How Modi’s Adopted Villages Are Faring On The ‘Vikas’ Front
We take a stock of the development works happening in PM Modi’s adopted villages - Jayapur and Nagepur in Varanasi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his first address to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort - undoubtedly his best Independence Day speech by far - had announced his vision for what the individual Members of Parliament (MPs) could aspire to achieve in the next five years: selecting and nourishing three adarsh (model) villages in their respective constituencies. “If we have to build a nation, we should start from the village,” he said.
The idea behind this novel scheme seemed prudent. As explained by Modi, there were many schemes in the name of the Prime Minister or various other leaders, but no such programme on behalf of the MPs from whom people expect a great deal - from something as basic as covering potholes to making jobs available. On 11 October, the birth anniversary of Jai Prakash Narayan, Modi launched Sansad Aadarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) with much fanfare. As an MP from Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency, he adopted Jayapur, a village 25 km from the city, as his first project to be converted into a model village.
Three years later, how does the village fare?
Jayapur is eight kilometres from the Grand Trunk Road and is connected to it via a single lane road. We recognise the village when we see a travellers lounge on the right side of the road, a rare roadside amenity in rural areas. It’s a well-built open structure made of tin sheets with steel chairs fixed to the ground.
"No more suffering the scorching sun while waiting for a bus," smiles a villager as he catches us clicking pictures of the bus shelter.
Adjacent to it is a hand pump for drinking water. We enter a huge concrete gate opening into the village and, to our delight, see a hoarding announcing it’s a BSNL free-WiFi zone. Next, we spot two bank branches with ATMs - that of the Union Bank Of India (UBI) and Syndicate Bank.
UBI also operates a centre where villagers, especially the youth, can come and read. Called the Village Knowledge Centre, the two-room structure features a mini-library complete with a reading table and books, and what's supposed to be a 'digital library'. Well, it only has an LED television.
Sanjay Patel, a villager who we find sipping tea at a stall, says, “Yahan akhbaar padhne ka intezaam bhi hai, bacche kitaab padh sakte hain library mein (There is a facility for reading newspapers. Children can come and read at the library)."
Shutters of both the rooms of the centre were down when we visited, and the dust accumulating inside suggested the rooms haven't been used much in the recent past. Maybe it's a facility that villagers didn't particularly need, but is a facility nonetheless.
Sanjay shows us the fields where Modi’s helicopter had landed when he came to campaign. A big private school is coming up at the spot where Modi delivered his speech. "Do solar panel lag gaye hain jiski vajah se din raat bijli milti hai (We have two solar panels that ensure continuous power supply).” He further talks about the "development works" that have happened in the last three years. “Humne kabhi socha nahi tha ki itni suvidha hamare gaon mein hogi (We never thought we would get so many facilities),” he adds.
Dingur Patel, from whose premises the banks and the knowledge centre are run, is another happy and satisfied man. He is all praise for his MP who has "transformed the lives of his people".
“It’s our good fortune that Modiji chose this village,” says Patel. He points towards a water tower that he says came up recently. “Ab humko din mein teen baar paani ki supply milti hai aur 20-22 ghanta bijli rehti hai. Poora vyavastha hi badal gaya hai gaon ka (Now we get water supply thrice a day and electricity for 20-22 hours. The entire village has changed),” Patel tells us. How were things in the past? The village used to get barely eight hours of power supply, he says.
We request Dingur Patel to give us a tour of the village. He readily agrees and takes us to the field where a 25 kV solar plant has been installed. A second 25 kV plant is on the other end of the village. Some media reports had pointed out how batteries and solar panels were stolen and sold by some antisocial elements. We enquire Patel about it. “Modiji has given so many things to us. Now it’s our responsibility to keep them safe and treat it as our own property. Now Modiji can’t keep an eye on everything here,” he says.
We visit a 'nand ghar' next, a well-maintained child care centre, an anganwadi if you will. At walking distance is a girls school, Adarsh Kanya Vidyalya, and a centre where women are working on manual and solar-operated spinning wheels. Suman Devi, a 32-year-old mother of two, works here six days a week from 10 am to 4 pm. She makes about Rs 200 a day, and this has changed the fortunes of her family. "I am an illiterate woman. I am so happy I am earning and helping my family," she says, and smilingly adds, "It's also fun. I have so many friends now."
As many as 30 families have been provided employment at the looms and spinning wheels businesses, informs Lata Devi, who manages the centre.
As we walk through the village, we find many homes running on solar power, a pole in front of each house and panels on top of it.
One also sees many newly built houses under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Grameen). A beneficiary informs us that he, like several others, was provided Rs 1.2 lakh that was directly remitted into his bank account, to which he added some of his own money to build additional facilities.
The village is dotted with toilets built by the government. Toilets are perhaps the most ubiquitous sight not just in Jayapur but the entire Poorvanchal area.
The facilities are impressive and villagers are generous in expressing their satisfaction. One of them suggests we go to ‘Modiji ka Atal Nagar’. "You have not seen anything in Jayapur if you haven't visited that," he says.
Atal Nagar is slightly far from the village, in the fields. We reach there after manoeuvring through muddy pathways. But the arduous ride is worth it.
This quiet, serene housing society of 14 small, yet, aesthetically pleasing row houses is home of the village's Musahars. This tribal community, also called 'adivasis', is one of the poorest in the Poorvanchal belt, so poor that some of them are known to be 'rat-eaters'.
Jeetu Banbasi and his wife are together washing dishes when we visit. "We love this place," says Jeetu. "Nobody cared about us before. But now even other villagers visit us to spend time in our area." Earlier, the Musahars lived here in shanties.
What's particularly pleasing is that the society, complete with fruit-bearing trees and raised cement platforms underneath, gives a feeling of forest life. There is a temple too, dedicated to Shabri Mata, built exclusively for the community.
Solar panels atop the pole in front of each house provide 24x7 power supply, residents say.
The adarsh village is a work in progress, but if this area is anything to go by, MP Modi has certainly delivered an adarsh housing society for the poor that governments across the country can learn from.
After Jayapur, we visit Nagepur located on the the other side of GT road. Unlike Jayapur, the road leading to this village is no fun and one has to brave many zigzags and bumps. It is also narrower than Jayapur's. But the difference between the two adopted villagers isn’t limited to these roads.
Nagepur is a smaller village and less developed to begin with.
The people are happy that their village was adopted by Modi. Satyanarayan, a resident, says, “Ab log jaante hain hamare gaon ke baare mein. Sarkari afsar bhi aate hain yaha aur private companies ne bhi ruchi lena shuru kiya hai aur kaam bhi karvaaye hain (Now people know about our village. Government officers keep visiting and even the private companies have begun taking interest in us,” he says.
He points towards stainless steel garbage bins installed in a pack of two at frequent intervals. These steel bins were installed by the HDFC bank, we are informed. In Jayapur, we spotted many plastic bins, but some of them were broken. So, steel bins are definitely an improvement.
The bins have helped prevent litterring. "Earlier, we used to collect the garbage in a corner and burn it at the end of the day. Now we throw it in the dustbin," says a tea stall owner.
A few steps down the road is a waiting area similar to one we found in Jayapur. Adjacent to it is a cluster of seven homes of very poor households. They have three cows whose milk feeds everyone in the extended family. Their neighbour has a tractor.
The families tells us they haven't benefitted from Modi adopting the village, at least so far. We look around and spot a lot of 'izzat ghar' or toilets. Sursatti, a resident, is quick to tell us they weren't built by Modi.
“Modi ne to kuch nahi diya. Ye toilet to pradhan ji ne banwayi thi. Koi fark nahi pada hai,” she said dismissively. The toilet she is talking about was constructed by former sarpanch of the village with the funds received under Lohia Samagra Gram Vikas Yojana, a scheme launched by erstwhile Samajwadi Party (SP) government.
We meet the former sarpanch at his palatial kothi, probably the best house in the village. We aren't surprised as anyone who has visited enough villages in this area would testify that sarpanchs (former or current) are usually the richest people in the village. Only locals can say with authority whether they become pradhan because they are rich or become rich after becoming pradhan. But their houses are certainly a sight of envy when the rest of the destitute villagers depend on the government dole for even building a 4x4 toilet structure.
“The concrete roads and streets, Lohia houses, over 130 toilets were constructed under SP’s Lohia scheme during my tenure as the village sarpanch. Renovation of the primary school also happened before 2015." says the former sarpanch, who held the position from 2005 to 2015.
However, he adds that there has indeed been a renewed push for development after Modi adopted Nagepur. "Solar plants are coming up. A new water tank is being constructed. Projects are under progress," he said. "People are getting pipe water and power supply has improved."
He said that a palpable change is that bureaucrats and private companies are taking interest in the village, thanks to the prominence given by Modi.
“Kaam to hua hi hai (development work is certainly happening). A new small park-cum sitting area has been constructed where Ambedkarji’s pratima has been installed. A vermi-compost for producing organic manure was started by HDFC bank. A community centre has come up. Nand ghar (child care centre) has more facilities," he said. "But some equipment installed by Vedanta under corporate social responsibility was recently taken back by the company,” he adds.
We next visit the home of the current sarpanch to take stock of the work happening under his watch. Unlike his predecessor, his is a humble brick hous, which isn’t even painted, similar to most of his fellow villagers. He isn't home.
We talk to Tehsildar Rai, his neighbour, who is sitting outside on a wooden cot in blazing sun. His house has a power connection but he hasn't turned the fan on. "We don't need it in the day. We need electricity only at night," he says.
Rai is all praises for the incumbent pradhan. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it is the distance from the pradhan’s home that decides the villagers' opinion of his work. Farther one lives from the pradhan’s house, more likely he is to be disappointed with him.
It looks like this part of the village was left wanting under the previous regime.
“Power now comes at least 20-22 hours regularly. Many toilets have been constructed by the government recently," he said. "We did not benefit from toilets under the Lohia scheme. Even the ones made of fibre, installed by a private company, were bad and proved useless. They had no ventilation, got too hot in summers and had a pit right below the toilet bowl. Once it collapsed and a person fell into the pile of shit,” Rai shares the humiliating tale even as children huddled around him burst into laughter.
Have anyone got cylinders in the village? “Form to bharwaye hain pradhan sahab ne par abhi tak kuch mila nahi (We were made to fill forms but have not got anything yet,” says Tehsildar’s son Sujit Rai.
This part of the village also has several newly constructed homes under the PM Aawas Yojana. Vitarma Khaderu, a beneficiary, proudly showed us his two-room house built under his daughter-in-law Sitara's name. "Hum jhoot nahi kahenge. Hamara bahut fayda hua (I won't lie. I have benefitted a lot)," said Khaderu.
Things are changing, but villagers say the government could shift focus a bit and deliever on aspects they really need. They want the government to deliver on these important aspects in the coming years: A primary healthcare centre as they are forced to travel several kilometres to get even basic medicines. They want the government to help primary school graduate to the secondary level and, if possible, senior secondary level. Thirdly, they hope that some karkhana (factory) is set up so that their children aren't forced to migrate to cities for work.
Last year, PM Modi adopted Kakrahiya, his third village under the scheme. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath himself visited it in July last year and delivered the good news of the village coming under Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. It normally takes one year to formulate a development plan under the yojana. There is still time before one can pass judgment on how it is faring.
Apart from judging the scheme on development metrics, it is pertinent to note that SAGY is an interesting experiment in fiscal federalism. Most of the works that become part of SAGY plan are not what a MP is supposed to carry out in a parliamentary democracy. These vikas works are usually the responsibility of either the state government or local panchayat. The money also flows from coffers of the local government. But as noted earlier, people in India expect a great deal from their Lok Sabha representative and the scheme was designed keeping that in mind.
While the Prime Minister was successful in managing to attract the support of private firms to carry out some works, other MPs may have faltered on that aspect. Until about a year ago, when there was SP government in Uttar Pradesh, many works even in PM’s adopted villages got stuck as the state government didn’t want PM Modi to take credit for work that they were supposed to do. The execution gathered pace after the Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in Lucknow.
It is fair criticism of SAGY that the job of MPs, MLAs is not to carry out municipality’s work in villages but to legislate. But one is inclined to give it a pass after seeing the work done in Jayapur and Nagepur. The scheme will work wonders when the interests of the area MP and the local government are aligned, otherwise it will fall short of its objectives. That’s why, if SAGY is to work, co-operative federalism has to win.
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