With Bihar approaching an assembly election, peoples’ concerns and their wrath are finding their way into the public domain. In most parts of rural Bihar the anger stems from a bundle of promises called the ‘Saat Nischay Yojna’ which was projected as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s dream project. The seven resolutions included tap water in households, the construction of toilets, electricity connections, pucca lanes and drains, the economic empowerment of the youth and 35% reservation for women in government jobs.
The tap water scheme, called ‘Har Ghar Nal Ka Jal’, has missed its target of reaching out to the public. It aimed at ensuring safe drinking water through pipelines to all rural households. The state government via the PHED (Public Health Engineering Department) had invested an estimated Rs 17,000 crore for implementing the scheme.
The PHED is the nodal agency for executing the project. It was assigned to provide a treatment unit which was to be set up on a 10m x 10m plot, preferably on private donated land. In the financial year 2017-18 funds were allocated for the work to begin. Structures were erected in every ward, water pipes were laid underground and water supply was to reach newly-fit taps in every household in the villages.
Broken Promises and Corruption
Pic- Incomplete Nal-Jal structure with fund expenditure in E.Champaran. Pic Credit: Saurav Kumar
About 400 residents of Bhaluahiya village in Ramgarhwa block, East Champaran district, protested at the block office in June, alleging corruption in the tap water scheme. The protest was led by panchayat samiti member Sushil Prasad. He pointed out that water was not available to villagers despite funds being spent for the project in 2017-18. Speaking to NewsClick, he explained that a sum of Rs 14 lakh had been allocated for erecting the structure as per the scheme but that nothing was visible on the ground. He said they had registered a complaint with the Block Development Officer but action is awaited in the matter, he added.
Raja Kumar, a graduate student who blew the whistle on the alleged mismanagement, explained that for wards 13 and 14 a total of Rs 14 lakh was allocated. He alleged it was withdrawn with no work having been completed. As a result, the villagers decided to hit road to protest the wrongdoings of panchayat officials.
NewsClick verified the allegations independently by accessing the details of the project via the E-Gram Swaraj Portal. The portal lists details of ongoing development work and the funds allocated for the projects.
Similarly, ward no. 4 of Ratanpur village in Banka district has a structure built for the project but there has been no water supply even after three months of its completion. Awadhesh Mandal, a resident of the village, called the scheme a “bluff”.
Close to 117 wards in nine panchayats of Madhepura block in Madhepura district remain aloof from the tap water scheme due to corruption by local officials, alleged the locals.
Blocks in Madhubani district were found with similar complaints with many panchayats having not received tap water benefits. The extent of the mismanagement revealed itself when a structure in Jhanjharpur block came down as soon as the overhead tanks were filled with water. Villagers have alleged that the scheme paved they way for the swindling of government funds. The moment overhead tanks, each with a capacity of 10,000 litres, was filled, half of it came back down within a few minutes, said Ramparvesh Jha, a locak. In Patrahi panchayat of Ladania block, panchayat officials allegedly withdrew an amount of Rs 12 lakh and only work like boring and the laying down of pipes was done. The corruption reportedly came to light through a BPRO report.
Jhanjharpur’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLA, Gulaab Yadav, told NewsClick that the CM’s pet project has fallen flat on its face and the dilapidated Nal-Jal structure is proof of it.
Pic: Dilapidated Water tank, Madhubani. Pic Credit: Saurav Kumar
The tap water scheme in Muzaffarpur was also seen moving at a snail’s pace with the water-holding structure incomplete with no connections to rural households. Residents of Sahebganj and Motipur blocks of the district flagged concerns over the non-completion of the scheme. Kumar Ashutosh, the district president of the Indian Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the trade union arm of the Congress, told NewsClick that the ‘Saat Nischay Yojana’ is a “populist scheme which only exists on paper”. From concretisation of rural roads to ensuring the tap water project, everything remains incomplete four years after it began.
Nal Jal Structures in Muzaffarpur. Pic Credit: Saurav Kumar
At Amnour block in Saran district, the incomplete rural road construction work and tap water scheme caught the attention of government officials who were on a visit to review the status of the Chief Minister’s project.
District Officials have claimed that the scheme has succeeded in 800 wards across the state but the on-ground reality is different. As per Vipul Kumar, a PHED engineer, Nal Jal work is done in a sporadic manner and all incomplete work is scheduled to get done by next month. However, his were rejected by Ganpat Jha of Sukhpur village. He said that a four-year time period was enough to ensure water supply but that people have been cheated in the name of development.
Beginning with the inferior quality pipes used to supply water, with no water supply even after the setting up of water tanks, the project seems a broken promise. Funds allocated to implement the project were withdrawn by panchayat officials that include mukhiyas, panchayat samiti and ward members, with its execution strictly confined to paperwork. Instances of the misuse of public money has come to light from different districts of the state.
Last year, in Hariharpur panchayat under Singhwara block in Darbhanga district, the Block Development Officer (BDO) reportedly filed an FIR against panchayat officials for financial irregularities amounting to Rs 12.69 lakh. The money was supposed to be used for turning rural roads into concrete ones and erecting the required structure for the scheme.
A week ago, Darbhanga District Magistrate (DM), Dr. Thiyagrajan S.M. expressed his concern over the pending work in the scheme. The tardy pace in many wards under Darbhanga Sadar, Keoti, Baheri and Jale blocks left the DM red-faced. He issued a warning to concerned officials for the sluggish work. Baheri block of Darbhanga has seen controversy in the past when it came into the limelight in 2018 during the CM’s visit. A section of youth created a ruckus over the implementation of the scheme.
Feedback from several districts indicates that ‘Nal Jal Yojana’ has failed in providing clean tap water, all the while enabling corruption at the lowest levels of governance.
The writer is an independent journalist.