10 July, 2008
“Injustice has been done to us, the bigwigs are benefited in our names and we the poor are betrayed। If I survive, I shall tell my villagers to fight against it. I shall never tolerate injustice and fight against it till my last breath”. These are the brave and inspiring words of 34 years old Adivasi Tapas Soren of Sadwaha village in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand, who lost his life while fighting against corruption in NREGA. He was neither associated with any anti-corruption organization nor with the social action groups but he was fighting against corruption in his own way.
Tapas Soren had secured a scheme worth of Rs 1।69 lakh in December 2007 under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA). He was fully engaged in digging a well in his village. He withdrew Rs 32,000 from his bank account on May 31, 2008 but the money was taken away from him by Brij Kishor Mahto, the Panchayat Sevak. He was also told that the balance amount of the project would not be released unless he pays the “share” of the block development officer Manmohan Prasad, which was fixed in percentage when the scheme was sanctioned. At the same time, he had to pay the wages to his co-workers but he had no money. All these circumstances put him in the state of shock and uncertainty.
He ran from the pillar to post for resolving the matter but when all pleas fell on deaf ears, he decided to protest against it। He planned for the protest and he had set himself ablaze at the busy Charhi Chowk in Hazaribagh on July 2 accordingly. 75 percent part of his body was burnt during the protest. He was admitted to the RIMS, Ranchi and later on referred to Safdarjung hospital, New Delhi where he took the last breath on July 8.
Though the state government has announced Rs 1 lakh as compensation to the family of the deceased but it is not serious in punishing the culprits। Soon after the incidence, Madhu Koda, the chief minister of Jharkhand had ordered the NREGA commissioner Amitabh Kaushal to inquire into the matter and report to the government. But ironically, he had been transferred to Palamau district and the new officer is yet to assume the charge. All these steps clearly show that how much the state government is concerned about the unchecked corruption, which victimizes the poor.
The new report of the Transparency Internatinal India and the Centre for Media Studies shows that how the poor people are suffering due to corruption in India। According to the report, one out of every three families living below the poverty level pay a bribe for basic public services, like to file a police report, to enroll a child in school, to admit a family member into a hospital or to get electricity facilities. The report further says that the poor people of India have paid about $210 million (9,000 million rupees) in bribes in 2007 to the police, schools, hospitals and power companies.
The rampant corruption in the governance system is not a new phenomenon in India but what makes it peculiar is the way Adivasis, Dalits and poor are being victimized through the various schemes under the NREGA, which is supposed to be the life saving legislation for them. Obviously, the NREGA martyr Tapas Soren became the victim of corruption but his commitment, bravery and sacrifice will always inspire Adivasis, Dalits and poor to fight against injustice, for their rights and dignity. But the question remained unanswered is will the guilty be punished and the poor will get assurance of not being made the prey of corruption in the name of NREGA?
Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist associated with the “Child Rights and You”. He can be contacted at email@example.com