Six Punjab panchayat bodies recipients of national awards for 'progressive and visionary practices' are a vision of filthy mud tracks for roads, caste based segregation for facilities like night shelters and cremation grounds and lack of primary health care centres. Each of these six villages received 5 lakh cash prize from the union ministry of rural development under its Panchayat Empowerment and Accountability Incentive Scheme.
Haranampura, Ludhiana -Alarming sex ratio
For a village that won trophy for progressive and visionary practices third year in a row, Harnampura is short of proper roads, sewerage, sanitation, and a statue of the man it is known by - Shaheed Major Bhupinder Singh, hero of the 1965 war with Pakistan.
Most of its roads are broken, while heaps of animal dung; choked, open drains; and unsanitary conditions greet you everywhere. Solar-powered lights and trees planted at the entrance and other places are some positive signs.
Another rare thing about this village near Sahnewal in Ludhiana district is its speed-limit signs. "Hauli Chalo" (go slow), passing drivers can't miss reading. Dehlon block development and panchayat officer Rupinderjit Kaur said people's satisfaction was a big criterion for the award. "The panchayat maintains proper record of its working and its members inspect the school and public departments regularly."
The house of Shaheed Major Bhupinder Singh tells the story of Harnampura. (Js Grewal/HT)
"In the 100-mark survey, we had the highest score," said sarpanch Bhupinder Kaur. Liberal marking, say many villagers. Most of the internal roads (made of bricks) were laid more than 40 years ago. The village ponds are unclean and close to the tube-well and tanks from where drinking water is supplied to homes. Congress grass, an obnoxious weed, grows widely here.
Villager Mohinder Singh Chahal, 77, said that in the absence of sewerage and a way to deal with animal dung, Harnampur was littered with filth.
Ajmer Singh, a member of the panchayat, alleged that he was neither invited to its meetings nor given details of the grants used. It is the ancestral village of Shaheed Major Bhupinder Singh, whose family has moved abroad. Its government senior secondary school has private teachers for Classes 11 and 12.
The village has no bank, ATM, post office, government dispensary, or veterinary hospital. Its cremation grounds are caste-segregated. Villager Prempal Singh said a statue of the martyr major would have helped motivate the youth, "but we have no support from the panchayat". Elected third time, Bhupinder Kaur has succeeded her husband as sarpanch.
Harigarh, Sangrur - caste segregation is common
This panchayat near Barnala, adjudged among top six in Punjab for progressive practices, struggles with the generations-old issues of bad roads, unsanitary conditions, caste differences, and poor healthcare facilities.
Harigarh's sarpanch, Malkiat Singh, said "we got this award for starting a new practice of growing ornamental plants and our successful efforts to combine five caste-segregated cremation grounds into one". But the 200-year-old settlement on the Barnala-Sangrur highway is much like any other village in the state - a picture of abject poverty and neglect. Its claims of ending caste discrimination seem hollow, as there remain separate night shelters for Majhabi Sikhs and members of the Scheduled Castes.
The "single" cremation ground is without a boundary wall. Paved streets and covered drains are rare, and mud tracks that masquerade as roads are filthy, dunglittered, and uneven. Not one road will clear the Prime Minister's cleanliness parameter.
There's a long, muddy road to cross before Harigarh makes some real progress. (Bharat Bhushan/HT)
Drains are choked with waste tossed out of homes. "This is the harvesting season," explains the sarpanch. In the name of drinking-water facilities, the grain market has only one pump. "The place doesn't require a shed," claimed the sarpanch, who has studied up to Class 5 and takes pride in the fact that the panchayat has made a separate night shelter for members of the Scheduled Castes.
There's no civil dispensary but he doesn't talk about that. Manjit Singh, who is in charge of the veterinary dispensary, said the facility received a sufficient supply of medicines from the senior veterinary officer in Barnala. "But we are not equipped to deal with emergency cases," he said. The four Anganwadi centres of the village include one for the children of reserved categories. Together these centres care for only 15 toddlers. The village anganwadi in-charge, Paramjeet Kaur, said: "We go from house to house, telling parents to send their children to us, but they don't listen. Our lone helper is unpaid for two months."
