When Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the concluding function of the Narmada Seva Yatra at Amarkantak on May 15, seated in the audience were more than 47,000 people who got Rs 500 each in their capacity as “prerak” (motivator) of the Rajya Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural). The function was attended by more than a lakh people. Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Gopal Bhargava, under whom the Mission falls, said the preraks are to get training on how to keep the Narmada clean, and the PM’s speech was a part of that.
The money to preraks, amounting to more than Rs 2.35 crore, was transferred from the Rajya Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) account in Punjab National Bank in Bhopal. They were brought to the venue from 33 districts of the state, some of them travelling hundreds of kilometres for the purpose. On May 12, Rajya Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) programme officer Dr Atul Shrivastava wrote two letters titled ‘Amarkantank me prashikshan ke sambandh mein (related to training in Amarkantak)’. One letter informed the chief executive officers of district panchayats about sending preraks to Amarkantak, while the other one was for the branch manager of PNB. The letter to the CEOs advised them to show the expense on the preraks under the IEC (Information, Education and Communication) head. There was no mention of the PM’s rally in the circular.
Asked about the letters, Dr Shrivastava said, “I merely acted on the government’s orders. I have nothing more to say.” Minister Bhargava said, “We rarely get to know of the funds transferred to districts under the total sanitation campaign. This time the motivators at least got to listen to the PM and Chief Minister. There are different ways of imparting training. We chose this one and it was not an illegitimate expense.” The minister said the audience learned that the Narmada can be kept clean by discouraging open defecation and burning of corpses along the riverbed. “All this is part of training, even when you are attending a public meeting where leaders like the PM speak.”
Criticising the exercise, the Congress state chief Arun Yadav said, “I don’t know what training was provided during the two-hour function. The amount (paid to the motivators) is only a fraction. The total money spent was more than Rs 100 crore, all for publicity.”