On the Janmabhoomi roller coaster

Print edition : January 22, 2000

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu moves ahead with the ambitious Janmabhoomi scheme amid protests by students, naxalites and Opposition political parties.

THE 11th round of Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu's ambitious Janmabhoomi scheme, a programme involving people in the implemention of welfare measures, has been dogged by controversy. In keeping with his corporate style of governance in which people are treated as stakeholders in the State's development, the Chief Minister involved an estimated 5.5 lakh government employees, mainly from the local bodies and the Revenue Department, 1.22 lakh students and 27,000 lecturers in the latest round of Janmab hoomi held between January 3 and 11.

Even though the programme concluded without major problems, the Chief Minister's concept of micro-planning has provoked opposition. Political parties, students and naxalites tried to thwart it in their own way. While the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India opposed the "pro-World Bank" bias in the micro-planning approach, 15 student organisations of differing ideologies formed a Joint Action Committee to fight the "anti-student and anti-employee" policies of the government.

Each Janmabhoomi round had a different thrust area. The focus of the 11th instalment was on gram sabhas or village assemblies that would implement micro-plans, organise free health and veterinary camps and assist about two lakh persons with disabilities. However, the primary aim of the massive exercise - deemed to be bigger than the Census operation - was to prepare micro-plans for the 67,505 habitations, each encompassing a population of 200 individuals, and covering 3,393 municipal wards. The micro-pl ans will be dovetailed into mandal-, district- and State-level plans and will serve as an effective tool in the formulation of area-specific plans and efficient deployment of public funds.

Thousands of teams, each consisting of two students and a university lecturer designated as 'resource person', visited 185 lakh households in the State. They filled out a 50-point questionnaire on the basis of data obtained from each family on various pa rameters such as caste, family income and a gas connection. Data relating to 71 essential socio-economic indicators in all the habitations were collected.

Based on a human development survey and habitation profiles, the students were asked to prepare action plans for the next year and for subsequent five years for each habitation with the approval of the gram sabha. Rewards for the students included additi onal marks, up to a maximum of 10 marks, and a daily allowance of Rs.50. Officials were given merit certificates. Local bodies that prepared the best plans were given cash incentives.

Kerala is the only other State that has conducted a similar exercise in which MLAs and other representatives of the people and non-governmental organisations were involved in preparing 'people's plan'. However, according to Koratala Satyanarayana, Centra l Committee member of the CPI(M), at the end of the year-long effort, only 30 per cent of the plans attained the desired standards in Kerala. He said: "Why is Andhra Pradesh showing this haste by pushing in untrained and inexperienced students to prepare plans."

He said that the micro-planning exercise was faulty because it did not take into account important economic parameters. For instance, more than 50 per cent of the landholders in Krishna district have quit farming and leased their lands to small farmers. Twenty per cent of the irrigated land under Nagarjunasagar dam and 35 per cent of the land under Sriramsagar do not get water. "An extensive survey should bring out the real situation in rural areas," he said.

Another apprehension is about the accuracy of the household surveys. People might give false information, fearing that the survey was part of the government's attempt to weed out bogus ration cards by identifying families that have an annual income of mo re than Rs.11,000, the cut-off point to obtain family cards.

The government proposes to use the vast volume of data collected during the survey to issue a human development identity number (HDID) to all households. The Chief Minister said: "This will help the government to immediately identify all the existing and eligible beneficiaries of welfare schemes and to prepare future plans. With a comprehensive database covering all the 185 lakh households in Andhra Pradesh, we can ensure that no single family gets multiple benefits."

Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu at a grama sabha at Kukkunnur mandal in Khammam district on January 7, during the 11th round of the Janmabhoomi campaign.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Janmabhoomi programme envisages the beneficiaries themselves identifying the specific needs of the community, such as roads, electric poles and school buildings. The beneficiaries are expected to contribute 30 per cent of the cost, either by way of m oney or labour and also supervise the work.

The Janmabhoomi programme has put the Opposition parties in a dilemma. They can ignore a programme of such a large scale only at their own peril. They are unable to boycott the gram sabhas because they present an opportunity to serve the people directly. Nor can they participate in them as that would be construed as a sign of support to the ruling Telugu Desam Party.

While describing it as a laudable programme, the Opposition parties have criticised the Government for not fulfilling the identified needs of the people. There has also been criticism that the costs of the works, executed by the contractors close to the TDP, were inflated and the beneficiaries' share of 30 per cent in the cost recovered from the government. Another criticism was that old age and widow pensions were cornered by TDP followers.

Political parties and students alleged that Chandrababu Naidu was dancing to the World Bank's tune. Under the Andhra Pradesh Economic Restructuring Project (APERP), guided by the World Bank, the government is required to reduce staff strength at the rate of 1.9 per cent a year, which will shrink employment opportunities. Students mainly resent the government's failure to issue a notification to fill vacancies in the Group II Services (Municipal Commissioners, Assistant Commercial Tax Officers and Sectio n Officers) through the A.P. Public Service Commission (APPSC) for the past several years. When a delegation of students met him, Chandrababu Naidu said that vacancies in government would be filled only when necessary and not for the sake of creating emp loyment. He could provide opportunities for self-employment but not give jobs to the legion of the unemployed, he said.

The Joint Action Committee (JAC) of 15 student organisations organised road blocks and disrupted the Janmabhoomi programme. The JAC alleged that Chandrababu Naidu had not kept his pre-election promise of financing self-employment ventures under the Chief Minister's Empowerment of Youth (CMEY) programme. Around 20,000 of the 46,000 CMEY groups had not been given funds. There are an estimated 31 lakh educated unemployed people registered with the employment exchanges in Andhra Pradesh.

Chandrababu Naidu accused the Opposition of instigating and misleading the youth for narrow political ends. During the TDP rule, more than 80,000 teachers, 40,000 education volunteers, 10,000 police constables, 8,000 doctors and 10,000 drivers and bus co nductors were recruited, he said. The Chief Minister challenged the Opposition to organise a public debate and devise ways to raise funds for staff salaries and create new jobs without imposing fresh taxes. He asked: "Where is the money for all this?"

Protests were staged at the gram sabhas throughout the State. Several gram sabha sessions were disrupted by the people. In Birpur village under the Dharmapuri police station limits in Karimnagar, the Janmabhoomi programme was suspended following reports that Muppala Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapati, a leader of the People's War Group, was camping nearby.

In Secunderapur village in Jakranpally Mandal of Nizamabad district, a nodal officer was manhandled by a youth who charged the local sarpanch with distributing benefits to his kith and kin. Two students participating in the Janmabhoomi programme in Guntu r district were killed in accidents.

Unmindful of the student protest, threats by naxalites and public hostility in a few pockets, the Chief Minister attended 15 gram sabha sessions across 14 districts. He had reasons to describe the Janmabhoomi programme a success since cadres of the Congr ess(I), BJP and the Left parties also participated in it, notwithstanding their leaders' criticism of the programme. Eight of the nine Congress(I) MLAs in Chittoor district took part in the programme.

The Congress(I)'s stand was marked by confusion. Even as he described Janmabhoomi as a "useless programme" that served the TDP's partisan interests, State Congress(I) president Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was forced to defend the participation of his party ML As and workers in the programme. V. Hanumantha Rao, former PCC(I) chief, wrote to Rajasekhara Reddy questioning the propriety of party MLAs participating in Janmabhoomi in spite of the party's opposition to the programme. "You have also made Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi talk against the Janmabhoomi programme when she visited Tirupati on the campaign trail. Unless we have a clear vision, strategy and policy, we will not gain the confidence of the people," Hanumantha Rao said.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor