Kaithal (Haryana): As the phrase goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. The photo above serves as a fact-check of the tall claims of development works carried out at Keorak village in Kaithal district of Northern Haryana in the past four years after Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar adopted it under the ‘Vidhayak Adarsh Gram Yojna’ (MLA’s model village scheme)—to develop the largest village in the area as an ‘adarsh gram’ (model village).
The main objective of the scheme was to trigger processes leading to holistic development by improving basic amenities, providing better livelihood opportunities, reducing disparities, giving access to rights and entitlements and improving the standard of living and quality of life of all the sections of the population of the identified village panchayats.
The flagship scheme was also aimed at helping to generate models of local level development and effective local governance, which could motivate and inspire neighbouring village panchayats to learn and adopt.
But the ground reality of this ‘Mahagram’ is quite different. It has four schools—two primary schools and two higher secondary schools for boys and girls. Neither the primary schools have headmasters, nor the higher secondary schools have had principals for the past several years or months. A principal has been appointed in one of the secondary schools, but he has not taken charge so far. The posts of mathematics and physics teachers are lying vacant in Boys Senior Secondary School for the last six-seven months.
The roads and sewage networks narrate the sordid tale of infrastructural development and the much-hyped Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. An inspection report dated November2, 2018 filed by a high-ranking officer of the Quality Control and Vigilance Department of the district has revealed corruption in the works done in 2017.
A total of Rs 17 crore had been sanctioned for different infrastructural development works to be carried out in the village, which has a population of around 21,000 people (according to an unofficial estimate), with around 11,000 voters. However, according to 2011 Census, the village with 2,610 families had a population of 14,051.
The works—said the RTI reply—were related to re-laying the village road gullies with cemented tile blocks and construction of sewerage lines in the village.
“The corruption came to the fore after I sought master roll and copies of cash book and panchayat resolution. The information revealed that Rs 2.26 crore were spent on re-laying of the village gullies and Rs 90, 06, 672 on laying of brick paths leading to the fields, but a spot inspection exposed that the panchayat had not carried the work as per the bills,” said activist Seth Pal—armed with voluminous RTI replies—while speaking to NewsClick.
He said that the bills claimed having used 25,000 cemented tile blocks, but only 5,00 blocks were used. “The bricks used in the lanes made to reach different plots of fields are also of inferior quality. The other works done have the same story,” he said.
After he lodged a complaint with the CM window in March last year, a probe was ordered. “The investigation team has compiled a report on one village street only; the investigation into the works done in other gullies is still pending with the DC (deputy commissioner), Kaithal,” he alleged.
The sarpanch of the village, Balkar Arya, has been accused of corruption. Following a recovery notice issued to him, he has reportedly deposited the embezzled funds to the panchayat.
Interestingly, Arya dismissed the allegation and claimed that he was a worker of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is ruling in the state. “I am an elected representative. Seth Pal, who was also earlier affiliated to the BJP, is trying to defame me after he changed his political affiliation,” he said.
But Seth Pal denies having any link with any political party. “I am not at all linked with any political party. I am an activist and work for the well-being of the society,” he claimed.
The village does not have sewage lines. Majority of drains have not been constructed and are overflowing. Water logging on roads can be seen at several places in the village and local market areas.
But the village residents are visibly divided into two sections—one openly claims that for a village adopted by the chief minister, not enough development work has been done, while the other says a lot has been and is being done, but it takes time.
The village has a big area allotted for ‘anaj mandi’ (food grains storage). Surrounded by a boundary wall, it is nothing more than a garbage dump, with a pile of waste material and waterlogging.
Like other villages, one cannot find ‘izzar ghar’ (a name coined for toilets built under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachch Bharat Abhiyan), as almost all the houses have had toilets since the beginning.
Though a section of people in the Gujjar-dominated village boasts of the pond cleaning and beautification project, which began in the village on a pilot basis to improve the natural reservoir, it has not beeen completed in the past two years. The work is being done by Koenders Water Solution – 21st Century Ventures India Private Limited.
Representatives of the company were supposed to begin the work on the pond located in the middle of the village on a pilot basis so that—based the basis of its success rate—it could be replicated for ponds in other districts under the Mahagram Yojana in the state.
The condition of the Primary Health Centre (PHC) in the village is more or less okay, as it has a qualified [MBBS] doctor and his associates to treat general diseases.
The average sex ratio of Keorak village is 839, which iss lower than Haryana state average of 879.
“All the work is being done at snail’s pace. Several gullies are still waiting to be constructed or repaired. Construction of sewage lines is going on for the past three years, but has not been completed so far. Most of the drains are choked and are overflowing. Schools lack sufficient number of teachers,” said 70-year-old Bhullar Ram.
Countering his allegation, Satendra, a farmer by profession, said, “Pond cleaning and sewage construction are in progress. A veterinary hospital has been constructed. What else can we expect in a period of just five years? These are government works, which take time.”
He then quickly switched to talking about the “bold steps” by the Centre—such as abrogation of Article 370. Asked what difference it makes for those living in Haryana, he replied, “In future, if we want to buy land in Kashmir, we can do it. Now, anyone can go to the Valley fearlessly.”
The village, which has 50% population belonging to the Gujjar community, is said to influence election outcome of Kaithal Assembly constituency, where Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala has been pitted against Lila Ram Gujjar, who parted ways from Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) to join the saffron party.
The residents said that the rest 50% of the voters of the village vote against the party Gujjars opt for. Kaithal is considered to be a safe seat for Congress party as it has elected the candidate of the grand old party for seven terms since 1967. Congress’ Om Prabha was elected in the first two consecutive Assembly elections in 1967 and 1968. The party retained the seat in the 1972 election as well when Charan Dass had registered an impressive victory. After the seat went to Janata Party, Roshan Lal [an independent candidate] and Lok Dal in the 1977, 1982, 1987 polls respectively, the Congress once again grabbed it in 1991 election when Surendra Kumar emerged victorious.
In 1996 and 2000 elections, the Congress lost the seat to Charan Dass of the Samata Party and Lila Ram of the INLD respectively. Since 2005, Surjewala has been winning this seat. It is his third consecutive term. If he wins this election, he will represent the seat in the 90-member Assembly for the four consecutive terms. He is also being seen as a strong contender for the post of chief minister if the Congress manages to cross majority mark following the October 21 poll.
Also read: Haryana Polls: Low Voter Interest in Hisar, Outcome Hinges on Caste Calculations