The dream of e-governance in districts of drought, hunger, poverty and starvation
Palamu commissionerate in the state of Jharkhand consisting of districts of Palamau, Garwah and Latehar are better known for their alarming poverty levels, drought, hunger and starvation in extreme times resulting In deaths, absentee governance, highest levels of corruption, punishment transfers In terms of the community getting notorious and corrupt officials, equally corrupt political parties and its leaders. It is unfortunate but many civil society organisations are not far behind them and most of the development programs in the region are given to agencies who can tread the same path of corruption. Thus this region is steeped in deep corruption. As there are frequent droughts in the region, there is always speculation and declaration of drought is greatly looked forward as the natural calamity brings about bounty In terms of programs and resources .
TRAVAILS OF THE POOR
The poor are steeped in extreme illiteracy and their prime concern is survival of self and their families. They consider the poor governance and maladministration as their fate and hence in the absence of any opposition there is uninterrupted looting of the resources meant for the poor. In the absence of able leadership that works for the people's cause the different political parties are at a collision course . Incidentally this region was earlier steeped in feudalism the traces of which are still existing to till date. Large tracts of land called Gair Mazrua land also was usurped by the landlords. The mean existence of the poor at the behest of collection of mahua fruit and flowers - these resources - the trees also were under landlord's control. The other attributes of feudalism are creation of bonded labour, child labour, using the entire family force of the dalits for domestic, agricultural and cattle rearing and grazing . The dalit women being subjected to sexual harassment were common features of the region.
EMERGENCE OF EXTREME LEFT GROUPS
Independence, land ceiling act, abolition of zamindari system, peasant revolution brought about some cosmetic and some deep rooted changes. The extreme left ideology took deep roots in the region as all the ills of the class ,caste divide of the society were found in the region . Majority of the landlords sold their lands or leased their lands and shifted their base to escape the violence and life threats from the extreme left ideology groups. They took up a new avatar in the form of contractors.
The contractors, corrupt officials both civil and police , political groups forms core nexus . This nexus eats into almost 80% of the resources allotted for the poor. The forest resources such as kendu patta generate huge resources for the contractors. But they give "protection money" or "levy " to various sources which includes the extreme groups . In the similar manner for execution of any development works in the region the kickbacks to the various levels is included In the estimation itself and an inflated estimation is made. Thus most of the works are incomplete or it is of most poor quality . It is observed that in the name of drought relief umpteen times irrigation structures of various hue and cry are announced. And if really executed then there would be no more ground available in the region for execution of watershed works. During each drought relief work some cosmetic work in the same structures take place and it is shown as new work.
THE SAGA OF COMPLEX FAILURES IN THE REGION
It if difficult for any outside person to understand the complex failures of systems and paralysed programs in the region. The education, health, agricultural, banking , the government and name any system all are paralysed.
Though so much hype is created In the media and the government circles on NREGA . It is a non-starter or total failure in the region. Recently we had a rapid assessment of the ground level realities on NREGA. There is no need to conduct any social audit on the system. Because already it is known that all the documents are fake and built up. In the entire year only 5—7 days and in some places 14 days of work has been carried out under this scheme. But the entries in the job cards shows 56,60 and even 100 days of employment given to them.
Even in this scheme touts are fully engaged as link person between the community of the poor and the government. The illiteracy , ignorance and helplessness of the poor is brought to full utility . The people's testimony and their job card entries are enough to estimate the extreme levels of corruption In the region. No doubt the lives of the activists taking up such complex issues are always under the threat. Further the voices are muffled and muted by the authoritarian administration.
EMPLOYMENT ASSURANCE STANDS VITIATED
Rita Devi, Sanju Devi, Gaura Devi, Sunil Paswan, Akileshwar bhuiya and countless more people all hailing from Palamu region have common problem. They have all obtained the job cards. But in the last one year they were provided work ranging from 7 days to 14 days and no more. What is more startling is that they never understood that their job cards show that employment of 54 to 100 days has been marked for them by the touts. When this was brought to their notice they were furious and helpless. They all want to catch hold of the contractor who is managing their job cards and take them to task. But in the existing system only these contractors are their link with the government officials and hence cannot also do away without them and are in dilemma as to what is to be done?
