Development projects vs lack of toilets: Contrast between Modi-adopted villages in Varanasi, Dalit village in Mirzapur

There's a striking difference between the villages of Jayapur and Nagepur in Varanasi district, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi adopted under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY), and the Dalit-dominated Tedhwa village in Mirzapur district in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

After Modi adopted Jayapur and Nagepur for a year each, the villages saw a spurt of unprecedented activity. Infrastructure development received a fillip; solar power stations were established; pipes were laid out for water to reach villagers at their homes; and a large number of toilets and 'pucca' homes were constructed.

In contrast, Tedhwa remains the quintessential Indian village of the 1950s, with 'kachcha' mud huts and broken-down front doors. It boasts of no pucca road and no pipelines for water. Although toilets have been built under the Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan, the majority remain incomplete projects and unused. Since this village owns little land, most villagers here belonging to the Bind caste work as daily labourers in the nearby towns of Mirzapur and Bhadohi.

Jayapur was the first village to be adopted, in November 2014, under the SAGY flagship scheme. In the initial days, the 4,500 villagers of Jayapur were euphoric, believing that their lives would transform rapidly as they had come under the focus of none other than the prime minister himself.

Village sarpanch Narayan Patel, a staunch BJP loyalist, said, "We now boast of our own bank, water pipelines and two solar plants of 25 kilowatts each, which provide us electricity between 6 pm and 6 am. A khadi weaving facility has also been set up to provide the women in the village training and employment."

"Initially, bureaucrats were monitoring the projects in our village, but the construction work was being carried out under the tutelage of CR Patil, an influential Gujarati MP from Navsari, who is known to be very close to the prime minister. The villagers were not consulted, nor were our needs ascertained. Since everything was being built at break-neck speed, quality suffered," Patel pointed out.

"The results are there for everyone to see. Eighty percent of the toilets are unusable. Their plastic doors have developed holes, and the roads have developed huge potholes," he added.

 Development projects vs lack of toilets: Contrast between Modi-adopted villages in Varanasi, Dalit village in Mirzapur

Narendra Modi at an event in 2014, announcing that he was adopting Jayapur village under the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. Twitter/Narendra Modi

In 2015, district authorities took the laudable step of installing 135 solar-powered streetlights in Jayapur. Unfortunately, 80 of these solar batteries have been stolen. The sarpanch lodged a complaint with the police and took the matter up to the highest authorities, but he claimed no action has been taken against the culprits, so far.

Moreover, the makeover in Nagepur, the second village that Modi adopted under SAGY, was also impressive, with the emphasis on developing infrastructure. But the villagers, including Sarpanch Parasnath Rajbhar, were more cautious as they did not want the mistakes made in Jayapur repeated.

Rajbhar had refused to accede to the MP's demand to certify the quality of the 153 fibre toilets that had been installed at his behest, insisting that the work being done in his village had completely bypassed the local official machinery and elected officials.

Nagepur is a village primarily of weavers, while Jayapur has a vibrant farming community.

A local activist, Nandlal 'Master', who works with NGO Lok Kalyan, pointed out: "Instead of opening a weaving centre in Jayapur, it should have been opened in our village (Nagepur) as this would have helped increase work opportunities for our weavers and their wives. But our demand went unheeded."

Shyam Sunder 'Master', who is the sarpanch's brother, said, "We had demanded a middle and higher secondary school as we only have a primary school. The nearest higher secondary schools are Bhairav Nath Inter College and Kisan Inter College, both located 7 to 8 kilometres from our village. The distance forces a large number of our children, especially girls, to drop out. We also asked for a health centre and made a representation before Minister of State for Health Anupriya Patel, who promised to set up a hospital, but nothing has happened so far."

Other demands, such as establishing a post office, a veterinary hospital and a barat ghar, also went unheeded.

What surprised villagers here is that the funds for these projects came from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds of multinational companies, not from Modi’s Members of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD)Scheme fund as they had presumed, believing that schemes implemented with funds from the latter allows for more checks and balances.

Nandlal added, "Anil Aggarwal's Vedanta constructed a Nand Ghar, which is a model anganwadi centre in Nagepur. The children were given educational tools to play with and computers for skill development. The day SAGY was shifted to Kakrahia, a village known for its wrestlers and wrestling arenas, all the learning tools given to our children and furniture, such as chairs and tables, were moved out from here."

The most interesting example of how CSR works is the way a JCB arrived in Nagepur, after the SAGY focus was shifted to Kakrahi, and dismantled the solar plant that had been set up on lease on a farmer’s land.

"The entire operation was completed in a matter of a few hours, and the farmer who had leased out his land for the solar plant came to know about it much later," Nandlal claimed.

He also expressed concern over how Coca Cola was one of the companies involved in the CSR work, pointing out how 18 village councils in this Mehdiganj area of Varanasi district have been fighting acute water shortage since 1999 when a Coca Cola plant began its operations.

"Farmers of Nagepur have been at the forefront of this agitation. The Central Pollution Control Board had ordered the plant to be shut down in 2015, but Coca Cola took the matter to the National Green Tribunal and got a stay. Since there is no transparency in the working of the SAGY, we don't know where the funding comes from," he asserted.

While the makeover is evident in these two Modi-adopted villages, Tedhwa’s only claim to fame is that 15 of its children, who were working as bonded labourers in the carpet industry nearly two decades ago, were rescued by the Centre for Rural Education and Development Action (CREDA) under a labour ministry scheme and then rehabilitated. These 15 boys all went on to become graduates and post graduates and now work in and around the village.

Arun Kumar, one of the boys rescued by CREDA, pursued BA and B.Ed. A 25-year-old  now, he teaches at a village school called Eternal Grace Junior, run by Christian missionaries.

Deepak Kumar, also rescued by CREDA, pursued higher studies and teaches at the same school. Both earn Rs 1,200 per month.

The village also has a primary government school with five teachers on its payroll. These teachers receive a salary of Rs 45,000 per month, but lack of supervision has created a situation where actual teaching is lacking.

"Ours is a largely Dalit village that voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the last Lok Sabha election," said Arun Kumar. "Since we have little political clout, no one has bothered to look at us. We did request Anupriya Patel to set up a health centre in our village, but our request went ignored."

He believes that Jayapur and Nagepur were selected for SAGY because both villages have large number of BJP and Patel supporters. But regardless of what factors played a role in the decision, women suffer the most in Tedhwa, with no employment opportunities, living below poverty level.

A group of women in Tedhwa admitted that they had received a gas cylinder and stove under the Ujjwala scheme, but they were in no position to get them refilled.

Middle-aged Guddi Devi said, "We received the initial amounts to construct a latrine but could not complete it because of lack of money."

Supati Devi highlighted, "Not one of us has a pucca house. We don't have water pipelines either."

The only concession for the women is the 12 hours of electricity, albeit largely erratic.

While villagers in Jayapur and Nagepur openly admit they will cast their vote in favour of Modi, those in Tedhwa are equally vociferous in pledging their support to Rajendra Bind, the BSP candidate fielded by the alliance with the Samajwadi Party. The villagers here want a more inclusive developmental model where their needs are addressed under their supervision.

Updated Date: Mar 30, 2019 22:57:13 IST