An aspiring Adarsh Gram still awaits Rahul Gandhi’s grace
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As names go, Jagdishpur seems a particular favourite in Uttar Pradesh, with at least one town and two villages sharing it. Jagdishpur town in Amethi, an industrial centre, is the better known amongst them. Now Jagdishpur village in Rae Bareli district is poised to give it some competition, at least in the fame stakes. It is the village adopted by Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of the Congress party, under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, which was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi a year ago on 15 August. The programme was officially launched in October 2014.
“I am from a poor family, I have experienced and seen poverty, and I sincerely believe and am very determined that the poor of India must have their dignity restored,” Modi had said in his 15 August speech, citing open defecation and public cleanliness as major concerns.
Under the scheme, members of Parliaments are required to choose a village from their constituency and make it a model village by 2016. And then adopt one more, every year till 2019, when the next elections are due.
Jagdishpur, though in Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli district, falls under the Amethi parliamentary constituency and was officially adopted by Rahul Gandhi, the local MP, in December 2014. A board declaring its Adarsh Gram Yojana status stands proudly on the highway before the village, with a solar light for company. A 2km-long road branches out from this point to lead to the village.
Village headman Kamlesh Kumar Gupta recalls the enthusiasm with which the villagers greeted the news of Gandhi’s “adoption” of the village. “The day he came here, we celebrated with drums, crackers and colours. We had a big wish-list which we wanted to share with him.” But their ecstasy was short-lived.
Gandhi was critical of the scheme and how it was supposed to be implemented. “Mera kaam sabke vikas ka hai, kisi ek gaon ka nahin (I have to ensure development for all, not just for one village),” he told villagers. He did not seem to think much of the scheme and made sure everyone knew his views. “The mood change was swift, no doubt. People were angry, there was some loose talk of burning his effigy but we shushed that up,” said Girijashankar Sharma, a farmer.
“There have been meetings galore since he came. But it has only been talk and no action,” said Gupta. The only work on the ground that has happened has been the installation of 10 solar lamps in the village. “Out of these, two don’t work,” he added.
The rural development ministry has identified 35 indicators through which the scheme will be monitored. These include an all-weather road connecting the village, safe drinking water, electricity, toilets in every household, telephones, a post office, schools and a bank branch. Jagidshpur’s current record on all of these parameters is shaky.
There are two primary schools and one high school. One of the primary schools has only two teachers. After Class X, girls and boys have to go to Deeh, 3km-4km away, to complete their schooling. Electricity is erratic at best. “Every day, it (electricity) is scheduled to come for at least five hours, but even then it keeps tripping,” said Ashutosh Mishra, a farmer.
Sharma, the farmer cited earlier, said he has never seen his two children study by light. “It’s always candlelight. This is the 21st century, we are just two hours away from the capital (Lucknow) and we still struggle with electricity. It’s shameful,” he said, to loud cheers from men gathered around him.
If Jagdishpur were to have a leitmotif, then “sarkar karegi” (the government will do it) could end up being a strong contender. The village is plagued with the problem of open drains, with frequent complaints of stench. “The entire house smells, this will make us ill. The government has to do something about this,” said Prema Sharma, a grandmother. Her sons live in Lucknow, but her grand-daughter lives with her.
The villagers want a concrete road built throughout the village and have their hopes pinned on the Adarsh Gram Yojana. But why doesn’t the gram panchayat take care of issues like drains?
In a message included in the guidelines issued by the rural development ministry, the prime minister mentions villages such as Punsari in Gujarat, Gangadevipalli in Andhra Pradesh and Hiware Bazar in Maharashtra as models. Punsari boasts of its own mineral water plant, public announcement system and a Wi-Fi network, among other facilities, while Gangadevipalli has a water filtration plant and well-lit concrete roads. In all the villages, amenities and facilities have been made possible by the work of the community and the gram panchayat.
“Our hands are tied beyond a point. There are officials above us, permissions to be obtained, it’s easy to give the examples of model villages but not everyone’s condition is the same” is headman Gupta’s defence.
“In the rains, the grass comes up to our knees. We have to walk through slush and mud, risking both insect and snake bites when going to the fields,” said Shanti Devi, a health worker. She complains that being a woman, she has to walk farther than most for defecation. Only a handful of houses in the village have toilets. “Sarkar bana ke degi (the government will build one),” Shanti Devi said when asked why she didn’t have one in her house.
The government does give money. “It’s a paltry amount and they insist that you build the bathroom first and then they will give the payment. It’s pointless,” said farmer Mishra. While the schools have toilets, assistant teacher Neelam Singh said most can’t be used.
According to the 2011 state census, Jagdishpur has a population of 4,538, out of which 1,730 are either farmers or labourers. “The girls are ambitious. They would like to study further. If a college could be built, it would really help,” said Salma Banoo, another health worker.
Right now, even if girls do pursue education till Class XII, they are then forced to drop out due to the distance that has to be covered to the nearest college. “Several families can’t afford it financially,” said Prem Nath, a villager. He is also a Congress worker. He introduced Rehanna, a 14-year-old who dropped out of school because her family can’t afford a cycle for her to go to Deeh. “I don’t know what I will do. Maybe resume studies in a few years,” the shy teenager said. Her mother and grandmother said they have no plans about getting her married off.
“We have high hopes of the yojana. If all the parameters are met, then it can change the fortunes of people in the village, but first the work has to begin,” said Deepak Dwivedi, a farmer.
Development doesn’t just improve the standard of living but also makes emancipation possible. That is the argument of Gayatri Devi, a member of a self-help group. According to her, if the village were to get a bank branch, it would encourage more women to open accounts for themselves.
For the Adarsh Gram Yojana, members of Parliament are meant to source funds from their MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), which has a budget of Rs.5 crore a year. According to the MPLADS website, Gandhi has already spent 66.98% of the funds for this year and has a balance of Rs.1.65 crore. Work in Jagdishpur is yet to go beyond the “proposal stage”, said D.P. Mishra, sub-divisional magistrate of the Salon tehsil, under which the village falls.
Yadavendra Tripathy, Congress block president of Deeh, disagrees. “We have already got solar lights installed in the village and hand pumps too have been set up. We are finally ready with the blueprint of how to make Jagdishpur an adarsh gram and will start work soon. A lot is dependent on the dates of the panchayat elections. We have identified several key issues that need to be addressed, chief among which is the drain problem. The drains need to be linked and covered, amongst other things, and this is what we will begin work on. Apart from that, we will be working to ensure the village is better connected with smaller villages in the area... Once the work starts in earnest, hopefully soon, every indicator will be met. According to the blueprint drawn up, we will require a budget of Rs.7-8 crore for the scheme,” he said.
Despite the ire of many villagers, Gandhi doesn’t have much to worry about as they remain die-hard loyalists of the family. “If he doesn’t do much for us, it will be sad, but we also trust the (Congress) party. We have supported them and will always support them,” said farmer Girijashankar Sharma.