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Goverment apathy pushes Madhya Pradesh tribals to the edge

Padma Shastri, Hindustan Times  Harsud, Khandwa, October 15, 2013
First Published: 22:18 IST(15/10/2013) | Last Updated: 12:56 IST(16/10/2013)

In Harsud assembly constituency, the list of complaints is long and so is the waiting period to set them right. Government pensions don’t reach on time; welfare packages empower a select few; land pattas await formalisation for more than 20 years… the list is endless.

Last month, the people decided to wait no more. Farmers from 100 villages went to meet the Khandwa district collector to demand compensation for the kharif crop that was destroyed by excessive rains this year. But the initiative began with a glitch. Vijay Shah, the Harsud MLA of the BJP for the past 25 years, who had promised to accompany them, instead left for Delhi “to meet his son”. “We felt betrayed,” said Guman Singh, 62, of Dhavadi village.

Semi-literate and exploited for generations, a sense of hopelessness has set in among small-time farmers such as Singh and tribals, who form nearly 60% of the population of the Harsud assembly constituency. They feel let down by politicians and the rain. Agriculture is their main source of livelihood, but they have no means to irrigate rabi crops; they grow only kharif crops during the monsoons. But when the rains are in excess, they cannot grow kharif crops either, and have to work as daily wagers.

“We trust no one,” said Singh, who struggles to feed eight family members off his eight-acre plot. Neither politicians nor government officials have ever played fair with them.

Anomalies in pension disbursement are another cause for villagers’ anger. In September, a long queue of handicapped and old tribals made their way to the Adim Jati Seva Sahkari Samiti Maryadit, a credit co-operative society, in Roshani village. The Samiti operates pension accounts of 27 gram panchayats from where beneficiaries draw social security, old age & handicapped pension.

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Tribals complain they haven’t received their monthly pension of `275 since March. “The staff said I should bring the sarpanch to the society office if I want to withdraw money,” said Mathura Bai, a Korku tribal of Roshani village. “But the sarpanch died recently, now what do I do?” Khokariya village residents Sitaram and Mangilal had to waste more than three hours to collect the pension for the handicapped. “Officials don’t distribute the government’s money,” they said.

Officials also needle the villagers. “‘What’s the urgency?’ Officials tell me when I press for my pension,” said 70-year-old Dev Karan Yadav of Khedi Mal village. He and his ailing wife, Geeta Bai, haven’t received old-age pension for the past four months.

Asked why pension money had not been distributed, the Samiti  manager Sunil Kashiv said: “We distribute pension when we get it from the government. We got money on July 30, we began distributing from September 21. Beyond this, I can’t say much.” 

Political affiliations also play a role. Last month, the state government had disbursed tin sheets & bamboos for cattle sheds under a welfare scheme. “Only those close to politicians got them,” said Gopal Kalme of Ranai Pass village.

Need unity to fight?

Instances of government apathy abound. Villagers of Khedi village, given residential pattas, have been waiting for formal patta grant letters for around 25 years. The locality resembles a ghetto with no toilets, bathrooms or roadside drains.  “Don’t blame the government. People need to fight unitedly,” said Khedi resident Shyam Singh Solanki.

“Who is to be blamed then,” argued daily wager Sahu Bai. In 2004, her family was displaced as their 20-acre land was acquired for setting up a thermal power project. “We got compensation of `40,000 per acre. But the land we purchased in Khedi is not as fertile.”

Elsewhere, there are water woes. Water is hard to find even 500 feet below the rocky surface in Patjan. Women fetch it from far-off areas. Only 40% of farmers can sow winter (rabi) crops as their farms are situated along the river or nullahs.

 

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