Vinod Wamanrao Adhau refused to give in to pressure.
His bosses wanted the 44-year-old patwari in the revenue department employee to shorten the list of beneficiaries under a government scheme, claiming they didn’t have the money to pay them all. Adhau would not. He insisted they were all equally deserving. His steadfastness won him the Manjunath Shanmugham award for moral professional conduct and courage under pressure, given away last week.
Adhau was posted at Gawandgaon village in Maharashtra’s Amravati district, 600 km east of Mumbai, in the heart of Vidarbha, which acquired national notoriety four years ago following the spate of farmer suicides in the region. A defensive state government sanctioned compensation of Rs 1000 per hectare for farmers whose kharif crop had failed.
Adhau was asked to conduct a survey in Gawandgaon to identify farmers deserving of compensation. He went about his task thoroughly. He found that 121 farmers had killed themselves since 2001 in his tehsil alone. He located 523 families in great distress. When all patwaris sent in similar lists, the district authorities realized they would have to shell out much more than they had bargained for. Instead of seeking more funds from Mumbai, they verbally directed all patwaris to trim their lists. Most did, but not Adhau.
“Show me any anomalies in my list and I’ll correct them,” Adhau told the then tehsildar of the region. “Or else give me written instructions to shorten my list.”
Higher authorities tried to reason with Adhau. He would not be moved. “I’m ready to take any punishment, but I will not change the list,” he said. Next thing he knew, he had been transferred to Kadasi, 100 km away, in a far corner of the district.
“No one from among the authorities came to his aid,” said Vijay Kumar Ladole, who runs an NGO in the area. “He was bullied and insulted instead.” But civil society rose up in his defence. The local press made such a fuss that the transfer was revoked within a week.
“I’m happy that, whatever I may have had to go through, my list was not tampered with,” said Adhau. “All the affected farmers of my area got full benefits, unlike in others around, where the patwaris succumbed to playing favourites and deprived many deserving farmers of compensation.”
But with Adhau’s example before them, farmers of Amravati district were not willing to let the other patwaris get away. An RTI application revealed startling facts about how lists had been trimmed, enabling the state government to save Rs 12 crore in Amravati district alone. A massive agitation, led by local MLA Bachu Kadu followed, forcing the government to appoint an enquiry committee to probe the matter.
“I don’t think I did anything great,” Adhau summed up. He became a patwari at age 19, stepping into his father’s shoes, given the job on compassionate grounds after his father died early of cancer. “How could I discriminate between people all of whom were in such dire straits that they were committing suicide all around? I felt some responsibility.”