“I don’t have an LPG cylinder and the government no more provides kerosene. I had applied for one, but I am yet to get it. How am I supposed to cook?” said Gorliben Nayak (70) of Kanchatiya village in Devgadhbaria taluka of Dahod district. “We could use the kerosene during electricity blackouts at night. Now, we are forced to bring firewood from the jungle. Even those who have a cylinder and stove are not trained to use one, or they are scared that it might blast.”
Nayak was one among over 600 tribal villagers — mostly women from various villages in the taluka — who attended the day-long public hearing campaign to put forth their grievances before the administration on Human Rights Day on Tuesday.
The event was organised by Area Networking and Development Initiatives (ANANDI) and Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), after they conducted a survey across 26 villages in the taluka and submitted a social audit report to the Collector on Tuesday. At the end of the day, a total of 250 applications were drafted to submit to the concerned taluka-level and district-level officials.
Gajriben Nayak (64) of Bamroli Muawada village claimed that she has been waiting for her widow and old age pensions for the past one year, but there has been no aid. “Whenever we go to the post office, the concerned person is mostly unavailable. A year ago, I had submitted an application but when I received an order to get clearance on the money after six months, the official at the post office kept changing. Now, he does not even answer my calls and is never present at the post office.”
The issue of the window and old age pension schemes was reiterated by most women present at the meeting. According to the social audit report, of the total respondents entitled to avail benefits of the scheme from the 26 villages surveyed, only 25.6% were receiving the benefits, 73.2% were yet to receive any benefits while 1.2% were clueless about any such schemes.
In an impromptu action at the hearing, taluka postmaster Nilesh Batha received nine applications and assured immediate redressal.
“We can know about the lapses only if we are informed. If we are given in written whatever problems they have been facing, we can take strict action against the concerned persons and suspend them if found guilty. There is a lack of awareness regarding how to avail benefits. Many people have approached us who have accounts in the banks, but end up at the post office for the benefits which only delays the process. It is important that these people are made aware of such things at the village level,” Batha said.
The survey findings also highlighted gaps in the Public Distribution System and stated that between August and October, 56% of wheat and 46% of rice had not reached the beneficiaries. “We found that most of the ration shops in the villages remained closed. The villagers complained that they were not getting the said amount of 5 kg of wheat and rice to which they are entitled. At all the shops across the 26 villages, no shop had a functional printer to provide for a printed coupon or bill against the purchase,” said Pankti Jog from MAGP. “Regarding the printing concern, we will initiate a program to maintain their logs online, they just have to give their phone numbers. For the missing ration, we will have to verify at each village level. Most card holders are also from the APL (Above Poverty Line) category who are not entitled to benefits of the BPL, so we will have to verify everything,” said DB Suthar, Sub-Divisional Magistrate who was also present at the meeting.
The findings of the survey state that of the 37 anganwadis surveyed, only 16 had functional toilets, 12 had access to electricity and seven of them did not serve breakfast and lunch. As for the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojna (PMMVY), 76.1% of the total respondents did not receive any benefits. Of these, 38% claimed that they were refused benefits because they did not have Aadhar cards.
“There are two different schemes under two different ministries, but most women either knew about just one or none. Those who did, faced issues with their identity proofs and could not avail the benefits,” said Seema Shah from ANANDI. “We will organise a camp and people who have issues with any of their identity proofs can attend the camp and get it sorted,” Suthar assured.