Will we allow them to die?-2 by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (June 02, 2016)
In the last article in this series we talked about how the ruling class seems to have taken the Rand Corporation report (to the US administration) suggesting that the poor of the Third World should be allowed to wither away and governments should not try to save the lives of these “unproductive” people. The report that came several years ago has left deep impressions on the ruling elite.
We also talked about how the Union minister for water resources, Uma Bharti, played a practical joke on the people of Bundelkhand, the area from where Bharti has come to Parliament. This area, reeling under the impact of severe drought was waiting for water sent by the minister in two dozen tankers.
The people waiting for water in these areas were aghast to find that there was no water in the tankers. This cruel joke reminds one of the “artistic” murder of innumerable Jews in gas chambers. Large herds of people - men, women and children - were driven to gas chambers in concentration camps as a band of musicians followed them playing Beethoven’s fine music. The Sangh, whose ardent cheli the minister is, admires Hitler greatly.
However, it is not just the NDA but the entire political class that seems to have forgotten the drought-hit 33 crore people across 256 districts in 10 states of India. That is, almost one-third of Indians have been forgotten. The most gruesome political reality of our time is that only 80-odd MPs were present in the Lok Sabha last month when the life and death issue of drought was discussed.
This is particularly distressing because people’s representatives are sent to the august house to make laws for the benefit of people and also to persuade the government of the day to pay heed to people’s needs. Thus the absence of MPs from the Lok Sabha was a serious dereliction of duty.
After 1986-87, it is for the first time that there has been a back-to-back monsoon failure. In practical terms it means that there is no work available in the villages as almost everyone’s livelihood there depends on agriculture, which depends on water.
Former civil servant and presently social activist Harsh Mander wrote recently in anguish, “The suffering of millions does not create public outrage, much less government accountability”. A leader writer observed: “The fact that it required the Supreme Court to tell the Centre to provide immediate relief to drought-hit states and release adequate funds for taking up MGNREGA works, only shows how much space the lawmakers have left for others to fill”.
The government, as is evident from the above, has to be asked by the Supreme Court to “release adequate funds” under MGNREGA. That is, the judiciary, the media and NGOs have to remind the government that something has to be done quickly and in sufficient measure to save millions of lives.
There is a sad story behind MGNREGA also as told by Harsh Mander: “The finance minister claimed he had allocated the highest ever resources to MGNREGA in the 2016 budget. However, allocations have fallen significantly in real terms from the peak of 0.6 percent of GDP in 2010-11 to 0.26 percent of GDP in 2016-17. Also, if the 2010-11 allocations are adjusted for inflation, allocations in 2016-17 should be higher than Rs. 66,000 crore to actually qualify as the highest ever. The allocation made in the current budget is Rs. 38, 500.
We can see the difference between the tall claims and reality, the promise and the delivery. Today MGNREGA is hobbled by not only inadequate allocation but also by rampant corruption at delivery level. In many places mukhias of gram panchayats have siphoned away a huge part of these funds. In such areas, flush with unearned money stolen by mukhias, local rivalries have grown, often leading to violence.
Meanwhile, as of writing this, distressed people from Bundelkhand have flooded Delhi looking for jobs and shelter. A New Delhi datelined report in The Indian Express of June 1 said: “For hundreds of farmers fleeing the drought-stricken districts of Bundelkhand this year, the most obvious “sheher” (city) to turn to for work and money is Delhi. And the first stop after their train chugs into one of the railway stations in the capital is Sarai Kale Khan “pul ke neeche (under the bridge)”.
In a cruel irony there are preparations on for celebration of Gramoday (rise of village) as the distress migration from villages to cities is growing.