Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

Ahmedabad Live

Kailashben Gajjar is a widow who lives in Madhuban Park Society, Naroda. For several years she used to intermittently get a Rs 500 widow’s pension from the state government. Suddenly this meagre income stopped earlier this year. Kailashben went from pillar to post to be finally  told that having crossed 60, she was no longer qualified to get a widow’s pension. Now she was eligible for an old age pension which was only Rs 200. That too has not been forthcoming. Does this mean that advancing age cancels out the fact of being widowed?

Pipraj in eastern Ahmedabad lies close to the city’s biggest dumping ground, the filthy, smelly, mosquito and fever infested Pirana. A large number of families were moved here after being thrown out of their homes in Danilimda, though not without a fight. They had to move the Gujarat High Court which ordered that the AMC provides them alternative land. During one of the much hyped Gareeb Kalyan Melas, families here were given certificates of Rs 4500 to be redeemed from the government to build individual toilets. The certificates are getting yellowed but there is no money forth coming from the government. According to local activist Preetiben, there is hardly a single family who has received any aid whatsoever after being dumped in this cut off and infrastructure –less land.

Kailasba Parmar of Navania village lost her house in the earthquake. Then the next year due to the failure of the monsoon their cotton crop failed. Her husband, with a debt of Rs20,000 and an income of less that 5000, committed suicide. The family became destitute in spite of an acre of land, which the Talati valued at generating an income of Rs 10,000! In 2007 she was awarded a certificate for an Indira Awas Yojana house redeemable for Rs 45000. In all these years all she has managed to get is Rs 2500. Unable to even dig the foundation of a dwelling for that sum, she used it up in her day to day needs. Since then she goes from office to office to get the rest of the money, but to no avail. And as she philosophically says, “How can one build even a small home for that money?”

In response to an RTI enquiry asking for the total publicity and incidental budgets related to the high profile Gareeb Melas, only partial and faulty data has been provided. But it is enough to point to the publicity stunt that these Melas are. In Surat, for instance, a mere 340 people benefited from the Mela and were given a total of Rs 653730. But the amount spent for the event, including local publicity, tents and lights, but not including the costs of  the CM and other Ministers travel, food etc, comes to more than this at Rs 6,85,790! What about the full page advertisements in all the papers? They cost lakhs. This information though is still under wraps.

So what is the publicity stunt? Every one of the schemes under which benefits are being given have existed for years. If our bureaucracy was honest and efficient, all 2 crore poor Gujaratis should have been getting the benefits of the schemes anyway. They haven’t. Also, once the Gareeb Mela jamboree was strategized to throw tit bits at the poor to cancel building unrest, all the people who applied for  scheme benifits on a routine basis were made to wait months till the Chief Minister organized a  Mela and “gave” to the poor what was their due anyway. Yes it is true that 25 lakh poor people have been thrown some money (mostly small sums of Rs 250 to 500 to 4500, mostly as certificates redeemable if they were lucky) to keep them quiet, and that this has hugely impressed our muddle class as efficient statesmanship, the actual needy, the lakhs without houses or without the guarantee of two meals a day, are mocked at. Like the families in Ramapir No Tekro, who sat with Rs 4500 toilet certificates outside their newly bull dozed homes.

Anusha Rizvi, come make Ahmedabad Live. There is much more than a Lal Bahadur here.


December 5th, 2010, DNA


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