The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Parched tribals find their voice

Bhopal, June 17: Ganesh Lal, a tribal from Bilawa village of Madhya Pradesh, came armed with facts to show the injustice being done to them.

He said the authorities had sanctioned Rs 2,45,000 to build a pond in the village, one of several in the state reeling under a drought and resultant starvation and cattle-deaths.

Of the amount, Rs 1,35,000 was released to be distributed among labourers — Rs 60,000 in cash and the remainder in 150 quintals of grain.

Though the villagers never got any part of the money or 50 quintals of the grain sanctioned, the authorities’ valuation report showed the work was completed — for Rs 93,172 only.

This was just one instance of several gross inconsistencies in relief work being carried out in the drought-hit villages of Sheopur, Shivpuri, Dhindori, Mandala and Betul districts.

Lal’s story — as also those of Habu Patel of Mohra, Kunwar Pal of Dehde and several others — came out at a jan sunwai (public hearing), being organised across the state by non-governmental organisations.

The programme is supplemented by others for the destitute, the orphaned, children and pregnant women.

The hearings have encouraged tribals to come out and demand the assistance of the government and accountability of its officials.

Encouraging participatory democracy and political education, the hearings were at first opposed by sarpanches and local politicians, according to the NGOs Sahariya Jan Vikas Andolan, Ekta Parishad and PRAYAS.

Forty local leaders got together in Shivpuri to scuttle one such hearing. Some of them urged the district collector to prevent a likely “class war” they alleged the organisers were instigating.

The government, however, has been encouraging. Even chief minister Digvijay Singh has been inclined to attend the public hearings. He has urged district collectors to attend such programmes and follow them up with action-taken reports.

At a recent public hearing in Pohri, a tehsil and block headquarters in Shivpuri, over 1,000 tribal villagers turned up at Adarsh Higher Secondary School against the expected 300. Dalits and Other Backward Classes, too, joined in.

Kunwar Pal of Dehde, within the panchayat of Doba, said Rs 2,50,000 was sanctioned and 250 quintals wheat released from the godown to build a pond. But only 120 quintals were distributed.

Though records showed Rs 40,000 was given away, the villagers, Pal said, had not received a paise.

Habu Patel of Mohra had a similar tale to tell. Of the Rs 30,000 and 150 quintals wheat shown to be distributed, only 50 quintals were given away in the six days the work went on. No cash was given out.

At a hearing organised by NGO Sambhav and people’s forums Jan Shakti Dal and Jalbiradari, several other villagers told their tales of gross discrepancies in relief work and rampant irregularities at panchayat and block levels.

Encouraged by the hearings, the primitive Baiga tribe of Dhindori mustered enough courage to present a charter of demands to the authorities.

They not only listed the attacks on their culture and the obstacles the panchayats were facing in implementing development projects in the “forest villages”, but also emphasised their critical food security after three successive years of drought.

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