In this village, roads and drains exist … but only on paper

Pipauli is a nondescript village in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district. There are thousands of Pipaulis in India where owing to rampant corruption in gram panchayats, development happens, but only on paper. The villagers continue to suffer

Ranvijay SinghRanvijay Singh   9 Sep 2019 10:42 AM GMT

In this village, roads and drains exist … but only on paper

"Everything is constructed upon paper, nothing in reality," said Anokhe Lal, 40, and laughs out loud.

His statement draws mirth from 20 other villagers sitting around him beneath a Peepal tree. Since it's a muggy day, people from the village have gathered beneath the tree to pass the sweltering afternoon. Someone furiously shakes a hand-held fan while someone else is busy rolling out khaini (a form of tobacco). When Gaon Connection team approached them, they became alert and after a small discussion among themselves, sought introduction from the team.

After mutual introduction when Gaon Connection asked whether a pavage and a drain have been constructed in the village from "Badam Singh's house to Pratap Singh's house", pat comes a reply from Anokhe Lal: "Everything is constructed upon paper, nothing in reality," amid laughter.

Such is the story of Pipauli gram panchayat in Uttar Pradesh's Bareilly district which came into the limelight due to a recent scam. The scam was duly reported to the business development officer (BDO) of Sherpur block on the basis of which the BDO has ordered an investigation into the matter.

Pipauli is not the only gram panchayat facing allegations of corruption -- such instances of corruption are regrettably common so much so that merely typing 'gram panchayat' on Google will unleash a plethora of coverages of various corruption charges.

The Gram Panchayat's empowerment took place in the 1990s. Panchayati Raj System was created to boost local development. India comprises 2.51 lakh panchayats out of which 2.39 lakh are gram panchayats. Among these are 6,904 block panchayat and 589 district panchayats with more than 29 lakh panchayat representatives. This forces one to think if the allegations of corruption hold any truth then what would be the scale of such anomalies.

If one speaks of the fund disbursed to various gram panchayats, they were allocated in 2015, upon the recommendation of 14th Finance Commission, three times more the funds during the next five years. So, the panchayats received Rs 2,00,292 crore (31.2 billion dollars) which was increased from Rs 63,051 crore (13.3 billion dollars). This clearly shows that despite the enormous flow of funds being directed towards rural India, the state of the villages remains deplorable. One may attribute it to the widespread corruption in the gram panchayats.

Let's come back to Bareilly's Pipauli Gram Panchayat. Its resident Bechelal, 45, informed: "Within the village, dipping work over the drains (slabs being put upon the drains across intersections) from "Jagan Lal's house to Ramchandra's house" has been done. For this, funds have been withdrawn under various expense heads. You please see for yourself-- there isn't any dip work done! My house also falls in a way which doesn't even have a drain. God only knows where the dip-work has been done."

He added: "Papers have been filled instead of our stomachs. The work has been done over papers, but not in reality. Many roads, drains and pavages have been created on paper, but where are these, in reality, we wouldn't know. Due to all this, the villagers have complained to the BDO."

On papers, it has been shown that the drain leading to "Pratap Sing's house from Badam Singh's house" has been made along with the pavage. When Gaon Connection team met with Badam Singh, he wasn't aware of any such construction. Showing a dug-up drain outside his house he said: "I have dug it up myself. It is through you I learn that such work has even been done."

Similar is the reaction of Pratap Singh, 52. Showing the open sewage outside his house he asked: "You inform that the paper shows a drain being constructed, where is it? Our house's drain is flowing all over the street. We have told the Pradhan several times, but no one listens."

When the gram pradhan, Durga Prasad, was contacted regarding the matter, he said: "Where all in the village the work has been accomplished only the panchayat secretary will be able to inform you better. He has all written records. How do I tell where the work has happened where not?"

The village secretary's phone was switched off when the attempt was made to call him.

Commenting on the matter, Shergarh's BDO Atul Yadav said: "The matter of Pipauli Gram Panchayat is in my knowledge and consideration. Upon the villagers' complaint I have ordered an enquiry into the matter wherein ADOG and Junior engineers will investigate the matter."

This is not the only incident of corruption. Many such stories pop up from across several gram panchayats.

On August 28, a news report regarding corruption in gram panchayat emerged from Madhya Pradesh Kadarabad Gram Panchayat in Sihor district. As per a newspaper report, the villagers had informed that for the period January 2015-March 2019, the gram panchayat received Rs90,18,093 out of which Rs66,81,577 were believed to be spent in developmental activities.Rs23,36,526 were shown as the remaining amount though it was not documented where the money had been so spent. Repeated queries were met with a verbal description of the jobs undertaken, but those jobs weren't visible anywhere. Since the sarpanch, the secretary had all purchased tractors so the villagers demanded a high-level investigation on the matter.

On August 22 there was a discussion in Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha regarding widespread corruption in the gram panchayats. During the discussion, Chintpurni's BJP MLA, Balbir Singh had expressed concern over the misuse of panchayat funds by saying that 'the gram panchayats have become corruption's lair.' He put forth a proposal to bring about the judicious use of funds for the development in the panchayats and curb corruption, which was duly supported by several MLAs of the ruling as well as the opposition parties.

The corruption is widespread in gram panchayats and needs immediate action. India has a total of 597,464 villages and about 69% of its population hails from these villages. Therefore, the corruption ailing the gram panchayats directly affects a large section of Indian population.

We can't, however, generalize the situation—if we consider panchayats across the country, we would see the exemplary work being done by Kerala's rural institutions. As per a study of the ministry of Panchayat Raj, Kerala leads the nation in financial matters, is second-best in responsibility and workers issues and third in structure and efficiency. Kerala's panchayats are thoroughly transparent.

Due to this the state government has charged the panchayats with most of its responsibilities. As per the study after Kerala, the rural institutions of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu perform the best.

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