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OPENOMICS: Dispatch

A Village and a Wish List

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Our correspondent travels through Haryana’s Rewari district to see how the Budget’s rural vision has rekindled the hopes of villagers

Barely a hundred kilometres from the Capital, in the villages of Haryana’s Rewari district, there is much talk about the Union Budget. On Tuesday morning, people pore over newspapers, sipping tea and exchanging notes about how the Government’s farmer-friendly measures could impact their lives. The Jat agitation, which until last week crippled life in parts of the state, is all but forgotten. The people of Rewari are more interested in how Finance Minister Arun Jaitley proposes to double their income in five years. For a district with bad roads, appalling sanitation and poor healthcare, it sounds like a distant dream.

Almost 70 km from Delhi on National Highway 8, we turn right towards Pataudi and enter Rewari district, where the construction of a railway crossing forces us to take a village road. Wheat and mustard crops stand tall on both sides of the road leading to Nanu Khurd. A dusty road through the middle of the village, it turns out, is the only one connecting the nearby villages. This tenuous link to urbanity is inaccessible during the monsoon. It is barely navigable now. Every passing vehicle thrusts up a cloud of dust. Twenty queasy minutes later, we are at Balewa village. Here, a concrete road still under construction emerges to provide welcome respite from the dirt path. We head straight for a group of people seated under a banyan tree, smoking a hookah. Thirty-five-year-old Darshan Kumar Yadav, the newly-elected Sarpanch, is struggling to answer questions about the Budget. He doesn’t know much, not having taken charge from the outgoing Sarparch yet. But he is hopeful that the Government’s efforts to empower Gram Panchayats will bear fruit.

The Budget’s nine-point agenda is rural-centric to be sure, with almost 15 per cent of the total outlay going directly to Panchayats. India has 2.5 lakh Panchayats. Each of them has been allocated Rs 80 lakh over a period of five years, apart from funds from different schemes and the newly-launched Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan. In effect, every Panchayat should get around Rs 1 crore in a year to spend on the development of the village. The idea is to promote Panchayat autonomy rather than providing funds under state or central schemes.

The residents of Balewa are waiting to witness the change that has been promised. There are 800 houses and around 7,000 people in the Yadav-dominated village. The local economy is completely dependent on agriculture. About 65,000 villages in the country are yet to be connected by a concrete road. Balewa is one of them. This time, the Budget allocation for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) has almost doubled to Rs 19,000 crore. This makes the people of Balewa hopeful; they have waited decades for a pucca road. “The one thing that has stalled the development of our villages is the lack of road connectivity,” says Rajesh Yadav, the outgoing Sarpanch of the village. “Whenever we demanded a road, the block officer would say that there was no fund. I hope the Budget empowers the new Sarparch to get funding.” Thirty-one-year-old Sunil Yadav recalls how Poonam, the wife of his friend Balwaan Yadav, lost her child en route to a hospital in Rewari. “The journey took too long. She bled heavily on the way. When we reached the hospital, the doctor told us that the child was dead,” he says.

 

 Sunita has a bank account, but she has never gone to her bank, which is 15 km away, to check what subsidies have been accruing. Villagers have also opened Jan Dhan accounts, but seem uninterested in the deposits 

Balewa and the neighbouring villages are not entirely undeveloped. They have electricity and water connections. Last year, when a hail storm damaged their Rabi crop, the Haryana government compensated them well, paying Rs 7,200 per acre of wheat as compared to Rs 2,750 per acre given by the Uttar Pradesh government. The agrarian crisis here is no different from that afflicting other parts of the country and farmers are sceptical of promises of change. Little rain over the past two years has made them rely entirely on tubewells, increasing the cost of agriculture. “It is more profitable to work as a daily labourer than take loans to do farming using tube wells ,” says Darshan Yadav. “But as landlords, we cannot abandon our land.”

“How will we earn more?” asks 56-year-old Govind Pal Yadav. “There is widespread disagreement in the country when farmers are offered a better MSP for produce.” Like him, most villagers sell their produce to the local Bania, who offers lower rates than the MSP and pays them after months. “FCI officials only give assurances, but procure very little of our produce,” he says. Govind Pal farms 16 acres of land, four of them his own. The new E-Mandi scheme announced in the Budget will prove helpful if implemented, says Radheshyam Yadav, a ward member. “It will prevent corruption in procurement,” he says. The Soil Health Card Scheme launched by the Prime Minister last year has not yet reached this place. With the current Budget, the Government plans to reach all 140 million farmers of the country.

