Inmates playing cards at the old-age home in Punjab. Gurpreet Singh/HT
Being residents of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s village, they ought to be a privileged lot. However, some villagers are more equal than others.
The plush old-age home, with elders playing cards alongside the lush-green lawns, gives you the impression that all’s well. What shatters the illusion is the fact that the home, run by the Badals under the Ch Devi Lal Trust, is out of bounds for poor elders of the village. Most of the 30-odd inmates belong to surrounding or far-flung villages.
“Eh saara vehra hi gareeban da hai (this is a locality of the poor),” says a village boy while taking the HT team on a round of the village.
Surjit Kaur (62) got a blue card for subsidised wheat and pulses recently. “The card has Badal’s photograph, but we have been told that the ration would come after a few days,” she says. All her money has been spent on buying flour. Surjit Kaur claims she has none left for vegetables.
She has also not received the monthly old-age pension of Rs. 250 since Diwali. To make matters worse, her married son is jobless. However, despite all the despair, she is keen to cast her vote in the January 30 polls.
Another old woman says that not all the poor people are getting subsidised ration or kerosene, “forget about Rs. 45,000 for a pucca dwelling”, since they are victimised by one political party or the other.
An ailing old man says that one would find dozens of poor elders deprived of old-age pension and medical aid in the village.
When asked whether he had given candidates a piece of his mind during the panchayat or assembly elections, he says with a wry smile: “Who would dare to confront the Badals?”
Any difference between Akali and non-Akali Badals? Pat comes the reply, “Saare ikko jehe ne (they are all the same).”
An elderly widow, Murti, whose house collapsed during last year’s monsoon, wonders whether vote seekers would promise to rebuild her abode. With her two sons moving outside the village, she has to fend for herself.
A kariana shop owner in the village says that many people do not have money to buy spices and pulses.
“My business is suffering as most of my customers owe me large sums of money,” says Lal Singh, whose shop is teeming with empty canisters of kerosene.
Jagga Singh and Nirmal Singh, both septuagenarians, have not received old-age pension for the past many months. Nirmal is also awaiting the shagun money of Rs. 15,000, for which he applied during his daughter’s wedding more than a year ago. “I am under debt of nearly Rs. 1 lakh,” he rues.
According to an official of the rural development and panchayat department, all 353 old-age pension beneficiaries of the village have not been paid after August. There are also 112 widow and disability pension beneficiaries who are awaiting payment.
The allotment of 5-marla plots to landless peasants and other poor Scheduled Caste families is another unfulfilled promise of the government, with the village no longer having shamlat land.
About 25 acres of erstwhile panchayati land has been occupied by private educational institutions and sports academies.
In 1998, then Badal government had constructed 60 dwellings of 3.5 marlas each for needy families. Today, several of them are complaining about non-implementation of welfare schemes. Many said they did not even have the blue card for the atta-dal scheme, while others are awaiting old-age pension.