Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s pet project, the ‘seven commitments’ towards development, does not reach the state’s most disenfranchised communities.
“Our ankles are swollen because our floor and lanes are inundated with dirty water. The village has no drainage system in place,” says Renu Devi, a resident of Ratan Laxmi village in Sitamarhi, Bihar.
Not all of Ratan Laxmi is waterlogged; it is only the Mahadalit settlement of the village, located in a low-lying area that lives with the problem. It is common for Dalit communities to live in low-lying and downstream areas as the upstream and elevated areas are usually reserved for ‘upper’ caste settlements.
Continued water logging leaves the 150 families that call this settlement home vulnerable to water-borne diseases. They cannot afford the healthcare costs that come with it. “Our children fall sick all the time, how can we get them treated time and again?” asks Devi. Apart from illnesses, the waterlogged lanes also expose residents to the risk of snake bites.
Since September 2016, the Bihar government has been running the Saat Nishchay Yojana (seven commitments scheme) for rural and urban development; the commitments cover health, sanitation, livelihoods, skill development, education loans and electrification. Of the seven commitments, the Nalli Galli Pakkikaran Yojana promised pucca roads and drainage to all towns and villages, and the residents of Ratan Laxmi also hoped to benefit from it. However, the scheme is yet to see light of day.
The residents of this settlement say that the village head, the Block Development Officer, the Circle Officer and the Ward Commissioner made them run from pillar to post. “The raw materials (soil) for the road and drain construction have been sanctioned, but they never levelled the lanes with it. It was siphoned off by the village head,” says Community Correspondent Guddi Kumari.
According to Bihar government data for the financial year 2016-17, no money was spent out of the total sanctioned amount of 261 lakh rupees.
The Block Development Officer (BDO) assured Guddi that work on the Nalli Galli Pakkikaran Yojana would resume soon and said that it was stalled due to the May 2017 Patna High Court order. This was in response to a petition filed by an association of village heads who argued that two of the seven commitments, the Nal Jal Yojana and the Nalli Galli Pakkikaran Yojana, must continue to fall under the purview of panchayats rather than a centralised, state-level administrative body. The petition was subsequently dismissed in November 2017 and the government’s centralised system ruled valid.
The former BDO had also said that the land would be levelled under MNREGA, the rural employment scheme that undertakes public construction work in villages. However, the work has not been done yet and Guddi is now planning to meet the District Collector over the unresolved issue.
Meanwhile, the incumbent BDO, whom Guddi met in the beginning of November 2018, has also assured her that the roads and drainage will be constructed by the end of December.
The Saat Nishchay Yojana, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s pet project, has not lived up to its promises as ground reports from Kaimur, Darbhanga, Samastipur and Araria reveal. Moreover, the government’s online records speak for themselves; in Sitamarhi, of the 1552 metres of road and 801 metres of drains proposed for 2016-17, the corresponding completion figures are zero.
While Bihar is constantly in the news for the fray in the top rungs of its political structure, the schemes and policies introduced by those in power seem to exist only on paper, depriving several rural communities of the right to a dignified and safe life.
Video by Community Correspondent Guddi Kumari
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team