Subhas Chadra Pattanayak

Orissa stands face to face with Sahara on Latitude 20� in the northern hemisphere of the Globe. CEFS, esteemed body of socio-economic researchers, has held that its government has already transformed it to �Sub-Sahara of India�.

We will come to that.

When stone eating by people of Sinapalli Block in the District of Nuapada belonging to KBK region under stark starvation were shown by a TV channel at 7 P. M. of 31. 5. 2007 and the State Assembly commenced next day on 1. 6.2007 to repeated adjournments over the issue, the State Government through its Revenue Minister had succeeding in ending the impasse at 5 P.M. by stating in the House that the telecasted news was baseless because the people were never in starvation as on field inspection the District Welfare Officer has seen that �job cards have been issued to all the families, NREGA works are going on regularly� and there is enough food materials in every household.

Elsewhere I have shown how records were prepared overnight to show that the telecasted information was wrong. But now the Center for Environment and Food Security (CEFS) has come out with a survey report that shows how the assertion of the Minister in the Assembly was wrong.

Founded by a combine of eminent scholars, writers, environmentalists, scientists and activists like Prof. Ashis Nandy, Dr. Kamla Chowdhry, Dr. Pradipto Roy, Mr. Anupam Mishra, Prof. P. S. Ramakrishnan, Dr. T. N. Khoshoo, Mr. P.N.Singh and Mr. Parshuram Ray in 2001 with the broad objective of knowledge-based activism on the issues of poverty, hunger, food security, sustainable livelihoods, sustainable development and ecological security, CEFS is well known for research, advocacy and campaign on these issues. Its �Research Study on Political Economy of Hunger in Tribal Areas of India� is so authentic and referable that no plan for the Tribes can succeed unless this evaluation is kept in mind.

This esteemed organization has come out with the observation that the �Current level of hunger, poverty and deprivation in Orissa�s KBK areas is as deep, demeaning and dehumanizing as ever despite the so- called successful implementation of NREGS with the highest allocation of funds anywhere in the country�.

Observing that this �Scheme has become less of Employment Guarantee Scheme for the hungry and poor villagers and more of a money-spinning machine and Income Guarantee Scheme for Orissa�s officials�, the CEFS has revealed, �out of 100 sample villages covered for this survey, 18 villages have not received any job card , 37 villages have not received any job under OREGS even after 16 months of launch of the scheme, 11 villages have received neither job cards nor any job, Job cards of 21 villages are lying with Village Level Workers and Job cards of 2 villages are lying with Junior Engineers , in 25 villages only half, one third or partial payments have been made�

Narrating how the researchers of CEFS received a call from the Personal Secretary of the Secretary to Government in the Panchayati Raj Department asking them as to whether they had obtained permission of the District Collector or any higher authority for meeting the concerned BDO, the Report says, �When we asked as to why do we need District Collector�s permission, he told us as how dare we go to BDO�s office without District Collector�s permission�. The researchers were shocked. The report narrates how they were asked �in stern voice to return back from the Block office and not to visit any village in the Block�.

Penning down this paining experience they were subjected to in Nandapur Block, the researchers note, �we also got three telephone calls from APD (DRDA-Koraput) asking us not to visit any village of Nandpur block�.

Shocked to the core, they had besought intervention from the offices of District Collector(Koraput), Chief Secretary and Chief Minister of Orissa. �Despite all these efforts�, the researchers say, �we did not succeed in seeing the muster rolls. This whole experience in Nandapur block was highly demeaning and disgusting and we wonder whether there is a big scam that was sought to be covered up�.

Acting against all such odds, the researchers from CEFS went into the midst of the people. �In 13 villages�, they inform, �we found scandalous difference in the number of workdays recorded in the job cards and the number of actual workdays physically verified with the workers/labourers in these villages. There are 3 villages where no payments have been made even after 4-8 months of the work done. We found 6 villages in Kashipur block of Rayagada district where OREGS work is being done without any job cards being issued to the villagers�.

On keen observation the researchers found that the �Panchayati Raj Institutions have been completely sidelined and marginalized in the implementation of OREGS. Sarpanches are asked by VLWs to sign on blank cheques and VLWs decide everything. In most of the Panchayats, VLWs do not share single information about the OREGS work in the Panchayat with any of the elected representatives of Gram Panchayat�.

Holding it as �a mockery of grassroots democracy�, the researchers have noted, �Muster Rolls are more secret a document in Orissa than the Nuclear secrets of the country. We could not meet a single person in these 100 villages who has ever seen muster rolls of the OREGS work in his village. Muster Rolls are always kept in the house of VLWs and villagers who work in OREGS projects are made to sign on blank muster rolls�.

Noting that the �way Orissa Government is implementing OREGS, this scheme seems to be a cruel joke on hungry and poor Adivasis and Dalits�, the researchers have thrown light on 21 sample villages that they studied. Accordingly, �job cards have been kept in the homes of VLWs against the will of cardholders. Most of the VLWs are inaccessible to villagers because they stay in towns located 50-60 kms away from Panchayats. They come once or twice a month in the Panchayat office. A poor Adivasi has to walk on foot and cover this long distance just to meet VLW. Even after walking this long distance, poor Adivasi is not sure whether he would be able to meet VLW�.

As a result, they have noted, �hunger and abject poverty is wide spread in all the 100 villages of KBK region we visited. Our interactions and interviews with villagers suggest that about 99% of the Adivasis and Dalits living in KBK villages are suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition. Large numbers of children in these villages are suffering from severe malnutrition. Hunger and abject poverty is so apparent and writ large on the hollowed cheeks, sunken eyes, distended bellies of children, skeleton figures, listlessness and despair in their looks�, that the scenario looks �worse than Sub-Saharan Africa�.

The researchers unambiguously say that their �preliminary analysis of field survey has revealed that more than 80-90% of the money spent in Orissa Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme(OREGS) has been directly pocketed by officials responsible for executing this scheme. Only leakages and crumbs have reached the rural poor of Orissa. This scheme has become less of Employment Guarantee Scheme for the hungry and poor villagers and more of a money-spinning machine and Income Guarantee Scheme for Orissa�s officials.

The �brazenness and callousness of Orissa�s officials involved in the implementation of this scheme is outrageous and unparallel anywhere in India�, says CEFS while emphasizing that if social audit as provided for under the NREGS is conducted in all the Panchayats where this Scheme is shown as implemented, �more than 95% of the officials and bureaucrats involved in the implementation of this Scheme will loose their jobs and will go behind the bars immediately�.

When the Orissa Assembly resumes it session after the recess and takes up the House Committee report on stone eating in Sinapalli Block, will any of the Members show the courage to test that matter on the matrix of this information?

The CEFS has stressed and we agree that contravention of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) passed by Indian Parliament should be construed as contempt of Parliament.

And, so, it would be proper for the Members of Orissa Assembly, while discussing the House Committee report as well as the Budget, to see that the State does not continue committing contempt of parliament and all of the functionaries beginning from the present Chief Secretary, who was the Chief of KBK administration for the longest period, to the VLWs, who manipulate Muster Rolls to the defeat of NREGA, are subjected to social audit and are mercilessly booked.

I will wait and watch and report.

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