//This village bridges caste divide to fight corruption

This village bridges caste divide to fight corruption

Ayesha Khan

Masar (Vadodara), May 28: RISING above political, religious and caste differences, people of a small village 45 km from Vadodara have raised their voices against corruption. Their initiative has made the authorities sit up and take action.

Expressing a rare solidarity, Muslims, Patels, backward castes and a VHP worker of Masar, a village of around 4,000, have come together against irregularities in giving benefits under the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) to those affected by last year’s floods. Those who did get aid, had to bribe officials for it.

Their fight has paid off. Within a week of dispatching petitions to the DDO, an inquiry was instituted. They say that village sarpanch Ramji Rabari, in connivance with government officials, left out Muslims and people from the backward classes from the list of 72 beneficiaries.

Leading the fight are one-time election rivals and Masar’s former sarpanches Nagin Patel, a retired IIM-A research associate, and Umar Malek. They are doing all the petitioning against Ramji Rabari and the officials involved.

Masar has around 400 Muslims, mostly BPL (below poverty line) card holders and also enumerated as OBCs, but none figure in the list.

Umar Malek says, “The sarpanch saw to it that no Muslim benefited from the scheme even as he allotted homes to nine persons who are not even SCs. Nine others have not even built homes, but three installments of funds have been released to them.”

Hiraben Parmar, who died on May 25, 2005 much before the floods, figures in the list of allottees.

Interestingly, VHP worker Rakesh Patel, who has worked with staunch Hindutva activist and BJP MLA from Padra Poonam Parmar, pointed towards cases wherein Muslims and people from backward classes have not received a penny of relief despite their mud homes being swept off by floods. Rabari is said to be very close to Poonam Parmar.

To build a new mud house, Mirsad Malek mortgaged his small farm. So did Shanti Mali who even bribed Rabari Rs 1,000 to become an IAY beneficiary. “But no avail,” said Patel, who had even objected to construction of IAY homes on village panchayat land, but official did not take cognisance.

Padra Taluka Khedut Samaj president Kanu Patel said after Muslims, Patels were the target. “They were framed in false cases. Rabari had Parmar’s support.”

Patels too have pledged support to BPL Muslims and backward caste families after a controversy over Masar’s boundary committee which guards the village fields. The Patels allege that Rabari and Parmar instigated trouble, got the committee disbanded and initiated harassment by police.

Tribhovandas Mali, who belongs to the backward class, is one of the 72 beneficiary, but that gives him no reason to be happy.

“I had to pay Rs 8,000 as bribe to be on the list. The house was ready, but only after I greased palms of the contractor and the sarpanch,” said Mali.

Gramsevak Mahesh Patel had reported the irregularities to Padra Development Officer in January 2006, but in vain. Then followed a signature campaign by panchayat member Chandrakant Patel and Nagin Patel. They listed 18 worst cases and sought immediate action.

As a joint strategy, Muslims too pitched in with another petition alleging communal bias, supported with affidavits and documentary evidences on cheque distribution to beneficiaries who built homes on government land instead of their own as the scheme entails.

These were dispatched to Vadodara District Development Officer M Thenarresan barely a week ago, and an inquiry was instituted.

Admitting to the irregularities by Rabari and supervisors, Vadodara circle District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) officer R J Patel said, “The destruction was massive and so beneficiaries were allotted help under great pressure. But, that’s no excuse.”

Supervisor Paresh Patel has been sent back to Irrigation Department and has been removed from the scheme, said Patel who submitted the inquiry report to the DDO.

“The selection of beneficiaries is wrong. We are looking into each of the allegations as the petitions are supported by evidence. The allotments can be cancelled and the sarpanch disqualified,” said Thenarresan. Poonam Parmar said there was a problem, but defended Rabari, putting the blame on DRDA officials.