If a showpiece scheme can be distorted, Nitish govt needs to worry. Good intentions aren't all
The Mahadalit Commission, set up in 2007, carved out a new category in Bihar's Dalits, of the most deprived of the deprived. By giving them a new name, the Nitish Kumar government promised to better target the schemes meant for their uplift. The strategy was sound in principle: many special programmes disproportionately benefit those Dalit sub-groups that are numerically dominant, or relatively better off on development parameters. Despite the good intentions, however, Nitish's Mahadalit strategy has not been uncontroversial. From 2007 to 2010, more groups were included in the category, till the distinction became notional — to begin with, the commission had identified 18 of Bihar's 22 Dalit groups as Mahadalit; it now leaves out only the Paswans, seen as a vote bank of Ram Vilas Paswan. His political opponents have charged Nitish with dividing the Dalit vote and inaugurating a new jostling at the bottom of Bihar's social hierarchy. But even if Nitish were to be given the benefit of political doubt, there are still serious questions for his government to answer. As an ongoing series of reports in this paper highlights, these have to do with the implementation of the schemes meant for the Mahadalits.
The Nitish government appears to have relaxed its vigil against corruption when it comes to the distribution of land under the Mahadalit Vikas Yojana, to give 1,306.8 square feet plots to landless Mahadalit families to build a home under the Indira Awas Yojana. As The Indian Express investigation found in Araria, government officials and brokers have ganged up to buy land dirt cheap from villagers and then, within days, sell it to the government at four to five times the price. That land was then distributed to the Mahadalits. Apart from corruption, the showpiece scheme also shows signs of a worrying disconnect from the ground-level realities it claims to address. Many beneficiaries who have got their plots have little else — they are still stranded, with neither approach road nor the house that the yojana promised to deliver. In the CM's home district of Nalanda, several families have been allotted plots that fall in a 6.99-acre pond.
Admittedly, all schemes can be distorted by an unscrupulous or apathetic delivery mechanism. To be sure, Nitish's larger achievement — of reinstating governance in Bihar, and of redefining the equation between "social justice" and "development" in non-antagonistic terms — is undeniable. Yet there is a message from Araria and Nalanda: perhaps Nitish needs a mechanism other than his several yatras to monitor delivery at ground level. Perhaps, there must also be greater local political ownership of government's schemes in the districts.
[Courtesy: The Indian Express, June 9, 2012]