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Paved with Good Intentions but Bad Outcomes

Gold Silver Reports — Paved with Good Intentions but Bad Outcomes — After meandering through the narrow and crowded streets of Varanasi, as you head towards Jayapur and Nagepur, the two villages adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi un der his novel Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY), the pic ture isn’t pretty. The 10-km bumpy ride from the main highway to Jayapur and about the same in the opposite di rection to Nagepur is just a precursor to what lies ahead.

Several big and ostensibly socially responsible business houses had enthusiastically offered to fund the makeovers of these villages. But whether these organisations have done anything truly worthwhile or sustainable is a million dollar question.

Shortly after the PM declared the villages “adopted“, the first task to be taken up was roads. But the first monsoon shower exposed the sub-standard quality of the work done. One has to wade through slush, or hop and jump to cover even a short distance. One can find neatly laid out interlocking tiles but those are limited to the roads leading to homes of the local gram pradhan or other influential persons. “Actually, these interlocking tiles were meant to be laid on other internal roads too, but the agencies entrusted with the task chose the one leading to my residence,“ points out Jayapur gram pradhan Narayan Patel.

“In November 2014, work started on the village roads, and a number of solar lamps were installed together with drinking water schemes,“ explains Patel. “But all that was forgotten as fast as it was initially undertaken.“

A local teacher wonders why the administration had failed to consider the necessity of a boundary wall around the primary school. “Without a boundary, not only is the school prone to infiltration by all and sundry but remains utterly unsafe for the 146 children studying here. That’s because there is quite a lot of traffic on the adjoining main road,“ laments the school’s headmistress.

Ground Realities

Toilets installed in the school campus and at other places in the village under the PM’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan are there only for namesake and far from usable. The fibre structures were raised without any source of water required for flushing or washing. PVC water tanks were dutifully installed next to these toilets. However, not only were the tanks smashed but even the doors to the toilets were broken. The official data shows these school toilets very much in order, together with 400 other similar toilets installed across the two villages. The quality of fibre appears to be very poor and the design is devoid of any source of ventilation or natural light.

The installation of these 3×3 ft toilets might have enhanced the government’s claim of creating “defecationfree“ villages. But the ground reality is spelt out in the observation of a student, Santosh Giri, who told this writer: “These plastic toilets look fragile, and are quite unsafe. You will see that the 6-ft-deep soak-pit for every toilet has been made right under the seat. So, apart from the foul smell that fills up the tiny dark and dingy compartment, the fear is of the whole thing just caving; so most of us still go to the open fields.“

District magistrate Vijay Kiran Anand steers clear of the responsibility of building these toilets. “We were not involved in building these toilets in the PM’s adopted villages. As they have been provided and installed by some corporates under their CSR schemes, we had presumed that the companies would do a good job,“ Anand told this writer. “We built brick and cement toilets under the state government’s Lohia Gram Yojana, and they are being happily used by villagers,“ he claims.

There’s little to write home about the drink ing water schemes in Jayapur, too. Of the two deep boring pumps installed for providing drinking water to the 800-odd homes, one has been “under repair“ for almost a year now. And to make matters worse, the generator installed as a standby to ensure uninterrupted power supply for the pump was stolen. According to the pradhan, the PM’s key representative CR Patil, Lok Sabha BJP member from Nausa ri, Gujarat, was duly informed about the defective pump but no action appears forthcoming even from that end. Patil seems to be washing his hands of the problem. “I got the water supply deep boring done. Now it is up to the villagers to ensure its upkeep,“ he said. About the poor state of the roads, he said: “They run trucks and tractors on the village road, which is not meant to take heavy load.“

Struggle to Survive

Two solar plants with a capacity of 20 KV in each of the villages were set up with a view to meet the basic power needs of all dwelling units. While the Jayapur plant is catering to the local needs without trouble, the one in Nagepur is on the verge of closure due to a dispute between the firm that put up the plant and the owner of the land on which it is installed. Baijnath Maurya, the landowner, claims that the tenant Vijay Pandey, who owns Bhartiya Micro Credit Co, which bagged the contract for installing the plant, was not paying the mutually settled monthly rent of `1,000. Pandey’s representative claimed: “As per the terms of the agreement we were required to pay a rent of `1,000 per year whereas the landowner is demanding the same on a monthly basis.“ Maurya counters: “I will earn more by growing vegetables on this plot of land which is my only property.“

Nagepur has yet another tale of woe -of poverty-stricken weavers. Despite much talk of flagging off a number of welfare schemes in Varanasi, weavers in this tiny village, barely 28 km from the ancient holy city, are struggling to make ends meet. Until not very long ago, nearly each of the 500-odd households in this village depended on handlooms for their daily livelihood.

“Increased prices and absence of easily available loans to procure yarn drove many weavers out of business and today there are barely 75 families left in the traditional source of livelihood,“ shrugs 47-year-old Vishwakarma, lamenting how he had to shut down his handloom on account of financial distress. “I now work as a labourer in the fields to earn about `100 a day.“

Chabile, 61, who had managed to pull along with his handloom, is struggling to survive. With his wife playing the role of helper, Chabile’s is among the 75 households that is somehow eking a living out of weaving saris. “But it is a tough life.To weave a sari, which takes 3-4 days of labour, I require yarn worth about `500. And what it fetches in the market is not more than `1,000.“

The Centre’s Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana has drawn up a 21-parameter scale to give adopted villages the facelift. These included sanitation, solar lights, toilets, upgraded roads, drinking water, and pucca houses, among others. One of the few parameters that seems to have been met is “bank and ATM“. Sure enough, other than smart branch es (with Wi-Fi facility) of a couple of public sec tor banks -with more than a dozen split ACs and a standby high-power generator -there is little that Jayapur and Nagepur can so far showcase as the PM’s “privileged“ villages. — Neal Bhai Reports

Paved with Good Intentions but Bad Outcomes

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