Many villagers of Chhatarpur district in Madhya Pradesh now live in pucca houses, thanks to Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
But whether this will translate into votes for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the upcoming elections, only time will tell.
Pappu Kohar’s life is a notch better than it was four years ago. He opened a bank account in 2015. He got a two-room house built in 2016, including a toilet. In 2017, the family got a gas cylinder. “This is the first time we have got something from the government,” says the 28-year old resident of Kunderpura adivasi hamlet in Madhya Pradesh’s Chhatarpur district which falls in the backward Bundelkhand region.
Pappu Kohar is not alone. “The villagers have built around 70-80 homes under PMAY,” says another resident, Jagjit Kohar.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) by restructuring Indira Awas Yojana (IYI) in 2016. Increasing financial assistance from Rs 70,000 to Rs 1.2 lakh per unit and crediting it directly into bank accounts bypassing the middlemen were the most important changes. Additionally, beneficiaries were also entitled to over 90 days of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) wages apart from providing them with assistance of Rs 12,000 for building a toilet.
This later installment doesn’t seem to come as smoothly. “The panchayat secretary told us that you will get an additional Rs 30,000 after plastering the house. I had it done after taking out a loan but it’s been months and I haven’t got the promised amount,” says Pappu Kohar. Many residents of Kunderpura had the same story to tell. “We are not literate and don’t know the details of the scheme. So, we do whatever the secretary tells us,” Jagjit Kohar tells us.
“I haven’t got the money but my son and his family did. They got Rs 1 lakh and 20,000 directly in Modi khaata,” says 60-year old Chhanga Kohar referring to the money credited under PMAY for construction of a pucca home into a bank account opened under Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana.
Though Chhanga Kohar is disheartened that he is not the beneficiary of PMAY yet, he takes comfort in the fact that his son and his family sleep under a brick and mortar roof. The intended beneficiaries of the scheme are extremely poor, homeless households from the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, minorities and other backward classes, who tend to have large families, and the one-room-one-kitchen-one toilet structure is hardly sufficient. So, parents and children often get themselves classified as separate households to receive more social welfare benefits which is the norm continuing from ration card era.
While most villagers are happy, there are many who complain that they haven’t received the money despite being in the PMAY beneficiary list. Lallu Kohar is one of them. “The panchayat secretary doesn’t approve our name. Whoever bribes him, gets the money,” he tells us.
Gangadeen Harijan who is a minority Dalit in this adivasi hamlet says, “I haven’t received the amount either though I feature in the list. We didn’t get the cylinder either. We were told the quota for the village got over.”
PMAY puts the premium on precision targeting. Instead of identifying all beneficiaries from the BPL database, it selects them using housing deprivation parameters from the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC), 2011, segregating those living in 0,1 and 2 kutcha wall houses and prioritising them in the waiting list. The target is to build one crore houses by 2019 and another two crore by 2022. So, people like Lallu Kohar will get the money but may have to wait a little longer though the scheme’s design - approval of beneficiary by gram sabha - adds an undesirable layer of discretion which if not for corruption reasons can deprive even genuine needy thanks to village-level caste politics with those in charge discriminating in favour of people of their community.
The problem gets accentuated when hamlets like Kunderpura don’t have independent panchayats. This hamlet comes under Tikuri gram sabha which is slightly far and has different dominant caste. Still Kunderpura in Rajnagar tehsil is one of better faring ones. Villagers in Karri are not as lucky. This small hamlet in Bijawar tehsil of Chhatarpur district has a population of only 200 people, all belonging to the Gond tribe. Its panchayat falls in village Kadawar.
“They have approved names of people from their own village. Why would they give to Gonds? Maybe, it’s because we voted for different candidates in panchayat elections,” says Raghunath Gond.
“We have already given the application. Don’t know why they are not processing it. We got the cylinders though,” Shiv Dayal chips in.
Hira Gond is one of two in the entire hamlet who has got Rs 1.2 lakh credit. But he is not living in a pucca home. Rather, he houses his cattle there. “I couldn’t build the house completely as I ran out of money. Rs 1.2 lakh is simply not sufficient. The cost of construction material is too much these days,” Hira Gond tells us.
When asked whether they use the toilets constructed recently, the villagers said that there is no water. “We have to fetch water from far. We can’t afford to just flush it down the toilet,” says Baralal Pharwal. Cylinders are of no use to them either. “What do we use it for? Initially we cooked using the cylinder but it got over. We don’t have the money to refill it.” says Raghunath Gond.
Though many extremely poor households share this view, some slightly better off believe it’s a welcome addition to the kitchen. “A cylinder comes in handy when a guest visits. We can quickly make a cup of tea without much hassle. In winters and rainy season, it is very useful as the wood gets wet and takes a very long time to burn,” says Bhagirath Ahirwar of Gadarpura village in Rajnagar tehsil of Chhatarpur district. His neighbour also chips in. “It’s for emergency though our expenditure has gone up a little. But it’s worth it,” Bora Ahirwar adds. Jagdish Ahirwar who is slightly poorer doesn’t think it is of much use. “We don’t have money to refill. It’s been empty for the past two months now.”
However, Bhagirath Ahirwar is waiting for his PMAY credit so that he can start building his home. “We have a big family. We live in this kutcha house which we have to tend to and repair every now and then. My name is in the list. I had it checked by an educated young lad online. Still, I haven’t got the money,” he adds, requesting this correspondent to “get the government to release the money” for him.