The village government high school had not enough teachers for 350 students, confirmed principal Bikar Singh. "The village park and play area are still works in progress," said sarpanch Malkiat Singh, "Construction has stopped because of the harvest season, as finding labour is difficult."
Adampura, Bathinda - would trade their award for water
Adampura is more thirsty for water than hungry for recognition. Shortage of canal water and abundance of 'roori' (animal dung) are the banes of this "model" last village of Bathinda district.
Connected to the Barnala road via a 3-kilometre link to Salabatpura village, and lying 16 kilometres from Bhagta Bhai, Adampura has won two national prizes, yet it lacks water for both irrigation and drinking. "We are at the tail end of a water channel.
We drink stored groundwater purified by an RO (reverse osmosis) system," said a former sarpanch.
Heaps of dung lie on both sides of the village streets, even at the entrance of its high school. Sarpanch Gurdeep Singh says he tried to solve the issue. "We hired JCB machines to lift this animal waste, but the owners of the land across the road dumped more waste on it."
"Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar (for being national pride) and Panchayat Sashaktikaran Puraskar (for empowerment) came our way on National Panchayat Day on April 24. We were the only gram sabha from Punjab to win the former award, while the latter went to six villages," said the sarpanch.
"We won the latter award for development works and cleanliness campaign in the Dalit colonies, besides sewage disposal and installing an RO system each at the government primary and high school. We renovated the Scheduled Caste Dharmshala of the village in our first year of office,"
A view of Adampura Village in Bathinda district. (Sanjeev Kumar/HT)
The Adampura gram sabha also audits panchayat's accounts and plans, in two meetings in a year. Its open sewerage system is connected to a pond outside the village. To prevent overflow, there's a channel leading to a nearby drain. Of 15 acres of the total panchayat land, 13 that is agricultural is given on annual lease. The cremation ground is common for all castes and the inner streets of the village are paved with brick, with a few coated with gravel and tar.
Talwandi Sanghera, Jalandhar - The World Bank's pet
Located 42 kilometres from district headquarters Jalandhar, Talwandi Sanghera is favourite of not just the Union government but also international aid agencies such as World Bank. Its seven-member panchayat elected a woman, Darshan Kaur, as sarpanch unanimously in 2013. The village has a sewage treatment plant (STP) built with `1.42-crore grant from World Bank; and it uses treated wastewater for agriculture. Nearly 120 of its 300 houses have received underground sewerage and water-supply connections under another World Bank project worth `38 lakh.
Residents of the village Talwandi Sanghera on the out skirts of Nakodar,Jalandhar (Pardeep Pandit/HT)
With the support of and other villagers and her husband, Dhanna Singh, a block samiti member, the sarpanch (48) led the cleanliness drive on 20 abandoned acres and gave the land away on yearly contract to add to the panchayat's income. All village families except five have toilet in house.
In terms of government-provided facilities, Talwandi Sanghera has a middle school, a subsidiary health centre, and a dispensary. Six months ago, a team came from Delhi to inspect the panchayat record. It appreciated the panchayat for ensuring the participation of all villagers in decisions about projects. "We have the minutes of each meeting, besides the figures on the use of grant and income generated," said Darshan Kaur.
The biggest progressive decision, she says, is that the panchayat has asked all villagers to use one cremation ground, even though some families don't want to let go of their rigid customs. "We are going to pass a resolution to shift the only liquor shop from village," said the sarpanch. The village has mostly Jat Sikhs, Brahmins, and Majhabi Sikhs.
Dhana Singh (56), husband of the sarpanch, said that the village had won it war against drugs and saved a number of its young people. "Yes, our school remains short of teachers but we have asked the deputy commissioner, district education officer, and ministers concerned to solve the problem," he said.
