Reality check

Modi’s ‘model villages’

Print edition : December 23, 2016

This picture taken in September shows a toilet at Nagepur village, which was adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year. Village chief Parasnath Thakur said the bio-toilets were “opposed by residents”. Photo: Prashant Nakwe

Solar panels ready to be installed in Jayapur village in 2015. Modi adopted the village in November 2014. Photo: Ramesh Sharma

The adverse impact of demonetisation has not spared the two villages adopted by the development man in his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi.

Dinanath and his wife, Geeta Devi, burst into loud guffaws in response to a question on how the “adoption” of their village by Prime Minister Narendra Modi early this year had benefited the family. The amused reaction was preceded by a discussion on their “zero balance” bank accounts in a nationalised bank, and the couple found the question posed by this correspondent rather superfluous. “Both accounts have no money. I was told the government would put some money into them, so I fell for it [opening the account],” said Dinanath, requesting help from “Modiji” even as he produced copies of two passbooks, one issued in 2012 and the other in 2014.

For several years, this resident of Nagepur in Modi’s parliamentary constituency of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh has done “laybrai” (loosely translated as menial labour), which includes transporting vegetables at the local Rajatalab vegetable market for sometimes as low as Rs.20 a quintal of, say, cauliflower or potatoes. Following demonetisation, Dinanath said, his daily earnings had taken a hit from about Rs.200-250 earlier to Rs.100-150 because trade at the market had “slowed” because of little availability of cash with the traders. Obviously, the fall in daily earning is a matter of concern for him.

Adarsh Gram scheme

It was in March this year that Modi adopted Nagepur, a village of around 4,500 residents, in phase II of his Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, which seeks to create “Adarsh Gram” (Model Villages) in each Parliament member’s constituency. In a rather ambitious mandate, the scheme, as described on its website, “envisages integrated development of the selected village across multiple areas such as agriculture, health, education, sanitation, environment, livelihoods, etc. Far beyond mere infrastructure development, (the scheme) aims at instilling certain values, such as people’s participation, Antyodaya, gender equality, dignity of women, social justice, spirit of community service, cleanliness, eco-friendliness, maintaining ecological balance, peace and harmony, mutual cooperation, self-reliance, local self-government, transparency and accountability in public life, etc. in the villages and their people so that they get transformed into models for others.”

In phase I of the scheme, the Prime Minister adopted Jayapur village, comprising 4,200 residents, in November 2014. It is located in the same Sevapuri Assembly constituency of rural Varanasi as Nagepur. Reaching the two villages takes less than an hour’s journey by road from the heart of Varanasi city. Their problems and concerns, however, continue to be far removed from those of the city and are closer to those faced by other underdeveloped rural parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh, despite multinational corporations, including Vedanta, implementing small projects in both villages as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Be it small farmers, daily wagers, micro businesses or families planning marriages, residents of the two villages—while expressing strong political support for the Prime Minister—told Frontline in no uncertain terms that their villages were far from the stated ideal of becoming “Model Villages” and the adoption by Modi of their villages had not shielded them from facing the adverse impacts of demonetisation.

Consider, for instance, what Nagepur resident Dharmendra Patel had to say. “What is the point of this village being adopted [by the Prime Minister]?” he asked. Before Modi’s November 8 announcement, Patel had accumulated Rs.85,000 in cash for his sister’s marriage. But he was apparently forced to deposit the amount in the bank, which would not let him withdraw the sum in new currency.

“We had to go around asking people for small loans and could gather only Rs.50,000 since banks were not giving more than Rs.2,000 or Rs.4,000. When I asked the cashier in our village bank why he was not letting me withdraw cash when households organising marriages were allowed to withdraw Rs.2,50,000, he said no such decision was conveyed to him and I should go and ask Modiji. We even approached the Varanasi-based Prime Minister’s Office for help, but got none,” he claimed.

No participatory approach

The impact of demonetisation is one part of the local residents’ woes, another being the entirely top-down, NGO- or corporate sector-driven approach to public welfare works in the villages, undertaken without adequate consultation or participation of the residents. For instance, works carried out in erecting solar street lights and constructing toilets and roads have had mixed success in the two villages.

Jayapur village head Narayan Patel told this correspondent that C.R. Patil, a Member of Parliament from Gujarat, who is seen as acting on behalf of the Prime Minister in the villages, got a road built in “three-four days” and it eventually broke. The solar lights and “bio-toilets” were also not well received by the local residents, he added. Some solar street lights were stolen and the toilets were lying unused or rejected.

Nagepur village chief Parasnath Thakur said the bio-toilets were “opposed by residents”. It was a Gujarat-based company that built them, and they were of no use, he said. While he expressed hope that things would gradually improve, Thakur pointed out the lack of any qualitative change in the livelihoods of small farmers and daily wage workers who comprised the bulk of the village population. Both village heads suggested a lack of participatory approach in carrying out the works under the scheme.

Among the works that did help the residents to some extent include the setting up of two bank branches in Jayapur and Nandghar (the centre of education for children) in Nagepur. There are a few other such initiatives too, but few of them appear to match up to the lofty mandate that Modi’s scheme has given itself.