Binahayi Ahirwar’s son got the money in 2016. They have a pucca house now and also a toilet which the family uses. “Bache antar to hai. Chatt nahi girti hai” (my child there is definitely a difference, the roof doesn’t fall down now. All that hassle is gone), she says.
Gadarpura is a Pal community dominated village though most of the beneficiaries of PMAY and Ujjwala belong to Scheduled Castes as the former are economically better off. Former sarpanch Ram Kripal told us that in total 35 houses under PMAY have been constructed in the village.
In Bijawar tehsil, Raipura village is dominated by Ahirwars, a scheduled caste, with around 300 families. Brahmins with 60 families is the second major group. Around 80 per cent of beneficiaries in this village have received gas cylinders as well.
Munnilal Pidaha, who is currently constructing his house, says the current scheme is much better. “Paisa pehle bhi aata tha par labharthi tak pahunchta nahi tha” (money used to come earlier too but didn’t reach beneficiaries).
Rajesh Shukla, a brahmin and former guest teacher who taught in the local government school for 10 years, has helped 70 impoverished families get gas cylinders and connections. He is all praise for Modi for eliminating the corruption in welfare delivery, however, he doesn’t support the cradle to grave welfare regime. “Nikamma bana rahe ho logo ko. Poora dhyaan shiksha pe dena chahiye. Sab anpadh hain. Bina siksha ke kaise sarkar ki nitiyon ka laabh uthayenge? Agents ke paas jaate hain aur ghoos khilate hain. Swayam pata hota to kisi ki jaroorat nahi padti. Siksha ke bina vikas sambhav nahi. Sarkar ka uss par koi dhyaan nahi. Yahan sirf ek teacher hai primary ke liye aur do secondary school ke liye. Main guest teacher tha, mamaji ne hata diya,” he says.
Auri Lal Saur, a PMAY beneficiary acknowledges Shukla’s contribution in helping him and his neighbours get gas connections and access other government benefits. “He helps us without any expectation.” On PMAY home, Saur tells us that he “had to constantly keep repairing kutcha house throughout the year. Now, we don’t have to worry about all that.”
These first-hand accounts from Kunderpur, Gaderapura, Raipura, Karri, Bijawar town - all in Chhatarpur district - show people are acknowledging how they have got something from the government for the first time. And all of them are from the lowest strata of the society - Dalits, adivasis, extremely poor households. These are not considered to be vote banks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). So, will schemes like PMAY and Ujjwala help the party in Madhya Pradesh assembly election scheduled for the end of this month?
Pappu Kohar whom we met in Kunderpura doesn’t want to reveal his cards. “Jo bhi sab log bolenge, ussi ko vote denge” (whatever the community decides, we will vote for that candidate). Would getting Rs 1.2 lakh in his account, which helped him construct a pucca home come into calculation and sway his vote in favour of the BJP on the voting day? He doesn’t answer. “Jagjit Kohar is more vocal, “Definitely it’s Modi who has given all this for the first time but we have to see the local candidate also. Here people vote for naati raja (Congress local MLA) as he is very approachable and get their work done. This time, we will decide before the election day.”
Bindayi Ahirwar, whom we met in Gadarpur, doesn’t seem to know who Modi is but is grateful to the government for providing aid to build the house. “Who should I vote for beta? I will vote for whoever you tell me to,” was her puzzling answer which could hardly be called sincere. It is quite likely that she will vote for whoever the men in the family tell her to.
Rajesh Shukla, a guest teacher in Raipura removed by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, vows, “Ab mamaji ko hatana hai”. But he will vote for Modi in 2019 irrespective of the candidate. “The BJP has fielded an outsider who never did any work here during his stint as MLA. We will vote for SP as it has fielded a son of soil who was always available for us whenever we called.” Gonds in Karri also say that though they haven’t decided but the SP candidate is the only local face they know. In Bijawar town, elders in Ahirwar colony don’t want to reveal their voting intention. The youngsters however are quite vocal. “Our local MLA didn’t do any work in last five years. Why should we vote for him? Next year, we intend to vote for Modi but will also look at the candidate,” says 18-year old Sultan Ahirwar who will be voting for the first time.
One RSS karyakarta from neighbouring Panna who talked to Swarajya on condition of anonymity said, “Speaking from purely electoral perspective, the government has wasted a lot of money by spending on SCs/STs under PMAY or Ujjwala. It’s okay for welfare but if the idea was to win votes based on that, it won’t work. Because here it’s the liquor on election eve and not the PMAY that will decide the voting. The government made two mistakes. First, it should’ve spent the money on OBCs instead who can "persuade” even SCs/STs to vote for you in their areas. Second, if the target was only welfare delivery, then at the very least the money could’ve been routed through BJP or Sangh karyakartas at the grassroots who can get you their votes on election day.”
This is definitely a sharper political strategy and has been perfected by Congress over the decades by attaching welfare delivery to party loyalty. But Narendra Modi’s approach so far suggests that he isn’t interested in replacing the Congress with the BJP while keeping this model intact. He wants to destroy this very model of patronage. It is precisely for this reason that his focus has been on eliminating the middlemen as far as social schemes are concerned. Only time will tell whether he succeeds on not.
In the meantime, people in Chhatarpur district are grateful to PM Narendra Modi’s Awas and Ujjwala yojana and acknowledge openly the good work done by the central government. However, this goodwill that the Prime Minister has earned among the backward classes in the state is unlikely to help CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan reap electoral benefits.