The withering, unharvested crops that line the hurriedly-built kaccha sadak (unpaved road) in Kolawal Raipur is a testimony to everything that is wrong with the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in Uttar Pradesh.
Constructed by the pradhan and her family under the guise of an MGNREGA project, using funds from the scheme’s account, the road connects the house of the pradhan to the main road, cutting through the fields of a dozen farmers.
The farmers, who were not paid a dime for the acquisition, have threatened to commit mass suicide if they are not compensated for the destroyed crop.
“This land is everything to us. We have managed to hang on just because of it. If this is the way it is snatched away from us, in the name of a government scheme, we don’t want to live to see it,” said Ram Milan, one of the farmers whose land has been grabbed.
In any other case the threat of suicide would not be taken seriously, but this is not a region where one can ignore it.
In the past year, hundreds of farmers in Bundelkhand have committed suicide because of indebtedness or starvation. A region that has become synonymous with drought and farmer suicides, Bundelkhand has failed to get out of the vicious circle of poverty despite the implementation of the MGNREGA and the multi-crore Bundelkhand package.
In this infamous region, this small village of a population of 1,200 people, everything seems to lie in despair.
Of the last five years, four have seen severe drought. 2011 was better in terms of rainfall but for the farmers of Kolawal Raipur even that didn't bring any luck.
Every farmer that this reporter met is under the burden of debt. Credit cards from cooperative banks may have made lending easier, but repaying the loan is a lot tougher.
"This land is all we have. The crop was better this year and we may have been able to pay off some debt but the pradhan and her family has driven us to suicide," said Baddu, 57, another farmer who owns 2 bighas of land, out of which a sizeable area has been occupied by the illegal road.
An enquiry launched by the project director, ministry of rural development, Uttar Pradesh, has found that the allegations made by the farmers are correct."The road is illegal and the fund withdrawn in its name will have to be refunded. The pradhan and her family have passed off old wells for newly-built ones and toilets that exist on paper don’t exist in reality. MGNREGS has been thoroughly misused in this village," said SC Rai.
But Rai makes it clear that no compensation will be paid.
“There is no provision for compensation for what has been done by private parties. The farmers should take their land back and start working,” he said. But going back to the grind is not as simple as that.
"These villagers are already in debt. They have no money to buy fertilizers or seed. How will they get back to work?" said Raja Bhaiya, member of Vidya Dham Samiti, an NGO that works with the farmers in Bundelkhand, UP.
This is a part of one of a three-part series on the misuse of MGNREGS in Uttar Pradesh. The series uses one small village as a case study to explore the number of ways in which the scheme has been misused.