THE INFLATED TENDERS THAT BENEFITS ALL
The SHG women groups in one of the tribal villages have taken tender for laying the roads. It is a huge tender nearing 14 lakhs of rupees. The tender was for laying a stretch of 3k.m. road. The first stretch of 1 km was laid by the women group and their family members and members of the village community at a cost of Rs.2 lakhs. But the average estimate of 1 km works out to be Rs4.60 lakhs . The women groups members are aware that they need to "manage" the accounts and the major money will go to the different levels of officials and inspite of that they will be able to make better margins out of such contracts.
The school teachers need not attend the schools. It is enough if they provide money to the school inspectors . In some places the teachers are generous enough to appoint local volunteers to take classes at very low costs. The emoluments of the teachers are rotated for money lending to the villagers at very high cost . Further the teachers are at liberty to continue their domestic chores and agricultural works unabated. While at the residential schools for the girl children the families of the teachers are well taken care at the cost of food deprivation of the girl children.
The health care is in shambles. The life of the poor is not valuable and in the absence of appropriate and minimum medical care the poor are forced to fully depend on the quacks locally called "Jholachap doctors".Most of them have either worked under some doctor for short period or have just learnt the art of providing medication and made it as their means of livelihood. Malaria and diarrhoea are the most common ailments and there are many times deaths due to these preventable and treatable diseases. Due to lack of transport the villagers bring the patients by carrying the cot and walking a distance of 16-20 kms. This is the stark reality in the region.
As the poor's livelihood is totally dependent on agriculture, they necessarily have to migrate enmasse with family at least for 3-4 months in a year to the neighbouring Bihar or to far off places like Punjab for their mean survival. As there is no organised system of labour migration, they go through contractors or based on their earlier rapport built. There have been several instances of fatal accidents as they try to travel in every means of available transport on the goods vehicles and top of the trains.
MIGRATION COSTS THEIR LIVES
Very recently 5 men from this Lesliganj region went to UP for agricultural labour but found the owner was too demanding and tried to escape from him as they were almost living in captive condition. They started running towards the railway station on the railway tracks. While they were trying to cross the bridge a train was approaching and had no option and three of them jumped into the river and lost their lives instantly. Two of them tried to hang o n to the rails and have their fingers badly mutilated. The fact that many times such deaths are hushed up as they are afraid of the lengthy police cases. Migration is a means for their survival. In the absence of any kind of constructive intervention from the government the people are forced to devise their own means of livelihood and thus migration has become the way of life for the poor in the region.
RAIN DURING HATHIA NAKSHTRA DETERMINES THE FATE OF FARMERS
As far as agriculture is concerned, it is the experience and the expertise of the farmer and the entrepreneurship of the seeds and fertiliser dealer which takes ahead the agriculture. It is untouched by any kind of intervention from the experts. The scientists are in their ivory towers and their expertise never reaches the common farmer. There is no advice for the drought resistant crops and which to be used in which season. Each year when the monsoon starts the entire farmer sow the seeds. As it is totally rain fed agriculture, they wait for rains during the " Hatia Nakshatra" which falls in the Hindi calendar month of "Ashwin" and in English calendar is it around September - October. If the rain fails in this period of 15-20 days then the farmers are aware that all their crops will wither and they cannot go for the next Rabi crop as well. Thus they mentally prepare themselves and make plans for migration for their survival. This is also indication of the upcoming drought in the region. There is no meteorological forecasting but it is indigenous knowledge and expertise of the local farming community which determines their immediate future in relation to assured livelihood or there is need for migration.
