Why are the villagers angry here?

Chandasi village is a classic example of absentee administration coupled with an indifferent headman. The village has no PDS, no toilets and a single dangerously present cobbled road. Villagers lost hope long ago; they are now losing patience.

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | January 3, 2013


Few plants sown to show mnarega work.
Few plants sown to show mnarega work.

An unannounced drizzle is normal for this time of the year anywhere else. For Chandasi village of Noorserai block in Nalanda district of Bihar, this would mean a sudden change of appearance. The dusty plains meekly give way to an expanse of swamps. Ankle deep mud never fails to surprise villagers with its unending store of dangers lurking in its pores: thorns, flesh-hungry bolsters, scorpions, reptiles, to name a few.

A cobbled road paved with bricks which begins at the rear of the village and goes right up to the primary health centre, later connecting the village to the main road, retains its identity in that expanse of swamps should that be any consolation to the villagers. For, when it comes to taking it, they prefer risks in the mud to the dangers of the cobbled road. It is so poorly made that it should not have been there, some of them say.

To exacerbate their plight, open drains running right next to houses in the village lost their purpose of carrying filth soon after they were constructed recently. Stagnant for months, the drains now breed mosquitoes and give out stench.

Villagers no wonder are hopeless, angry with the callously indifferent headman and cranky about the utter lack of civic amenities here.   

An indifferent headman
“An epidemic like malaria or dengue can break out anytime. But who cares about our lives?” says Wakeel Prasad, a resident. “Nothing is happening on the ground here. But nobody in the block administration pays attention to our problems. The headman is looting all the money sanctioned by the government and the officers work hand in glove with him,” says Yadunandan Yadav. “What can we do if our representative has no intention of solving our problems? Most of the developmental work takes place on papers while very little is done at the ground level to help the public,” he adds.

Several proactive villagers made complaints to the headman in the past. But these fell on deaf ears. “We made several complaints to the headman about the poor condition of the road. He did nothing. The money allotted for NREGS was spent by the headman a year and half ago. And the pathetic road stands where it always was,” says Chitranjan Prasad, a farmer in Chandasi village.

“Most people in our village are devoid of proper drainage, roads, toilets, etc. The close-by Muzaffarpur village has all of these,” Arvind Yadav, a villager, says. That’s not all. There are other administrative loopholes as well. “We don’t get our share of foodgrains through public distribution system (PDS). But we remain silent; we are tired of complaining,” Viresh Prasad, another villager, says.

Public no-distribution system
PDS is of little use to villagers. They have various complaints against contractors Arvind Paswan and Shakuntala Devi, who have been given licence to distribute rations among the BPL card-holders. “We get our due share of grains after three-four months and if we go to complain, we are threatened,” 80-year-old Bedamia Devi says.

The BPL card-holders are given 35 kg of foodgrains each every month plus three litres of kerosene. But the ground situation here speaks volumes about corruption in the PDS. “I have a BPL card, but I could get foodgrains and kerosene only once in the last 12 months,” Buttu Gope, a villager, says.

People seem to have little faith in the system so they prefer to remain silent to raising voice. Pintoo Yadav, a villager, tells us how when a villager once complained about the irregularities in the PDS to the marketing officer (MO) at the block level, ration supplies to all the villagers was stopped. "We went to demand our due share ration the next month. But we were told by the distributor that someone from the village had complained against him to the MO, so he would need to bribe the officer now. Hence, we were denied the supplies for the month,” Yadav says. “You may go and complain against the distributor, but mind it, it will be at your peril,” he warns.  

Surprisingly, the BPL card-holders have to submit their cards and coupons every month, but they don’t get grains and kerosene of their share on one pretext or another. The authorities at the block level, however, are in a denial mode. “In October and November, the BPL card holders could not get their due share because of unavailability in our stock. But before that, every month foodgrains have been supplied. If any one comes to us with a complaint, we will take action as per law,” says block development officer Tarun Kumar.

Absentee administration
Similarly, no toilets have been constructed yet in Chandasi under the government scheme, despite people both under above poverty line (APL) and BPL categories have filled up the requisite forms long ago. The villagers are more concerned since people in the neighbouring panchayats have begun availing the facility of toilets and have said no open defecation.  

Agriculture, too, is in a poor shape in Chandasi. Farmers here are still glued to age-old techniques, ignorant of developments in the sector. There are yet no signs of organic farming here and no biogas unit has ever been thought of, let alone setting up one. “We hardly get any subsidy on agriculture as no one comes to inform us about the schemes. We talk to the headman but he cares woefully little for us,” says Sidhdheshwar Prasad, a farmer.

People have reams of complaints regarding NREGS too. They complain that the works being done under the scheme are just an eyewash. “It is the best tool for a headman to make money. He can spend Rs 5 lakh in a week but you see the whole village and decide even if Rs 5,000 has been spent on the development,” says Babloo Kumar, a farmer and social activist, in the village.

The headman, Biranchi Yadav, already speaks in the lingo of a seasoned politician as if always responding to critics in a televised debate. When this correspondent confronts him with the villagers’ complaints, he says matter-of-factly, “Those critics are supporters of my opponents. I have won because of my good work and my good work will continue without caring for anything which obstructs development.”

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