Bengal: Jangalmahal's Poor Tribal Villages Excluded From PMAY En Masse
Women repair a mud house in the tribal village of Habra in Bankura district, West Bengal.
Bankura: One by one, tribal villages in the Jangalmahal area of Sarenga block under Bankura district, West Bengal, have been arbitrarily excluded from the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme. The people of this tribal inhabited area say they may be dead on government records.
"We did not get any proper response from the block administration and local panchayat as to why we were denied concrete houses under the PMAY," said Shibaram Murmu and Marshal Mandi with a painful expression. The allegations emerged from two Santhal tribal-dominated villages of Bhalukchira and Habra in Sarenga block, which have been excluded from the PMAY. Around 40 families live in Bhalukchira and 38 in Habra; they all belong to the Santhal community. No family has a concrete house in these villages. According to the PMAY scheme, those who live in kacca mud houses will be brought under this scheme and provided with pucca houses. The beneficiaries get Rs 1 lakh 48 thousand rupees for building brick houses. The amount may not be enough to build a brick house, but it is a substantial amount for the poor people living in dilapidated houses.
Murshal Mandi, an inhabitant of Bhalukchira, was sitting outside his broken house. He told NewsClick, "My family members eat lunch and dinner in this broken house, and at night I take my two sons, wife, and old-aged parents to sleep a little far away at a neighbour's house. Not only that, but when my sister Rinamala Mandi comes here from her in-law's house, she also has to sleep at someone else's home. Residents of the house where we go also have no place to stay comfortably, what will they do?"
Murshal Mandi sits in front of his dilapidated house in Bhalukchira village. (Photo by Madhu Sudan Chatterjee)
The neighbour who houses Mandi’s family said, "If we do not provide some shelter during the night, Murshal Mandi and his whole family will probably be killed by the broken wall the next day."
A similar condition is faced by Shraboni and Thakurmoni Murmu who live in a damaged mud house. A wall in their home has a four-feet long crack; because of that, storms and rain batter the inside of the house without hindrance, and they have nowhere else to take shelter.
Shrabani and Thakurmoni Murmu out side of their broken mud house at Bhalukchira.
It would seem that the name of the Bhalukchira village is not in the government record. But notably, Bhalukchira, under the Goyalbari Panchayat, is the constituency of the Gram Panchayat Pradhan or chief Milan Mallo. Ruing the village's plight, Mandi concluded, "Through the attitude of the panchayat and the government departments, we gather that we are dead in the eyes of the State."
While the tribal families are suffering, there is no official explanation for why they were excluded from PMAY, which is meant for economically weaker sections and lower-income groups of the country. However, rampant corruption and anomalies in the PMAY beneficiaries lists have been reported in the state, with fingers often pointing at the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Since 2007, when the Left Front government was in power, the Maoists had set up an armed camp in the Bhalukbasa jungle of Goyaltore Panchayat in West Medinipurm which is adjoining Bhalukchira and Habra.
On September 9, 2009, local youth leader Baneswar Murmu and popular teacher Ramdas Murmu were brutally murdered by Maoist activists at Habra. The entire Bengal was shocked to see the scene of their murder.
Malati Murmu, widow of Baneswar Murmu who was killed by Maoists, sits at her hut in Habra.
The villagers say they did not surrender to the Maoists and fought for their lives without fear. However, their courageous attitude was not recognised. Instead, they alleged, some of those who went to the forest to give the Maoists food and weapons have now become leaders of the ruling party and have even been elected Panchayat officials.
Late Baneswar Murmu’s widow Malati Murmu was also excluded from the PMAY list. She said, "Several times they took pictures of my broken house, but the concrete house has not been built to date."
Kanai Soren, a resident of Bhalukchira, said, "When the house survey was being done everywhere, we thought it might happen here too. Later, we learned that our names were excluded when the survey was conducted in 2018. Why was an entire village excluded from the government housing project like this? The Panchayat Pradhan (chief of the Goyalbari Panchayat) was elected from here, and he knows that there is not even a single concrete or brick house. Not only that, there is no provision for drinking water!”
Kanai Soren further said that the Panchayat had set up a project to draw drinking water by solar power in the village. Several lakhs of rupees were spent within six months. However, that was wasted, he claimed, as no water is still available from that project.
Inactive drinking water solar project at Bhalukchira.
"There is not a single tubewell which is in working condition. We fetch drinking water from a submersible pump," said Lakshimani and Swarnalata Soren of Bhalukchira.
These villages are also relatively inaccessible. To reach Bhalukchira village from Amjhor, one has to take a dense jungle road. It is in a dangerous condition, and there is no MGNREGA work being done. A similar situation prevails in Habra village.
The jungle path used to reach Bhalukchira and Habra.
Malati Mandi and Runkini Murmu from Habra said there is also no available drinking water source. "We have to fetch water from Kesiya village at Goyaltore block. Here we have a solar project to collect water, but it does not work. Some village people buy drinking water for Rs 300 per year from a submersible pump owner," Runkini Murmu said.
Runkini Murmu added that the school mid-day meal is also cooked in well water. "Our children are forced to drink well water. Not a single person here has also been included in the PMAY scheme," she said, explaining the village's difficult situation.
Runkini Murmu (on the left) at Habra.
Fine Alam, Sarenga BDO, told NewsClick that he knew about the PMAY matter but had nothing he could do. He said he might take action when a government order allows for new enrollment in the housing scheme. He added, "I do not know when that order will come or if it will come at all."
The Panchayat and block administration still have no answer regarding on what basis the 2018 survey was carried out or why the tribal villages were left out of the scheme.
The writer covers the Bankura region for Ganshakti newspaper in West Bengal.
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