Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
Continuous slow-starvation has finally culminated in cholera that has by this time taken a toll of around two hundred lives in the KBK region, where the government run by Naveen Patnaik, is more engaged in spreading his father Biju’s name in the guise of Biju KBK Plan than implementing poverty amelioration programs like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
The people have been perishing to such extent under this misrule that some of them have even tried to thrive on a specific type of stone called Jhikiri. We have discussed in these pages how the government has tried to hush up the sordid news of stone eating and how reporters have been prosecuted under charges of sedition for having brought to light this appalling condition.
More appalling is the unrelenting apathy of administration. We had cited reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the interim report of the Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS) to show how the funds allocated to provide food security were being looted away by people in power and commission-agents and how the NREGS was being hijacked by corrupt officers.
In its interim report, the CEFS had observed,
“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 CAG had reported,
“Govt. of India (GoI) launched the Food for Work Programme during 2002 with a view to augmenting food security through wage employment. The scheme provided for supply of 5 kg of rice per day at subsidized rate of Rs.5.65 per kg and payment of balance wages in cash. To ensure that the benefit of subsidy reached the labourer and as a safe guard against the sale of rice at higher rate in the market, the scheme stipulated that rice should be supplied to the labourers at the work site along with cash component on muster rolls in presence of the local representatives.
“However, 8 EEs issued 4057 tonnes of rice to contractors after completion of works executed through 1092 agreements between 2001-02 and 2004-05. The delays ranged between 7 days and 18 months. Since distribution of rice to daily wage workers after completion of the works was not practicable, the subsidy of Rs.2.06 crore provided by GoI was not passed on to the labours and instead led to undue benefit to the contractors”.
Government did not bother.
The longest time chief of KBK Plan, who should have been punished for blatant misappropriation of KBK funds compelling people to distress sale paddy, to distress sale body, to distress sale babies and finally to migrate into neighboring states in search of bread, has been rewarded with the post of Chief secretary by Naveen Patnaik. No responsibility has been fixed and no functionary is punished for misappropriation and malfeasances, such is the character of this administration.
In its final report on the performance of NREGA in Orissa, the CEFS has established that 75 % of the funds has been looted by government officials. In a press release on August 17, it has sated, “The findings of a survey conducted in 100 villages of Orissa’s 6 districts have revealed that out of Rs 733 crore spent under NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) in Orissa during 2006-7, more than 500 crore has been siphoned and misappropriated by the government officials of implementing agencies. In other words, less than 25 per cent of the NREGS funds have reached the targeted population and more than 75 per cent have been eaten up by sarkari babus. There are thousands of villages in Orissa where more than 80-90 percent of NREGS funds have been misappropriated by the executing officials”.
The CEFS report entirely available in its official website has been elaborately covered by the national as well as Orissa’s regional media. But the administration is so recalcitrant that it has kept its eyes close to these reports.
Under such an apathetic administration, the people of KBK region, mostly the landless tribal people and the marginal farmers, sans necessary food and sans drinking water, have been suffering from slow starvation for years.
Slow starvation has severely affected their immunity and aggravated stomach problem that has now culminated in cholera.