Tamkot, Manasa - Residents worry progress halt
Tamkot, a village about 5 kilometres from Mansa and better known for its district jail, will not be prisoner to female foeticide and drug abuse, though its residents accuse the administration and the police of trying to arrest general progress and development.
The village help groups, including a nine-woman team, are fighting rural Punjab's war on these social evils. Lest Tamkot forgets, it has written the mission slogans on its walls, one of which at the under-construction Suvidha Centre even carries the details of all the funds received in the past five years.
Sarpanch Ranjeet Singh gives away the secret of why Tamkot won the national award. The village, he says, is divided into nine wards, with a member responsible for the administration of each. "Our achievement," he adds, "is in maintaining the rate of vaccination, quality of the midday meal served in schools, and the intensity of the awareness programmes."
The panchayat is at work to make Tamkot first village in the district to have an electric crematorium. Ranjeet Singh is a rare communist sarpanch (he is from the CPI-ML) you'll find in Punjab who has no complaint against the state's Akali-BJP ruling alliance. "I face no problem in receiving funds from the state government," he explains, even though the villagers claimed that the Akali workers and the district administration did pose a lot of resistance to him in this first term of his. National recognition, they say, doesn't redress their grievances.
While its panchayat builds a crematorium, Tamkot is worried that progress will die. (HT PHOTO)
"The panchayat hasn't much source of income left after the police grabbed more than half its land for their station," said a villager. Of the 32 acres, the cops took about 17. You'd expect a progressive village to have good primary health centre. There is none. "You won't find even a veterinary doctor," said Jagtar Singh, an aged farmer.
The village's reverse osmosis (RO) water-purification plant is closed for the past six months and no official has come over to check. "Why blame the district administration when even our MP, Harsimrat Kaur Badal (chief minister's daughter-in-law and Union minister), has not visited us after the Lok Sabha elections," said villager Darshan Singh.
The sarpanch said the prize money received recently would go into development work.
Bahadurpur, Rupnagar - Dairy farmer's village amongst the cream
Bahadurpur, a village by the Sutlej river, looks more like a modern, developed town with concrete inner roads, underground sewerage and drainage system.
Open drains, so typical of Punjab villages, are not seen here. "The credit goes to the villagers, who together planned to build the underground sewerage and rainwater disposal system in 2009, and themselves completed the work in ten months without any government assistance," said Dilbar Singh, man behind the initiative.
In the process, the villagers devised a new way of treating sewage. It is put in three ponds dug up on the Shamlat land that have eucalyptus trees planted around to treat the waste naturally. The villagers plan to build a sewagetreatment plant with `5 lakh national award money. The gram panchayat has been winning elections unanimously for the last many terms.
"Bahadurpur and Maddomajra have a common panchayat. The secret to our progress, peace, and harmony is that we have no factionalism," said sarpanch Prem Singh.
A modern road, evidence that something concrete has been done in Bahadurpur. (HT PHOTO)
At Bahadurpur, dairy farming has been the main profession for many generations. The villagers have small land holdings and many are taxi operators in Delhi. Some have also gone abroad and Dilbar Singh leads the band of progressive dairy farmers. He keeps 150 hybrid milch cows that give him an average daily yield of around 10-quintal milk. His two biogas plants fuel the entire village free of cost. The cow dung that goes into running it is also used for making manure. He has opened seven outlets for dairy products.
The government primary school of the village has only a few students, so the government is about to close it. The villagers want to develop a parking lot in its place. The nearest government dispensary (a subsidiary health centre) is at Laudimajra, and the village needs its own facility. The government has plans to develop it promote rural tourism because of its natural rural heritage and picturesque environs of the Sutlej.
Bahadurpur shares its cremation ground with several villages and the tourism development will require the facility to be moved. Potable drinking water to houses has come under a World Bank scheme and people pay regular users charges for it.
(Inputs by Harshraj Singh, Gagandeep Singh Gill, Sondeep Singh Sandhu, Jatinder Kohli, Mohammad Ghazali, Bahadurjeet Singh)