Made to pay for welfare schemes, a Bundelkhand village protests against years of corrupt administration

Bhadehdu village in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh has been riddled with drastic levels of corruption for the past several years, and residents insist that they see no respite in the near future either. Bhadehdu locals finally took matters into their own hands, when after having staged protests and dharnas, they decided to send a detailed memorandum of an almost-decade long complaints’ list to the local magistrate earlier this month. In this complaint, they clearly accuse the village pradhan as well as the secretary of embezzling funds meant for developmental and welfare activities in the village. Both the pradhan and the secretary have denied all allegations against them, vehemently.

The protests, we learn, were the result of a long, deafening silence on the part of the authorities to the villagers’ innumerable RTI enquiries – all of which were filed when government records available on the official websites, revealed to the villagers, that certain developmental works in Bhadehdu that had been marked ‘complete’, payment box checked, had actually not even been initiated in their village.

The chunk of the gaps and allegations are centred on the celebrated Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana Gramin (PMAY-G), though other policies have seen funds embezzlement too. According to Bhadehdu’s residents, they have even been made to pay to avail the benefits of government welfare schemes, which are meant to be free. Kalli told us about being made to pay 10,000 rupees for a house under the PMAY-G, the construction of which was then abandoned midway. “Not only am I left with no house”, she says, “but I have no hope of seeing my money ever again.”

The PMAY-G, which subsumed the erstwhile Indira Awaas Yojana when it was launched by the Modi government in 2016, is a means to provide financial assistance for the construction of houses for the homeless and for those living in dilapidated houses. Under the scheme, a beneficiary is to be given financial assistance ranging from 1.2 lakh to 1.3 lakh rupees depending on the topography of the area, and they are also entitled to 90 days of unskilled labour. There is also an option of getting a loan of up to 70,000 rupees facilitated by the government. But, as is the case with most government schemes, these remain hollow promises that only exist on paper. As Rajadadu, standing in front of his half-constructed “awaas”, said to us, “I took a loan of 70,000 rupees, but have only received 60,000 rupees so far. They also promised to send the labour soon but no one has come.”

Besides housing, there is the matter of roads and pavements – those fantasies built in concrete, as far as swathes of rural Bundelkhand is concerned – which were, again, promised and the money for it was collected too. “We have been made to pay for the pavements not just once, but up to three times. But no work has begun with respect to any of the pavements till today – we are yet to see even the semblance of a pavement. These are the kind of people who only work on bribes, and that is the only way of getting any work done from them,” says Ramdeen Mahant, another resident of Bhadehdu, spewing frustration.

Prabhu Chandra Patel, leading the protests, has been the prime mover and shaker of the Bhadehdu corruption-expose. Mincing no words, he said, “Everything is done on the basis of a bribe – be it construction of houses, toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, or any other supposedly pro-poor scheme. On top of that, the pradhan and the secretary fooled illiterate and uneducated people into signing fake documents which they used to siphon funds out of the village, and into their own pockets.”

Bhadehdu’s pradhan Ram Murat Patel, who was only reachable over the phone, denied all allegations unequivocally and squarely blamed gaon politics for what he has termed unnecessary furore. “This is just Prabhu Chandra Patel’s idea of revenge, because his wife lost to me in the village pradhan elections of 2010,” he said, and continued, somewhat enigmatically, “Even if I have failed in doing any good, I am not someone who can cause harm to my fellow villagers intentionally.”

In light of the villagers’ complaint to the magistrate, and some media attention, a team has since been constituted by the regional Lokayukta to investigate Bhadehdu’s collective complaints. There appears to be a hitch though – the team is comprised of the same people who were appointed and sent by the Lokayukta last year to investigate the same issues.

A disgruntled Devendra Kumar Patel brands it all completely pointless, “When these people had already given a clean chit last year, what is the point of making the same people conduct the investigation again? They are obviously not going to be fair and unbiased this time around either.”

Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.

Updated Date: Oct 25, 2018 16:29:24 IST