort out governance issues.

The Centre has poured in funds and deployed huge numbers of security personnel. But, what does one do if the State administration fails to implement and tackle governance issues? What if Ministers and bureaucrats do not carry out routine reviews and inspections? Since the kidnapping of Collector Vineel Krishna, governance has more or less collapsed. No development has taken place, fuelling the current crisis that has forced elected Adivasi leaders to resign.

The Adivasis are simple people, who have for long tolerated the highhandedness of the administrators and the police. Now, they have been left to face armed Maoists.

To me, this is a grave constitutional crisis and all efforts must be made to restore grass-roots democracy here.

(Niranjan Patnaik is president of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee.)

Panchayati raj representatives in the Naxal-affected district have resigned

en masse to protest the apathy to their development needs, but the Odisha government remains unmoved

 

In Narendra Modi’s good-governance regime, four villagers expose mega housing scam using #RTI


Vinita Deshmukh | 21/09/2012 02:54 PM | Moneylife

Four villagers who tenaciously used RTI are presently on a satyagraha in front of the Rajkot district collectorate demanding action against corrupt officials in the Indira Awaas Yojana but no one, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, is listening

While Narendra Modi’s Gujarat is portrayed as a sterling example of good governance, brazen corruption in the premier housing scheme, Indira Awaas Yojana meant for those below poverty line (BPL) has not led to action against corrupt officials who have been diverting housing funds meant for the poorest of the poor to the ‘rich’ and ‘influential’ of the village, as exposed through RTI (Right to Information).

The Indira Awaas Yojana scheme is run by the Union rural development ministry to construct houses for people below poverty line. The financial assistance comprises Rs75,000 allotted to a woman or in the joint name of husband and wife. It is also extended to widows and war widows. It was the plight of a poor widow of Dhank village in Rajkot district that led to the corruption trail through incriminating evidence found through a series of RTI applications filed in the last two years, but the corrupt continue to be protected.

To protest against inaction by the state government, four villagers of Dhank in Rajkot district where the scam was exposed, Bharatbhai Ghughal, Bhanjibhai Jogel Naranbhai Varagiya and Govind Gangera are on satyagraha for the past one week in front of the Rajkot Collector’s office, to demand proper action against officers responsible for corruption in Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY). These officers, which include block development officers, assistant engineers and sarpanchs diverted funds to the rich and influential of the village for renovation of their houses. In some cases, the very same ‘rich’ and ‘influential’ people were also beneficiaries of another similar state government-run scheme, Sardar Patel Awaas Yojana (SPAY). As per rules, only villagers below poverty line can avail of one of the two schemes.

The endless power of citizen empowerment through RTI is reflected in this particular case, two villagers of Dhank who studied up to Std VII—Bharatbhai Ghughal and Bhanjibhai Jogel—tirelessly pursued the RTI route for two long years and blew the lid off a mega housing scam that is allegedly prevalent in most villages of Gujarat. Their frustration at corrupt officials not being punished despite incriminating evidence they exposed forcing the State Information Commission to direct vigilance commission to take action, has forced them to sit on satyagraha in front of the Rajkot Collector’s office.

In a press statement issued by the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) which has guided these two villagers to crusade through RTI, Ghughal and Jogel have stated that, “We are agriculture labourers. Through RTI we came to know about the scam. We have approached the vigilance commission, as well as panchayat, rural housing department but no action is being taken against the officers who were responsible for this corruption. We were threatened by village sarpanch and panchayat officials but we are fighting for the cause to change the system. It’s almost a year but government has not taken any action against the responsible officers.” The press release has appealed to citizens and activists, nationwide to contact Bhanjibhai Jogel, Bharatbhai Ghughal on 09974573036 for moral support and send emails requesting action on the corrupt to RM Patel, Additional Chief Secretary, Panchayat and Rural Housing Dept (GOG)

secprh@gujarat.gov.in, commi-prh@gujarat.gov.in; D Rajgopalan, Chief Information Commissioner – Gujarat gscic@gujarat.gov.in ; Rajendar Kumar, District Collector Rajkot collector-raj@gujarat.gov.in and/or N B Upadhyay, District Development Officer, ddo-raj@gujarat.gov.in.

Jogel and Ghughal filed RTI applications at the Gram Panchayat office in 2010 requesting names of the beneficiaries in Dhank village for the IAY and SPAY schemes for the last five years. When the sarpanch came to know of this, he along with his men beat the duo. In fact, he threatened to kill them by burning their houses in the night—a statement which he made in front of the District Development Officer (DDO) who was unmoved by it. Refusing to cow down, they took the help of Pankti Jog, a RTI activist working for MAGP which also has a whistleblowers’ helpline, based in Ahmedabad. She filed a police complaint and also ensured police protection to them.

When the PIO did not reply, they filed the first appeal with the first appellate authority, that is, the District Development Office of Rajkot district. During the hearing, the PIO submitted a hand-written chit with six names of beneficiaries who received allotment out of the rules. Jogel and Ghughal refused this shabby information and demanded a certified copy of the list of beneficiaries and whether they belonged to the BPL section of the society. Says Pankti Jog, “finally multiple RTI applications were filed to procure the same information and finally they received the list. The information stated that there were 65 beneficiaries in the last five years out of which 22 of them belonged to the affluent class and had received multiple benefits, meaning they received money two to three times under the two housing schemes and had renovated their houses with it.”

Jogel and Ghughal then analysed the sheet, re-worked it in an excel sheet format and with red marks defining irregularities. They then sent it to the Vigilance Commission for suitable action against the illegal beneficiaries. Says Pankti Jog, “The Vigilance Commission was initially slow in its action but in March 2011 directed the principal secretary of the panchayat department to conduct and inquiry and submit its report to the commission. The panchayat department sought details from the District Rural Development Authority (DRDA) by conducting investigation on ground. The two RTI applicants helped the authorities in identifying homes and the DRDA conducted a panchnama and collected testimonials which proved that 22 affluent households had indeed siphoned the money meant for the poorest of the poor.

Manu Moudgil, who has done a case study on this issue states that the villagers bravely used the RTI after the conventional methods of procuring failed. He writes, “it was in 2010 that Gughal and Jogal observed that well-to-do people owning large properties were getting the houses meant for below poverty line persons. They, joined by four others, decided to raise the issue first through official representations. Their first step was to file a joint complaint to the Taluka (Tehsil) Development Officer (TDO) on 30 March 2010, seeking an inquiry into the matter. Getting no response from the administration, they armed themselves with knowledge about the RTI Act, which they had heard was bringing about transparency in governance.”

Despite incriminating evidence found against the seven officers including the sarpanch of the village Dhank which has a population 7,000 odd, neither the Panchayat Department nor the Vigilance Commission is taking action against them. States Pankti Jog, “corruption in these housing schemes’ disbursal of money runs in crores of rupees across Gujarat but the Narendra Modi government seems hesitant to take action.” The reason why these poor villagers have had to resort to satyagraha.

(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet – The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart – Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at vinitapune@gmail.com.)

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