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Bengal: Promise for PMAY Housing Unfulfilled Even After Loss of Children's Lives

Three months have passed, and the families of the three children who tragically died in a wall collapse accident on September 30 in Bankura district last year have not received the promised government project houses.
Three months have passed, and the families of the three children who tragically died in a wall collapse accident on September 30 in Bankura district last year have not received the promised government project houses.

Three months ago, without allowing any time for mourning the deceased children, the family members were  flown to Delhi by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and a dharna (agitation) was stage against the BJP-led Central government.

However, till now, the families of the three children who tragically died on September 30 last year after a wall collapsed and crushed them in Baramara village of Bankadaha Grampanchayat under Bishnupur Block, Bankura, Bengal, have not received the promised government  houses.

From the ruling Trinamool Congress's second supremo, Abhishek Banerjee, to Party MP Santanu Sen, several Members of the Legislative Assembly of the ruling party, panchayat officials at various levels, district administration officials, including District Magistrate Siyat N, and even BJP MP of Bishnupur Soumitra Khan, all promised to provide homes and suitable jobs to these families. None of these promises has been fulfilled.

Acquiring these houses is not an act of kindness. Three years ago, most of the 32 families in Baramara village were enrolled in the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) list. However, these beneficiaries did not receive homes. The families of the three deceased children were also named in the list. The families in this village have been spending their days in dilapidated houses. The condition of the houses had deteriorated to such an extent that three children lost their lives, highlighting the harsh living conditions of marginalised poor labourer families belonging to the scheduled caste. People in this village say that this tragic death has left no impact on both the central and state governments. The TMC and BJP leaders and activists from the ruling parties visited the village on that fateful day, making many promises for political gains.

What Happened That Day in Baramara Village of Bishnupur?

Baramara village is in the Bishnupur Block of Jangalmahal Bankura District, 140 km from the western edge of Kolkata. 32 families live in the village, all belonging to the scheduled caste. They make a living as farm labourers and nearby potato cold storage workers.

On September 30, 2023, Rohan Sardar (5), Angkus Sardar (3), and Nisha Sardar (3) were playing near Bhakto Sardar's house. The wall of Bhakto Sardar's house was in poor condition, almost dilapidated. Following incessant rain since September 29, the condition of the walls worsened, causing the wall to come down with a crashing sound, burying the three children. Villagers rushed them to Bishnupur super-speciality hospital, where doctors declared them dead on arrival.

Nikhil Sardar, a resident of the village, recalled in an anguished voice, "Three children from our village died in front of our eyes, and we could not do anything."

He emphasised that Bhakto Sardar's name had been on the PMAY list for three years. Nisha is Bhakto Sardar's granddaughter, and the deceased Angkus and Rohan's fathers, Chandi and Joydeb Sardar, were also enlisted in this housing scheme.

Despite informing the panchayat several times, they did not receive the promised house.

Nisha Sardar's mother, Puja Sardar, said, "If we had a concrete house, we would not have witnessed these blood-stained corpses of three children."

Several villagers of Baramara stated that for three years, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) work has stopped, and they have not received wages for the work they did. Each family has Rs 8,000-10,000 left unpaid in wages.

An elderly woman, Yomuna Sardar, said, "We have repeatedly deputed to Bankadaho Gram Panchayat to demand the clearance of our due wages, start 100 days of work, and fulfil the PMAY housing scheme immediately, but it is yet to be resolved. We have heard that we will get a government house as a priority, but we do not know when we will get it. Are our houses in a livable condition? We have been excluded from priority consideration."

People of Baramara village alleged that last year in May when they went to give a deputation to the Panchayat, TMC goons attacked them in front of the police.

Sukanto Sau, Madhu Sardar, and several people from Baramara village stated that at the moment when this accident happened, local Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) workers carried the unconscious children, rushing them to Bishnupur hospital with the villagers, providing all kinds of help.

Mangal Sardar, a resident of the village, alleged, "Within an hour, TMC local and district leaders, elected members, and several activists surrounded the village. No one else was allowed to speak to the family members of the three dead children, and even the people of the village were not allowed to talk."

Bishnupur BJP MP Soumitra Khan arrived at the scene with central security forces. People of this village alleged that he also started "playing politics" with the dead bodies.

