Official doublespeak stumps Udaipur villagers

  • 30/08/1993

Official doublespeak stumps Udaipur villagers IS THE left hand of government truly unaware of what the right hand does? Yes, indeed, villagers of Vasu in Udaipur district would respond. "Otherwise," noted a villager who didn't want to be named, "how else would you explain a junior official issuing a show-cause notice concerning work that was earlier hailed as a model of community participation by his senior?"

The bewilderment and anguish besetting Vasu's villagers was touched off by a show-cause notice served by the naib tehsildar on workers of the Jagran Jan Vikas Samiti, a non-governmental organisation working in the Girva subdivision of Udaipur district.

Samiti worker Bhanwar Devi says the show-cause notice was issued under section 91 of the criminal code for alleged encroachment upon government land. The encroachment relates to a village community building that the samiti had helped to construct recently in Vasu. The building, which houses a dispensary for traditional medicines, an adult education school and a hall for village functions, was constructed on vacant public land, with the samiti providing construction material and the villagers providing shramdaan (voluntary labour).

The samiti has previously performed such tasks in several area villages, including neighbouring Vali, where the building was inaugurated on April 9 by Girva subdivisional magistrate Niranjan Kumar Arya. In his April 9 address to the villagers -- many of whom were from Vasu -- Arya had generous praise for the work being done by the samiti, saying he had heard so much about the samiti's "good work", he wanted to see it for himself. He also assured the samiti and the villagers that he would be glad to help them keep up the good work.

But within two months of these encomiums, the show-cause notice was issued, signed by Arya's subordinate. On enquiry, the shocked villagers were told the notice was issued based on the local sarpanch's complaint against the building and the samiti. But the sarpanch and other panchayat members assured Arya they had not made any complaint. Samiti head Ganesh says he was assured by the officials that the show-cause notice would be withdrawn. In fact, he adds, Arya also said he would instruct the tehsildar to allot the building site to the village panchayat. But what happened instead, says Ganesh, is the issuance of the order to appear before the tehsildar and answer a charge of encroachment on government land.

Ganesh maintains samiti activists should not be served with the show-cause notice because the decision to build the community centre was taken by the villagers of Vasu and the samiti had merely provided them with needed inputs.

Social activists in Udaipur are even more critical of the authorities. Many of them say the lower-ranking state government bureaucrats view suspiciously those non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are working for the uplift of tribals, because of fears these NGOs may then take up such issues as land reform and rural inequalities.

Now the question haunting the area NGOs is what is the true face of the administration? Only when they know this will they also know the limit to which even sympathetic government officials would allow them to become involved in the process of rural development.