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RTI campaigner uncovers failure of Gujarat govt's welfare schemes for the rural poor

By Our Representative
The right to information (RTI)) helpline, run by Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, recently got a strange query. One Devjibhai asked Pankti Jog, who handles the helpline, that there were four widows in his house, yet no one got any support under the housing scheme. “Did you ask officials in the panchayat has any department whether their forms were rejected, and what reason did they give you?” Jog asked him. After all, the Gujarat government had been giving full page advertisements about its great achievements under housing schemes.
“Yes, I did inquire about it. But I did not get any answer but nobody listens”, Devjibhai replied.
Devjibhai is the not the only person who inquired at the helpline about housing and other welfare schemes. "Those who inquire  generally say that they are dissatisfied with the working of the panchayat department. This is quite contrary to the state government claims about big achievements through programmes like Garib Kalyan mela, housing schemes, Vay Vandana yojana etc.", she says.
"I asked many government officials, who keep calling me on helpline for RTI guidance about what the reality was. Many of them would reply that they work less, but propagate more about their achievements,” she said, adding, "There are of course a few government officials who even deny that people in the rural areas are dissatisfied with the failure of the state government to implement rural development schemes. They even blame rural population for being greedy, wanting to take undue advantage of government schemes."
Jog's perusal into the expenses by the panchayat department during the last financial year, 2012-13, which ended in March 2013, showed that the budget estimate for Sardar Awas yojana was Rs 354.67 crore. When the guidelines were revised, the allocations were increased, and the additional allocation was made taking the total allocation to Rs 743.16 crore. Yet, interestingly, till February 2013, only 13.06 per cent of the target was achieved with an expenditure of 47.35 per cent.
For the housing of Halpatis (a community of agriculture labourers from South Gujarat, who are categorized as scheduled tribes), Rs 35 crore was estimated in the budget. But it remained unspent till February 2013. For land acquisition and infrastructural facilities for rural housing, a budget allocation of Rs 16 crore was earmarked. Of this, 56 per cent of the amount was spent. Other budget heads, like “year-marked for tribal area, purchase of vehicles”, also show an expense below 50 per cent.
Of course, expenses under certain other scheme were quite impressive. These included the Sarvoday yojana, the Panchvati yojana, the Tirthgam yojana and others, some of which showed around 75 per cent of expenditure. The Tirthgam-Pavan Gam yojana aims at providing extra funds for village infrastructure in those villages where no crimes are registered in the past five years. This was revised later to three years in order to increase the number of eligible villages. The scheme talks about “promoting” communal harmony at the village level.
"I tried looking at one of the colourful books, published by the Gujarat government, seeking to propagate the scheme. It shows pictures of temples. I kept searching for any picture of a mosque, or a church, or a dargah in order to at least provide a symbol of harmony between different religions. But I couldn’t find one", she comments in a writeup sent to www.counterview.net.
"Does that mean the villages do not have disputes? Or does it mean the disputes have not been registered? Are the rights of minorities, Dalits, and women being respected in these villages? Or are figures related to human rights violations deliberately not made public to hide real state of affairs? After all, we keep getting complaints from women about their case not being registered in police stations", .she wonders.
"There is Samras yojana, under which if a panchayat is elected unopposed, it can avail of major benefits. Does the government have any mechanism where villagers can record their voice against the pressure that may be exerted to make villages Samaras in order to ensure such benefits? Who monitors violation of rights in these panchayats, anyway?", she asks.
She says, "The Panchavati yojana is like the Vanikaran yojana, for the creation of a recreation park. It talks about how Lord Ram when, during His vanavas, enjoyed dense forests and the diversity of nature. A lumpsum amount is given to the panchayat for this. I wonder whether the officials who are architects of these schemes were asked to use a particular social symbol or personality to name the project. Or, are they aware of Gods or saints from any other religions, in case they wish to link it with particular religious symbols?"
She comments, "I realized that the schemes that have incentives for panchayat are promptly implemented. Be it Samaras yojana, or Panchvati, or Tirth-Gam. This is because the panchayat has interest in implementing them and do a follow-up. Interestingly, there are no clear guidelines about where and how this money should be utilized."
She regrets, "However, schemes offering individual benefits, like Indira Awas yojna, Sardar Awas yojna, widow pension, and so on are simply neglected. There may be several reasons for this. The first reason is, these schemes are from the socially and economically marginalized persons. In implementing these schemes, the panchayats would not get any incentives. The capacity of the communities to follow-up, argue, and register grievances is low."
"After all, it requires a plot of land to be allotted to make a house. Allotment of plots for housing requires proactive efforts by the village, the block or the district administration. There is shortage of land, there are issues of encroachments by big farmers, mining in wasteland, industries demanding wasteland, and so on", she comments. "On the other hand, getting lumpsum amount during felicitations gets huge political mileage and publicity, and the panchayats can then influence village voters, too."
Referring to a few examples in this context, she said, "Bharatbhai Ghughal and Bhanjibhai Jogel are agriculture labourers. They used RTI last year to expose huge corruption in housing schemes. The current rates of bribe go up to Rs 10,000 for a benefit of Rs 45,000. That is around 22 per cent! When they cross-checked, they found that considerable number of beneficiaries were blood relations of sarpanches or other panchayat members. In fact, the beneficiaries’ list had several names getting benefit several times over, and their houses were getting bigger every year, while there were many in the village without any house."

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