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In Rajasthan’s Chita Mehrat community, Narendra Modi’s schemes on toilets, bank accounts leave an impact on voters

In November 2017, in an attempt to rubbish the Swachh Bharat Mission as 'jumla', the Congress party put up a post on its website and called the national sanitation mission a dangerous lie. It alleged that the government’s focus on the construction of toilets was ‘an intentional effort to divert attention from the fact that many of these toilets generally don’t work’.

As of 19 April 2019, the number of toilets the Swacch Bharat Mission’s website flashes is 9,25,87,682.

 In Rajasthan’s Chita Mehrat community, Narendra Modi’s schemes on toilets, bank accounts leave an impact on voters

People from the Chita Mehrat community in Hathundi, a village in the Ajmer district. Pallavi Rebbapragada

The first street that leads into Hathundi on the hilly edges of Ajmer, has no less than five toilets on it. A girl named Shabnam, who sat outside the chipped wooden door of the first house, told Firstpost that she has spent all her life accompanying her mother into the fields before daybreak and having a clean, accessible, private toilet is something that offers her a sense of relief every single day. Munni, standing beside her, said that the women now have free time to do other things and that the women no longer fall ill often.

Both Shabnam and Munni belong to the Chita Mehrat community that inhabits cities bordering the city of Dargah Sharif, Ajmer. The nearly 4 lakh-strong community is spread across 160 villages in the Ajmer district. Legend has it that the community is a descendant of the Hindu warrior-ruler Prithviraj Chauhan.

The community doesn’t cast a tactical vote to reject the BJP and has a history of going beyond party lines and voting for candidates of its choice. The most popular leader from the Pushkar constituency where these villagers are, was the late Ramzan Khan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Firstpost reached the villages dominated by Chita Mehrat — Rajorsi, Chachiyawas and Hathundi on the edges of Ajmer for a ground-level assessment of some of the key national policies of the Narendra Modi government.

Anand, a Chita Muslim whose father recently went back to Hinduism said that nearly everybody has a bank account in his village in Rajorsi. He said that the Ujjwala Yojana that has replaced wood fire with LPG cylinders and that of the toilets constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission have made the lives of women easier.

“When you ask people about bank accounts or toilets, they will share local implementation errors but the fact that these people now know what these facilities feel like is something that we couldn’t have thought of,” shared Anand, who works as a commercial driver.

“Earlier, MGNREGA wages would be delivered through a channel of local leaders and ‘jamadars’ who would liaise between workers and contractors on a commission basis, and would take their share from the wage labourers. Today, the money comes directly into the bank,” he added.

Eti, an old lady in Chachiyawas, stood holding a walking stick. She said that earlier, the postman would bring her deceased husband’s pension but now the amount is now credited directly to her Jan Dhan account. She, however, complained that her pension was less and wanted the government to increase it.

As of February 2018, 31.20 crore accounts had been opened under the Jan Dhan Yojana with an aggregate deposit balance of Rs 75,572.09 crore. The government quotes colossal figures that often become a subject of scrutiny for the Opposition but on the ground, 'reach' is a reality that seems impossible to invalidate.

The Swachh Bharat Mission incentivises construction of toilets by offering Rs 12,000 in return. While people in the village complain that the Panchayat has delayed funds, the villagers have decent sanitation coverage. Rehman, a resident of Rajorsi, a neighbouring village said that toilets were a thing of luxury before 2014 and barely a couple of people had toilets in their homes.

Iqbal Khan is a local supplier of LPG cylinder who delivers to nearly 350 homes in Rajorsi, Hathundi and Kaklana. Essentially a dealer of ration goods stored in a large warehouse adjacent to his home in Hathundi, Iqbal has been delivering gas cylinders for two years. He shared that the government gives an incentive to Jindal Bharatgas, the agency in Nasirabad that distributes LPG cylinders.

Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana has left a mark in the Chita Mehrat community in Rajasthan's Ajmer district. Pallavi Rebbapragada

Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana has left a mark in the Chita Mehrat community in Rajasthan's Ajmer district. Pallavi Rebbapragada

He says that he is attached to the Ujjwala Yojana because he wants to do social good and help the government execute a policy like this one that’s weaning women away from the smoky choolah. But he feels that the government should also incentivise doorstep delivery of gas stoves instead of only offering incentives to owners of agencies.

Some like Roshan Khan and Daud Khan, residents of Rajorsi, complained about the price of cylinders shooting up from Rs 375 to Rs 900 from which recidivism to firewood ensues. But, an alternative to firewood is now at the disposal of the people who earlier only had wood. The gas agency on Bhilwara road confirmed that the incentive ranges from Rs 50 to Rs 100 per cylinder and that its cylinders are delivered to over 500 homes in Hathundi, Bhilwara, Rajorshi and Kaklana.

These are critical first steps and there are multiple failures of last-mile governance, be it the inefficiency of municipal authorities in supervising construction of toilets or that of Panchayats delaying transfer of funds or keeping Swacch Bharat applications pending for months. Mohammad Hussain, a resident of Hathundi, alleges that close to 400 forms are pending with the Panchayat and senior authorities should investigate this.

When Firstpost questioned the village panchayat on the same, Tej Singh Rawat, Sarpanch from Rajorsi, explained the constraints on the panchayat. “There have been delays in Swachh Bharat funding since one year and the money is expected to come in after the elections. In the last four years, panchayats have overseen large projects,” he said, stating that in a village like Rajorsi with 4,300 voters, payments of around 100 people are yet to reflect in their accounts.

Although people like Shekhawat Khan from Hathundi say that the belt voted for Ramzan Khan of the BJP, Rawat revealed that 70 percent of the voters are pro-Congress but predicts that this time, Modi’s schemes can make a dent in the winning prospects of the Congress.

"Six homes in Rajorsi were built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana,” he said, adding that the poverty alleviation efforts might not be 100 percent successful but the fact that they were made on a large scale won't go unnoticed.

World Bank data from 2018 indicates that while 80 percent of adult Indians have bank accounts, 48 percent of those with accounts didn’t make a single withdrawal or deposit transaction between 2017-2018. Opening bank accounts is the first and critical step towards financial inclusion. But access to formal credit and enabling a large population, primarily poor, to use these accounts is still a challenge.

“We don’t care about BJP or Congress. We want vikas and elimination of poverty from our area,” said Shekhawat.

One of the reasons for the job crisis in the area is the shift of the textile hub from Hathundi to Bhilwara and Vijaynagar during former chief minister Shiv Charan Mathur’s reign. Most people in Hathundi are now into poultry farming or marble mining in the neighbouring area of Sawar. There’s small-scale locomotive production but it isn’t enough to gainfully engage the entire workforce. While people in these villages hold grudges against the panchayat for delaying their funds and are upset over rising LPG prices, they don't list GST or demonetisation as their top concerns.

There's a deep disconnect between the issues that come to define the political narrative in rally rhetoric and Twitter rants and the concerns of the common people who reside in villages and tehsils that have never known facilities that urban India has been long used to.

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Updated Date: Apr 22, 2019 21:28:42 IST