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Underdogs take on ‘bully’ MLAs

Ranchi, Feb. 2: If this is the season of film sequels, rural Jharkhand can play out a real-life Peepli Live 2, continuing the drama of the humble hand pump.

When the state government stands, MLAs are kings, bureaucrats favoured courtiers and elected panchayat leaders silent puppets or so goes the politically incorrect but popular power hierarchy.

But when the Assembly dissolves in dissent — which happens often enough in Jharkhand — panchayat leaders find voice and pen to question this power equation.

Taking umbrage at “ill-treatment” meted out to them, zilla parishad heads across the state are choosing the tenure of President’s Rule as the apt time to vent their ire against MLAs through pointed letters addressed to the Panchayati Raj department.

The sore point — MLAs who usurped elected rural leaders’ powers to dole out hand pumps in their respective command areas.

The inside story of power politics in Jharkhand’s hinterland echoes film-maker Anusha Rizvi’s satire on the power equation in the imaginary village of Peepli where a minister orders his minion to give poor farmer Natha a hand pump to keep him from committing suicide.

As in the film, so in real life, “insecure” MLAs have always wanted to consolidate rural votebanks by giving out hand pumps.

But to take sole credit, they have also torn up hand pump beneficiary lists drawn up by zilla parishad heads, making a mockery of Jharkhand Panchayat Raj Act, 2001, and the 73rd amendment of the Constitution that vest absolute powers in gram sabhas to select the persons for the largesse.

Ask Sushma Devi, Garhwa zilla parishad chairperson, who says: “The power is only on paper.” None of the development plans forwarded by gram sabhas was approved at zilla parishad board meetings, she added.

On January 22, four days into President’s Rule, Sushma wrote to the department of Panchayati Raj, asking if under present circumstances, MLAs should be allowed to attend board meetings.

What goes on in the meetings?

“Hand pump installation lists submitted by gram sabhas were routinely cancelled,” Sushma said.

Her Deoghar counterpart Kiran Devi elaborates.

“Along with selected members of zilla parishad, the MLA of the respective area also attends the meeting. Bureaucrats attend to the MLA as if we are invisible. Any gram sabha proposal gets summarily rejected. Only those of the MLA are approved,” Kiran said.

MLAs in Garhwa, Deoghar, Gumla and even Ranchi follow the same practice of giving hand pumps to their favoured people in their chosen areas.

Now that President’s Rule is here, fuming rural leaders are making their displeasure seen and heard. Many are seeking guidance from Panchayati Raj department on whether MLAs should be allowed to attend board meetings since the Assembly isn’t functioning.

Panchayati Raj department secretary Rajiv Arun Ekka confirmed to The Telegraph that he has been receiving a steady flow of such letters. “We need to seek legal advice. We will write to the Governors’ advisors and seek directions,” he said.

Let’s hope that happens before the next Assembly.

“This is intolerable. The people that the MLAs try to benefit don’t represent the underprivileged. We want this monopoly to end,” fumes Kiran.

She and her peers know their time is short. Till the next Assembly.


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