Village Vaunts?

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As more than 4000 officers moved out of their offices to interact with the residents in the periphery of Jammu and Kashmir as part of the Back to Village’s third edition, the B2V3, Faheem Mir reported about the scheme and its impact in a north Kashmir belt during the last two phases

This pond was created by a water supply pipe that has been leaking for years. After it skipped two editions of the B2V, the third phase finally detected it. KL Image: Faheem Mir

On October 6, a vehicle reached Pazwalpora, a village 86 km north of Srinagar, loaded with a small machine. Within minutes, the men carrying it started to print the road directions. The vehicle carrying the employees of Roads and Buildings (R&B), Public Works Department (PWD) took one hour from Dangiwacha to cover a 12-km road to the village, routinely a 15-minute drive, thanks to the worst condition of the PMGSY road.

 Apparently accompanying the vehicle was a load carrier parked near the middle school building that carried a welding machine. Some people were digging a hole on the main road. They were from the Public Health Engineering (PHE). They were actually digging out a water supply pipeline which was damaged in 2009, a few months of its installation. The pipe leakage damages the road and created a sort of a pond.

Another group of men were seen cleaning some village spots like the bus stop, the Public Health Centre and the school. A third vehicle carried a lot of plastic chairs and parked in the school premises and the teachers started unloading them. The entire village converted into a mob of spectators with nobody having even a faint idea about what actually was happening.

The issues that the villagers raised in the first edition of B2V were repeated by people in B2V3. This picture is from B2V1.

Meeting Starts

The next morning, a gathering of around 100 residents reached to the middle school building where they received Mohammad Sultan, an officer deputed to Panchayat Halqa Pazwalpora for Back to Village (B2V3) at around 10:30 am. Quickly the programme started.

Sarpanch Mansoor Ahmad Mir introduced the visiting officer and his team and the officers asked people to present their grievances. Villagers were eagerly waiting for their turn to speak and finally, the silence broke when Ghulam Hassan a senior resident started to speak. As he spoke, anger was visible: he rubbished all the claims of success of the past two phases of the flagship governance initiative in his area. Instead, he started hurling allegations on several departments.

The resident anger was understandable. In the last two stages of the programme, they had made one simple request: upgrade the Public Health Centre to Sub Centre and shift the PHC from a temporary rented building to new building that was built some 10 years ago and is still in disuse. They also had requested a physician in the hospital. 

A vehicle came and managed a crisis in the water supply line . KL image: Faheem Mir

The VIP had no answers. He asked the Block Medical Officer to respond. Dr Mohammad Aasif said if the village can give accommodate, he will surely depute one. Mohammad Hanif, a senior resident offered accommodation but the BMO quickly took a U-turn saying he lacks authority to appoint a doctor.

The residents held the authorities responsible for the death of two ladies during 2019 winters. “We lost two women within 10 days due to lack of facilities,” Akhter Begum, a resident alleged. She identified them for the officers. She said they had to shift the, to Sub District Hospital Dangiwacha on a very bad road and they died of massive blood loss.

Villagers highlighted the issue of residents battling life-threatening diseases but face crippling crisis while travelling on a road reduced to a trek. It connects nearly 30 villages to the rest of Kashmir. “We have to take our aunt to a Srinagar hospital twice a week for the dialysis,” Aadil told officers. “Sometimes villagers help us to take her to a place from where we hire a vehicle, we have to walk more than 15 km with the patient.”

Later, the officers visited the new hospital building that is in disuse for a decade where the photo-shoot took place. “Indeed, they have to show these pictures to their bosses,” Aadil Javid commented.

The village school was established in 1926 in Maharaja Hari Singh era. After 76 years, it was upgraded to Middle School under SSA in 2001. “The 96 years old school is not upgraded to High School,” Sadam Farooq said.   

Jio Funds

The team comprised officers from almost all departments: R&B, PWD, PDD, Social Welfare, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and PHE. People asked the respective departments about the flow-up to the issues they had raised in the last two phases. Officials lacked a response.

Mohammad Sultan, the officer who visited the Pazwalpora to hear people, talking to the village residents. KL Image: Faheem Mir

Residents Shahid Showkat and Danish asked various questions to the officials. “Why work was stopped midway on Dangiwacha-Pazwalpora road, Danish asked.

Zubair ul Haq, the engineer said the project falls under Central Road Fund (CRF) and unfortunately it has no funds. “We have planned that we will spend the money for patching of the road that we expect to get from Jio Telecom for installing Jio Fibre lines on the roadsides coming under our department,” the officer said. “But unluckily the work has been stopped by some villages in the area and we are not getting our payment from Jio that is why we haven’t repaired the road.”

Shahid retorted: “Does it mean, your department is dependent on Jio funds? Don’t you have your own funds to invest?” To his chagrin, the officer accepted it.

Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha released Book titled ‘Parvaaz’ during his visit to Nesbal, Bandipora on Saturday, October 3, 2020. PiC: DIPR

The Officer’s Take

Talking to this reporter, Mohammad Sultan said that almost 50 per cent of work has been done in the Panchayat Halqa from the list of demands that the people had made in B2V two phases. Watching him speak, residents disputed but admitted five per cent is reasonable and correct. The officer invoked the situation that initially started on August 5, 2019 and later the lockdown owing to Covid-19.

Angry people dubbed it a “flop show”. Akhter Begum even said that the better way to stop blame game is to travel throughout the village and tally the lost with the actual work on the ground.

B2V3

The third edition of the Back to Village (B2V) started on October 2. This was a follow-up to the two earlier phases during which more than 4000 officers moved out of their offices and spent at least two days with the community in the periphery of Jammu and Kashmir. The initiative was launched by the then state administration in June 2019 as part of the public outreach system to understand the issues and problems on the ground.

A B2V3 session in progress at Pazwalpra, Rafiabad. KL Image: Faheem Mir

The residents did list their issues, their priorities and the requirements. They also offered ideas about their weaknesses as villages and the potential as socio-economic contributors. It was on basis of these inputs that the officials gathered a lot of data about the ground realities on the developmental front. However, in the third edition of the major outreach programme, not many people – at least in this Halqa, were satisfied.

Pazwalpora residents said they participated in all the three B2V editions with enthusiasm but nothing much changed.

The First Edition

In June 2019, DC Baramulla, Dr Ghulam Nabi Ittoo personally visited the village and interacted with the people. Though he was supposed to reach at 10 am, he actually drove in at 6 pm. “He came with a group of officers,” Bashir Ahmad Mir, a senior resident told the officers in B2V3 on October 6. “We had requested for better road connectivity but it has gone bad to worse as you yourself see.”

The other demands, the residents had made included a Fire and Emergency service station, up-gradation of the middle school and the local hospital, proper road connectivity, replacement of traditional wooden electric poles and a proper electricity schedule. They had also sought maintenance of footpaths, some link roads and bridges, and a public park. In the programme’s third edition, the demands remained the same.

Officers Speak

Block Development Officer (BDO) Kandi Rafiabad, Mushtaq Ahmad told this reporter that certain developmental works are going on in the block including Pazwalpora. “We have done a lot of work and some projects are in the bucket,” he said.  

Dr Itoo said the development is in its progress and he himself is visiting the villages. He remembers having visited the Pazwalpora. “We are taking up the demands very seriously,” Dr Itoo said. “The road will be completed within few next few months by CVRF. I have given this project first preference”.

The DC said the villages of upper Rafiabad belt will get electricity on proper schedules when the receiving station starts functioning in the next few months as the work is in progress. “Nearly 50 per cent of the demands people made have been fulfilled,” he asserted.

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