The MP highlighted the state government corruption in the PMAY project and just stood there for 10 minutes before leaving, promising to build houses for the families of the dead children.

Haradhan Sardar told this reporter, "We were not in a mental state to hear these things, and a sound of lamenting villagers is heard throughout the area; this political discussion was unbearable to us in this situation."

The next day, October 1, the district administration handed over Rs 3 lakh as compensation to each family of the three dead children and informed them on the spot with sympathy that concrete houses for the families of the three dead children would be built soon. Besides, those whose names are on the PMAY list will also be given houses, and the administration will arrange suitable work.

On Sunday noon, MP Santanu Sen, Bankura Zilla Parishad Sabhadhipati (Chief of District Panchayat elected body) Anusuya Ray, along with hundreds of TMC leaders and activists, came and allegedly pressured the family members of the three dead children to go to Delhi for agitation. They explained that the Central government has stopped funding this project, and their protest is against the union government.

"We asked earlier about the delay in the housing scheme; then the Panchayat Pradhan of Bankadaha and other TMC leaders did not mention the central role in not releasing this fund. Why are you talking about these things today?"

Villagers wanted more information from Sen and other leaders. They did not respond. Surprisingly, even high officials of the district administration remained silent. The fact is that, unable to bear the pressure of the ruling party in the presence of the then Subdivisional Officer of Bishnupur Anup Dutta and Block Development Officer Satadal Dutta, the fathers of the three deceased children, Joydeb, Prasanta, and Chandi Sardar, were forced to accompany TMC activists to Delhi on October 1.

On that day, before boarding the plane to Delhi, TMC All India General Secretary and MP Abhishek Banerjee told reporters at Dum Dum airport that the family members of the dead children met him and told him to go to Delhi. The clear statement of several inhabitants of Baramara village that, in this painful situation, the deceased family members went to Kolkata with a normal mind to meet the TMC leader to participate in the political programme is not believable. They were allegedly taken by force just for politics.

"We were not able to stay in normal condition in Delhi; our children's blood-smeared bodies were floating in front of our eyes," Joydeb Sardar and Chandi Sardar stated with tears.

A few days ago, when we went to the Baramara village, the painful scene came to light. Rohan Sardar's grandfather, the elderly Tirtho Sardar, is making brooms. It is a source of income for their family. His father, Joydeb Sardar, works as a labourer in a local potato cold storage, now getting a job one day a week. The same situation applies to Angkus's father, Chandi, and Nisha's father, Prasanto Sardar.

 Deceased Rohan’ Sardar's grandfather Tirtha Sardar making broom in their courtyard while his grandmother Pratima is cooking

 Deceased Rohan’ Sardar's grandfather Tirtha Sardar making broom in their courtyard while his grandmother Pratima is cooking.

They firmly stated that after returning from Delhi, none of the TMC or BJP leaders, elected members, workers, or administration officials came to look for them.

"Now, they have no concern for how we are living. Despite promises, we did not get a home or any job. Joydeb Sardar said, "When we ask, we get no answer from the panchayat or administration. On one hand, losing a child. On the other hand, we spend our days in extreme poverty," he told this reporter.

The people of the village said that now no one remembers them; everyone has forgotten. These 32 families are living with only those horrible memories. Bishnupur SDO Prosenjit Ghose said that the PMAY fund is closed, and he does not know what was decided about house construction in Baramara village. Not only Baramara village, according to the district administration of Jangalmahal Bankura, 70,000 PMAY house beneficiaries were enlisted in December 2022, but not a single house could be built.

A district official, who did not want to be named, said that the central audit team came to Bankura to investigate the MGNREGA and PMAY work and caught instances of corruption. It has reportedly been mentioned by the audit team that elected members and leaders from various levels of the ruling party were "directly involved in this corruption". Surprisingly,  no written complaint has been lodged against the accused persons anywhere.

Bankura District Magistrate Siyad N told this reporter, "We have already kicked off a grassroots survey to ascertain the real status of dwelling houses in vulnerable conditions, and after a primary survey, out of 2405 such vulnerable houses, 158 have been identified as unsafe."

However, there is no information from the district administration on how many houses have been built out of these 158 vulnerable houses. A few days ago, a central government-approved survey team for PMAY came to the district and faced people's protests in Chandpur of Simlapal Block. The delegation or accompanying district officers could not properly answer why people were not getting PMAY housing.

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