Ask Darshan what his priorities for the village are and he counts a number of problems. After roads, the most important task would be to build a channel to direct the sewage, which now falls into a pond in the village. The Anganwadi centre next to the pond lies abandoned. “Last year, almost every family had someone suffer from dengue,” says Suman Yadav, an Anganwadi worker. “When the sewage started to flood into the centre, I moved it to my house in the village.” A water storage tank was constructed under MNREGA and it serves as a check dam, but there is a pressing need for a permanent solution.

 

 Farmers in the area are eagerly waiting for the newly announced ‘Nakul Swasthya Patra’ and the ‘Pashudhan Sanjeevani’ schemes that will benefit their animals

Also missing in Balewa and nearby villages like Nanu Khurd is a primary health centre or a dispensary. “There is no hospital nearby. We have to travel at least 15 km to reach a hospital in Rewari or 30 km to Pataudi,” says 45-year-old Satya Prakash Yadav, Sarpanch of Nanu Khurd. The animals are worse off. Three months ago, Satya Prakash’s buffalo, which he had bought for Rs 85,000, died of illness, as there was no veterinary doctor in the area. There is one animal doctor allotted to the Block of more than 10 Panchayats, but he cannot attend to every request. Fortunately, Satya Prakash had a government insurance policy for his buffalo. He is eagerly waiting for the newly announced ‘Nakul Swasthya Patra’ and the ‘Pashudhan Sanjeevani’ for animals. Under Nakul Swasthya Patra scheme, farmers will be issued a health card after proper examination from a veterinary doctor for their animals. The Pashudhan Sanjeevani scheme is an animal wellness programme where the villagers will be trained to take proper care of their animals. Apart from that, an e-market portal is in planning so that it can connect the farmers to breeders offering breeding facilities. Currently there are some private breeders who are called by villagers when they need it for their animals. However there are lapses there too. “ We call the private breeder who has painted his numbers across the village,” says Satya Prakash pointing towards a wall which has a mobile number with a message—‘Contact for artificial breeding’. “But the guy never really picks up the call.” The Government has also announced establishing a National Genomic Centre to research and develop indigenous breeds.

Over a hundred households in Balewa live below the poverty line, most of them in the ‘Harijan Tola’ to the east of the village. Families here, mostly SCs and STs, live in houses constructed under the Indira Awaas Yojana and depend on daily wages for their livelihood. We meet Sunita, the wife of Jile Singh, a labourer who is away working on a villager’s farm. Despite being close to industrial towns like Manesar, Rewari and Alwar, no one from Balewa goes to work in the factories. “They prefer Biharis over us as they pay them very less,” says Sunita. Her husband earns Rs 300 per day but the work is not regular. On average, he works for 10 to 12 days in a month, earning around Rs 4,000. There was MNREGA work in 2013, when the sewage check dam was constructed. But that was just for three months.

A group of students from the Harijan Tola pooled enough money to buy a computer that has been kept at Sunita’s house. Students come at night to practise typing. A computer is important for getting a job, they know. They are excited about the new Digital Literacy Mission, which aims to cover 60 million rural households in three years. The older villagers are more reluctant to embrace technology. Two months ago, a computer arrived at the Panchayat building for the use of the Sarpanch and other villagers. It lay forgotten, wrapped in paper, as the village prepared for elections.

Sunita has a bank account, but she has never gone to her bank, which is 15 km away, to check what subsidies have been accruing. Other villagers, too, are unaware of subsidies. Some have opened Jan Dhan accounts, but seem uninterested in the idea of deposits. “So many schemes are there and I know there is enough funding too,” says Sunil Yadav, highlighting a real problem. “The point is how many people know about them? The Government should make us aware about the schemes.” For instance, no one in Balewa has opened an account under the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana announced in the last Budget by the Finance Minister. Only three people got insurance under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Bima Yojana. The situation is similar in nearby villages. Surely, it is time to turn over a new leaf. On paper, the Budget provides an impetus for change, but everything will depend on how it is executed.

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