FOOD SECURITY PROGRAMS IN DISARRAY
The so called food security schemes are in total disarray. Primarily the BPL number and card is the poor's passport to social security entitlements of the government. To enable the poor get this entitlement itself is a big hurdle. But having the BPL card is no assurance that they will be able to get hold of the social security measures.
THE POOREST OF THE POOR PUSHED TO THE BRINK WITH FAILURE OF FOOD SECUIRTY PROGRAMS
Manoj Bhuiya of Bakasi village is a daily wage labourer. He lives with his wife and 9 children. He has been allotted the Antyodaya card - which is the food security scheme for the poorest among the poor in the village. While going through his card we can find out that for the current year all the 10months are ticked showing that he got his ration entitlements of 35 kg's of rice at Rs.2 per kilo. But while discussing with him ,we understand that so far he has received the rations only thrice but records show that he has been issued the rations for 10 months. In spite of various ills the administration thinks it is a blot on its image to accept the fact of starvation deaths in the region. It bends back to declare that the deaths are due to " disease" and denying the facts that disease at the first place has been manifestation of cyclic hunger, consumption of forest roots ,ill health and ultimate death. As if the government is not responsible for deaths due to ill health ???
THE DREAM OF E-GOVERNANCE
In this scenario the central government envisaged e-governance has been planned and brought in this region also. Common Service Centres (CSC) is one of the policies of Central Government of India - Ministry of Information Technology(IT) to launch 1 lakh centres covering all the rural panchayats of India. A public private partnership initiative was mooted and tenders were called for by different states in India. Jharkhand though lags behind on all the development parameters surprisingly was one of the first state to launch this program in the country which many are unaware.
One of the main planks of CSC is to bring about transparency, accountability and good governance at the grassroots level. All the common certificates which the citizens require from time to time for various purposes are to be made available at the panchayat level itself through the CSC centres which would be linked with the Government of Jharkhand portal at Ranchi. Apart from this the CSC would be nodal point for services related to education,health,agriculture and any other commercial services.
CSC centres is a luxury in the state of Jharkhand which is second last state in the ladder of development next only to its parent state of Bihar with 50% of the population living below the poverty line.
The creamy layer among the poorest is only the stakeholder who come forward with lot of hesitation to take up the csc centers.
The establishment of csc centres amidst lack of basic amenities such as roads, electricity, telephone and internet connectivity, official apathy primarily due to lack of awareness and secondly due to fear on loss of "control" over people and resources and last but not the least the threatening of the Maoist groups is the ground reality in Jharkhand.
Both Centre and State accepts that establishment of CSC is very difficult in the tough terrain of Jharkhand but only lip service is paid with no pro-action.
The State and Centre retorted back that SCA's have signed agreement knowing the infrastructure lacunae in the regions and hence should not complaint now. Are the SCA's supposed to establish the infrastructure required prior to establishment of CSC's in the region??
Financial inclusion is a buzz word and bankers are just not inclined to render any financial assistance in terms of loans for the CSC's. They have been playing passing the ball game successfully for the last one year. There is rampant corruption at the banking level as well. When you talk to any villager, they tell you the prevailing rates of commission for obtaining any loan. Sudama Singh said that for obtaining the Kisan credit cards the current rate is 10-15% of the loan amount, Beena Devi said , "revolving fund for the women under the Swarna Jayanthi Rozgar Yojna (SGSY) is 20% " and thus long list of existing rates are available when we talk to the villagers. Thus the public sector banks in the region are also steeped into the commission culture of the region. Recent reports also indicate that many of the banks have not rendered loans to even a single BPL family in the past many years and they are categorised as zero lending banks.
Only corporate giants who can amass public wealth are appropriate for establishing the CSC's. Even the government is interested only in the same. Be it banking, mobile technology, micro credits such institutional set ups which want to convert csc are as their upfront shops in every nook and corner of the country are the prime players. Thinking about equal opportunities, enabling the poorest of the poor to participate in the decision making, making them party to the platform of CSC does not seem to happen with so many obstacles strewn around. CSC is a platform for the rich and the richest and poor has no role in it.
