In Ajnala sub-division one must be cautious while approaching the block development and panchayat office (BDPO) for seeking information on funds spent on developmental works in various villages under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. If information leaks out to the cops, you may find yourself behind the bars the Ajnala police station with several cases slapped on you.
All this happens allegedly on the orders of Akali sarpanches and panches of the area, many of whom have been accused of mis-utilisation of government funds.
This is precisely what happened when Jagjit Singh, a member of the Left wing Jamuhri Kisan Sabha filed an application last month under RTI at the office of the Ajnala BDPO, seeking information on the use of development funds in Sarangdev Channa village.
Jagjit Singh was taken into custody by the cops and charged "with creating obstacles in the smooth conduct of developmental works by the village panchayat".
However before the case could be registered, members of the Jamuhri Kisan Sabha reached police station and started a protest dharna, which led to dropping of the charges and release of Jagjit Singh.
"In villages in Ajnala, it is a crime to even raise your voice against corrupt practices that sarpanches of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) are indulging in. In village after village, government funds have been pocketed and when we raise our voice, we are treated as criminals," said Satnam Singh Ajnala, president, Jamuhri Kisan Sabha.
To buttress his point, Satnam Singh took a Hindustan Times team on a tour of Granthgarh village, where a powerful SAD leader runs the show on behalf of his wife, who is the sarpanch. He showed the cracks that had developed in some of the houses, particularly of poor labour class, after water entered their homes during the torrential downpour on September 3-5.
Gurpej Singh, an active member of the Kisan Sabha, showed his dwelling, the walls of which had developed cracks due to the rainwater seeping into the foundations of the walls. Similarly, houses of Roshan Masih and Sohan Masih, both labourers, had also developed cracks.
"All this happened as the SAD leader of our village is hell bent on teaching us a lesson for not supporting his party in the last Lok Sabha polls and for protesting against misuse of funds. The street road has been constructed in such a way that it has blocked the free flow of rainwater, which now enters our homes," said Gurpej, pointing towards the road and poor condition of streets in his village.
Meeting of Akali panches
A powerful group of Akali sarpanches and panches held a meeting at Granthgarh on August 26, where they decided to "gherao" Satnam Singh and his Kisan Sabha members whenever they organise protests against embezzlement of panchayat funds.
On very next day, Satnam Singh was "gheraoed' by SAD supporters in Chak Dogra village when he had gone to protest against the beating-up of his supporter Jagga Singh, who had accused the sarpanch of the village of embezzlement. Instead of booking those responsible for the thrashing, Jagga Singh was booked under section 326 (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
On August 28, a handful of Akali sarpanches held a demonstration outside the Ajnala police station, demanding the arrest of Jagga Singh; however, they backed out after seeing the massive show put up by the Kisan Sabha at the same spot.
"The Akali sarpanches basically got jittery after we started exposing them over the use of panchayat funds. They tried to subdue us with force, but when we retaliated with numbers, they got nervous," said Satnam Singh.
The intervention by chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) and Ajnala MLA Amarpal Singh Boney led to a compromise between the Kisan Sabha and the Akali sarpanches on September 29. As per the compromise the Akali sarpanches have agreed that they would not use force to stop Kisan Sabha members from protesting against corruption.
When we expose corruption, Akali sarpanches accuse us of hampering development and creating obstacles in completion of projects," Satnam Singh Ajnala, president, Jamuhri Kisan Sabha.