What does it say about the rest of India when Congress
vice-president Rahul Gandhi's pet project is reeling under corruption? Fake
bills, inflated estimates, non-transparent contracts and sub-standard works
have turned the Rs.7,466-crore Bundelkhand economic package into the latest
Spread over 13 districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya
Pradesh, Bundelkhand has been facing severe drought for over a decade. Of
the Rs.7,466 crore, Rs.3,606 crore was meant for seven districts in Uttar
Pradesh, and the remaining Rs.3,860 crore for six districts in Madhya
A major portion of this package was earmarked for
harvesting rainwater and for irrigation schemes. Since the region's
agriculture is mostly rain-fed, the thrust was on conserving water. The rest
of the amount was
for various activities, including animal husbandry and forestry; around 20
per cent of the region is under forest cover.
Shrikant Dixit of Bharat Jan Vikas, an NGO, alleges that
in North Panna forest division alone Rs.6 crore was swindled by forest
department officials who claim to have dug more than 90 tanks and
percolation ponds. They presented 8,500 fake wage vouchers in the names of
dead people. For instance, Gouribai of Sunhara village died in 2008, yet she
is listed as a labourer, and there are records of wages paid.
The officials also presented fake bills for hiring
tractors and earthmovers. An example is Ramesh Awasthi, who presented five
fake registration numbers of earthmovers with bills for the work done by
them. Of these numbers, MP 16 MB 2905 is actually that of a Scooty Pep owned
by Keerti Raikwar of Chhatarpur, and used by her daughter Neetu Kashyap, who
is a transgender movie actor. In Awasthi's bill, the scooter transgendered
into a tractor owned by him and was used for digging a percolation tank in
beat number P-399. The bill was for Rs.44 lakh.
The second vehicle, MP 16 MB 7892, is Awasthi's own Bajaj
motorcycle. In the bill it was shown as a tractor owned by Vikram Gond, a
tribal, to whom Rs.72,505 was paid for work done in beat number P-408.
Vikram does not own any vehicle. The third earthmover, MP 16 B 2904, is a
Scooty owned by Yogendra Singh. The remaining two numbers are of motorcycles
registered to an Ashwini Awasthi.
In some instances, the names of vehicle owners appear as
labourers also. For digging percolation pits No. 7 and No. 8, in beat number
P-445, an earthmover owned by Sahdev Tiwari was used, and a bill for Rs.5
lakh was submitted. During the same period, Sahdev is shown as a labourer at
beat number P-427 and P-444. As per records, he was paid Rs.2,898 for 21
days @ Rs.138 a day. Rakesh Gupta of Chandranagar is mentioned as owner of
an earthmover, and was paid Rs.1,01,771 for work done from
October 10-16, 2010. In other places, Gupta is shown as a labourer.
There are outright cases of siphoning, too. Ramlal Gond,
a farmer, was shown as a skilled labourer to whom Rs.54,030 was paid. The
voucher shows his thumb impression. In a sworn affidavit Ramlal said, “For
the last four-five years I have not worked anywhere. And, I am a literate
man. Why should I put my thumb impression? Bills in my name are fake.”
Under the Bundelkhand package, in Madhya Pradesh alone,
Rs.1,118 crore is being spent on making reservoirs. Activists like Akhilesh
Upadhyaya of Bundelkhand Mitra, an NGO, allege that government officials
inflated estimates to ensure that contractors can quote higher amounts and
slip under the radar of vigilance officials.
Not to mention that the work done is substandard.
According to Upadhyaya, in Panna and Damoh districts nearly a dozen dams
broke in the first rains, and had to be repaired. In Umehee village, the
Rs.25-lakh check dam was supposed to be built with 12mm iron rods, but only
8mm rods were used.
An inspection report of the National Rainfed Area
Authority (NRAA) says, “Weirs and stop dams constructed by the Rural
Engineering Service of Madhya Pradesh are ill-sited, incomplete, poorly
constructed and got damaged during the first flow event of the rainy season.
The RES should not implement any more work under the Bundelkhand Package.”
The technical experts of NRAA were A.K. Sikka and K.D. Sharma, and the
report is available with THE WEEK.