From our Special
SILCHAR, Feb 2: All is quiet in the largest Hmar village of Hmarkhawlien in Assam under Fulertal gaon panchayat of Lakhipur sub division of Cachar. There is no heat and dust of panchayat elections with, just 10 daysleft for the polls. Two little boys are seen walling up posters of zilla parishad candidate, Pradip Kumar Dey of Congress. Also seen in the alleys are campaign posters of AIUDF with Badaruddin Ajmal’s appeal for support. In this bastion of Congress with 10,000 population dominated by Hmars, pineapple cultivation is their prime occupation and the mainstay of economy.
After the ushering in of panchayat system in 2003, much has not changed in this village as cross–sections of people are openly expressing their displeasure at the way funds for development are allotted against welfare schemes and projects are mismanaged and misappropriated. The voice of dissent and resentment has brought in the fray for GP president 26 year old Rosangpui, post graduate in political science and a social activist attached to Guwahati based NGO ‘One Hope’ working for youth and child. She has thrown gauntlet before the present incumbent, Lalringlien Sanate (36) who has been at the helm of affairs for consecutive two terms.
“Roshangpui is people’s choice as an independent to take on Sanate of Congress”, said Dolur Hmar, village youth leader and ex–army man. She is well qualified and articulate to understand and appreciate the feelings of people who want change. There is no incumbency factor, pointed out Dolur Hmar. What has gone wrong?
Though 29 subjects are under the governance of gaon panchayats, solely for the beneficiaries, the implementation is faulty, rued Abraham Hmar (33), a social worker. He lists the schemes for the old age pension, BPL ration cards, RGGBY electricity, Indira Awas Yojna, Safe drinking water, health and education structure and infrastructure and many others and asks which one is being implemented fairly and maintaining transparency.
To lend voice to Abraham, octogenarian T Chunga, village announcer, takes this scribe to a pond maintained by the Methodist Church on Mission Veng Field for fishing. Middle men by taking recourse to fraud manipulated the pond to show it as having been created under MNREGS on record to withdraw Rs. 5 lakh from the fund allotted. Dolur Hmar has another scam to unfold. He takes a stroll along Hmarkhawlein–Sonbari road being constructed under MNREGS at an estimated cost of Rs. 13.36 lakh. In reality, the road, metalling yet to be done, is being constructed by PWD (R). Dolur Hmar says after public hue and cry, investigation was conducted by the State vigilance cell. It found enough materials to substantiate the allegation. The block development officer, Saroj Das, was arrested and jailed and the GP president, Lalringlien, evaded arrest by seeking anticipatory bail from the Gauhati High Court. He adds to say cases against alleged misappropriation of MNREGS fund to the tune of Rs. 80 lakh are pending and that tells how people are being benefitted under panchayat raj.
Rosangpui looks confident with ever growing support rallying around her for the keen contest ahead on February 12 to take on her lone rival of Congress, Lalringlien Sanate. With burning problems of job cards, road, safe drinking water, sanitation, Indira Awas Yojna, health and education, Rosangpui goes on campaign after dusk when the residents return home from their works, mostly on fields and plantations. She asserts, “I want to bring about a change in the governance and to deliver the benefits of panchayat raj to people, maintaining transparency and accountability”. She will not repeat the arbitrary and whimsical style of functioning of Rosangpui. One of her priorities, besides good governance, will be education to push up the literacy rate from a poor 45% to the 65%.
Lalringlien Sanate whom this scribe meets at her residence laughs away at all the allegations of her rival and detractors against her. She dubs them as ‘baseless and unfounded.’ This is nothing but canard and lie being spread against her. On the specific allegation of misappropriation of MNREGS funds, she while dismissing it as ‘wild and fabricated’ admits not much work has been done in this GP. She attributes it to lack of funds and their release and allotment are held up at the higher level, she says.
Lalringlien Sanate when asked about the arrest and incarceration of the BDO, Saroj Das, says this is not in any way related to the investigation instituted against her and reveals that she has obtained permanent bail. Besides lack of funds standing in her works, she exposes how the menace of ‘proxy in job cards’ is frustrating the very objective of MNREGS. She says there is no alternative to Congress and in her door to door campaign the thrust is to convey the message to people that notwithstanding all the deficiencies, panchayat raj alone can change the face of villagers and their village. The battle between Lalringlien Sanate and Rosangpui is being keenly watched and result awaited by their voters.