Though CSC can be used as a platform to promote the youth from diverting themselves in joining divisive forces there is no political and administrative will. The government could direct all its energies to utilise the various developmental programs allocated to the states through CSC's. But as of now only the number games are on, There is a kind of rush and competition between states to show where they stand in terms of CSC. The State of Jharkhand which is least in all parameters at least in the statistics of CSC is trying to catch the prime slot. But the ground reality is totally different.
The governance is paralysed and proxy rule rules the roost in the region. As the region is under the proxy rule of the extreme left this is used as major excuse by the officials for not performing their duties. As development of roads and communication is considered as threat to the extremists groups they make every possible effort to sabotage or destabilise the communication networks. The continuous blasting of the mobile towers in the region in the recent times is establishing the above facts.
There is lack of phone and internet connectivity. Even the government established Jharnet at the block level is non-functional. The computers given to the block offices are non-functional due to absence of electricity and no resources allocated for generators and running expenses and also the human resource crunch of no trained personnel available. The government owned telecom giant has been given crores of rupees to set up Broadband connectivity in all the rural regions. Yet we are struggling with basic connectivity. Though the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification boasts of around 1500 crores grant to Jharkhand state , as yet the CSC centres are struggling without power and are fully dependent on the generators for the power. There is no proper pucca structures available everywhere though the government dictates to have them placed in panchayat bhavans.
Thus the CSC's in Jharkhand are struggling for its basic existence among all the odds and most importantly the government apathy. As it is not taken as an opportunity to establish and nurture the relationship of partnership. The approach is more intimidating. If Jharkhand government expects the private players will take the entire risk of rooting themselves against all odds I n the state and it has no role to play except passing orders then we can increase the list of the failures among which CSC may feature as one of the prominent programs.
The major issue which is affecting the functioning of the csc centres is the deep rooted corruption in the region. The major plank of the program is for transparency and good governance, but again the programs are administered under the same set of inept corrupt officials the program will be tainted in corruption. The government talks of outsourcing number of its programs to CSC's. But locally at what cost? The first program of outsourcing has taken place for Narega Photography program. Only the Village level Entrepreneurs (VLE's) who were smart enough to strike a deal with the Block Development officers were successful. The deal being for every photograph of Narega beneficiary a set amount is given to the officials. This is the beginning…. There are many more programs to follow suit and if the same trend is going to continue then unless and until you are mentally prepared to be "practical" and go along with the existing practices no program will be forthcoming.
The officials are not sensitised on the benefits of the program. The majority of the officials are IT illiterate. Their core concern remains that their power will diminish and their recourse to the speed money will be lost. By pushing the ICT program of CSC under the purview of such officials the sheen of the program is being lost and it is pushed to the brink in the same manner and fate as of other programs.
The biggest challenge will be whether you will be able to wade through the turbulent tides of corruption to enable the CSC's to survive or the community will prepare itself to brace against corruption and fight to its logical end and ensure the CSC's survive, flourish and bring about the required changes.
But the failure of CSC will be a biggest loss to the community especially the poor who will loose the opportunity of seeing good governance knocking at their doors. The youth who have involved themselves in establishing the csc's will have their dreams crashed. We see CSC as an last opportunity to ensure a semblance of governance in the region and that should not become a lost opportunity. Amidst all its backwardness, controversies at least the CSC platform can be utilised by the Jharkhand state to negate its inactiveness in the region.
Before it is too late, the Government of Jharkhand and its officials need to wake up from their deep slumber. They need to ensure the basic minimum infrastructure is made available to run the CSC centres. Without internet connectivity, absence of pucca structures, absence of loans to the youth it is difficult to set up CSC centres in the state of Jharkhand. There is need for a white paper from the Jharkhand government on the programs that are going to be outsourced to the csc centres. There is need for bringing the different grant-in aid programs to synchronise with the CSC programs so that the youth are not pushed to the brink.