We had the opportunity to visit some of the economically least developed pockets of Chotanagpur Plateau region, much before the recent brouhaha over the Planning Commissioning announcement of new BPL (Below Poverty Line) had hit the Media Headlines across India. After our discussions with many villagers living in tribal dominated areas, we came to know about the gross-irregularities that are being committed in the name of preparation and approval of the BPL list by the concerned block and district authorities.
Last month, the Planning Commission in its affidavit to the Supreme Court had justified that the fixing of Rupees 32 per day expenditure in urban areas and Rupees 26 per day expenditure in rural areas as a cut off to determine who is above or below the Poverty Line. Thereby in this age of never-ending inflation, anyone who manages to earn and spend as a minimum Rupees 32 or Rupees 26 per day, they are not to be considered Poor by the government authorities.
Lot has been said, written and debated about this issue of arbitrary fixing the BPL. We too, believe that this kind of Top-Down Approach, indulging in mere Statistical Exercise, sitting far away and somewhat removed from the harsh reality that the poor-sections of our society have to wage daily and unending struggle against the inflationary pressures. Consequently many of them still struggle to have at least two square meals a day.
But we would not get into this debate for now
Instead we are going to share with our readers, what was cruel reality that we came across during our whirlwind trips to these villages and semi-urban centres distressed by the Maoists and Security Forces’ violence, located in the blocks of Gumla District. It is the same district where Union Minister Jairam Ramesh visited recently and urged Jharkhandi Politicians to try to bring in positive change in Jharkhand’s political culture.
We found two distinct categories of people, while the third category also existed but they are not relevant for the present discussion, as they are honest and their do not take advantage of the loop-holes in the existing governance deficit in these tribal areas.
- First category, many of the BPL Card Holders in these villages and semi-urban centres belong to economically better off class; these families could afford Cell-Phones, Two-Wheelers, Pucca-Houses, etc. Some of them could easily fit into our burgeoning Indian middle-class, but for the fact they lived in rural and semi-urban areas in these remote areas.
- Second category, the real poor, the real needy one living in rural areas of Jharkhand; those who in reality have their per day expenditure way below the Rupees 32 or 26; many of these people and their families are denied the recognition from the local Government Machinery. They are usually not issued the much sought after BPL Card Holder by the authorities.
But why do people in First category cheat and use all kinds of corrupt methods to get into the Second category?
As we know that many benefits extended to BPL families like subsidized food from Ration Shops (PDS), medical facilities (financial assistance), free housing under Indira Awaas Yojana, free or subsidized electricity under Gramin Vidyutikaran, various pension schemes like Vridha-Old Age/ Widowed / Handicapped Pensions, employment generation schemes like MG-NREGA et al; these benefits act as nectar that attracts lots of proverbial well-off bees, who live in relative poverty amidst squalor and deprivation.
Thus, devoid of any sense morality, these proverbial bees can’t overcome their personal greed, so they use hook and crook to get to the Bottom of the Economic Pyramid officially. Needless to say, these stingy bees corner and monopolize all the benefits meant for the poor.
But why aren’t these influential and well-off people stopped from wrongly getting themselves registered in the BPL list?
Well few reasons can be stated here,
- One, there is no strict lawful deterrence or punishment to stop these powerful people to indulge in wrong-doing. As a result the ‘First Category’ of people blatantly hides, misrepresents and flout the rules for identification of BPL person/families to get into the list.
- Two, many a time these BPL list is prepared at the behest of the ruling political parties, who use BPL Cards to reward their cadres and supporters irrespective of their respective economic status. They are being rewarded for voting for them, while others are simply being punished. Ingenious democratic method to distribute BPL cards as freebies.
- Thirdly, the government officials who are responsible for identification and preparation of BPL list; they either shirk their duties and delegate the task to less incompetent persons or they fall for age-old lucrative considerations in lieu of putting in the name (s) in the much sought after BPL. It is called corruption.
- Fourthly, the District or Block Officials (who do not want to be named) have claimed that they are often given an arbitrary ‘magic-number’ of the total number of BPL persons/families in their administrative areas and then they have to somehow try to fit number of poor below that ‘magic-number’. Thereby, many deserving poor do not make to the final list.
So, it seems, even if the Planning Commission is going to fix Rupees 50 or Rupees 70 as the cut off for the detection BPL people / families then also the real poor people are not going to get the elusive BPL Red Card (Laal Card) in Jharkhand. We were told that by and large same BPL stories get repeated, all over the state.
We really wonder how our country can fight Maoism, when so much corruption and exploitation exist at the ground level, where nobody from ruling elite really looks and cares for.
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