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BW Businessworld

In Himachal Pradesh, Bishan Singh Living In Dark Since Independence, Away From All Basic Amenities

Talking about the lack of awareness, experts pointed out that centre and state governments often fail to communicate the rights and entitlements of citizens under schemes

Photo Credit : Abhishek Sharma

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Deep inside the Himalayan forest, Bishan Singh, who lives in a remote village, wakes up early in the morning to start his daily chores. As the day progresses, Singh, who is in his 80s, finishes his work and goes inside his one-room home to avoid extreme heat.

Singh, with his pale eyes and stiff waist, can not perform much work, however, he does not have any choice as he lives alone. 

The area (remote village) where he lives is about 30 KM away from Paonta Sahib — Tehsil in the Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh. His house is made up of mud and the old man is worried for his safety as the monsoon is approaching which can lead to the collapse of his decade-old house.

Floor of Bishan Singh's house | Picture credit: Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld

Singh, who actively takes part in voting whether it is Panchayat, state and general elections, lacks basic amenities.

When BW Businessworld reached his house, he was laying on the rough and unequal wooden floor, all alone and said, "This is me, this is how I live. Just look at me, my weak body and all these dirty clothes, I am not sure what to do, how to move forward. My house is also in terrible condition." 

In poll-bound Himachal Pradesh, there are several people who are not aware of many government-led schemes. According to the experts, some people, especially old people, are not educated enough to read or to know about schemes. 

Koi madad nahi karta hai, sirf Rs 4,500 old age pension milti hai mujhe woh bhi 3 se 4 months baad. (No one helps, I only get a Rs 4,500 old-age pension after 3 to 4 months)," Singh said with moist eyes. 

The main entrance of Singh's house | Picture credit: Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld

Singh blames the local management, especially Panchayat authorities who often fail to convey the benefits of these government schemes in rural areas 

Singh alleged, "Almost all officials of rural authorities are busy filling their own pockets and giving development projects to their closed ones. Politics also play a major role in distributing these schemes.”

Singh explained how he met with an accident a few years back and no one helped him during the tragedy. “I have faced two major accidents and I had to pay by myself. I am a farmer and I do not have enough money to support my daily needs.

Singh is not part of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, Himachal Pradesh’s HIMCARE scheme, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and many more.

Notably, PM Jan Arogya Yojana is a national public health insurance fund to provide free access to health insurance coverage for low-income earners. Approximately, the bottom 50 per cent of Indians qualify for this scheme. HIMCARE scheme is a cashless treatment coverage by the HP government up to Rs 5.00 lakh per year per family is being provided in the empanelled hospitals. Meanwhile, PM Awas Yojana is all about providing affordable housing.

Shockingly, Singh stopped using cooking oils, spices, pulses and rice long ago as he can not afford much, he said. He also cooks in a traditional furnace for which he also needs to source wood from the nearby forest. The ongoing inflation is also a major concern for rural households.

Bishan Singh inside his one-room house | Picture credit: Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld

In India, the retail inflation rate eased to 7.04 per cent in May from 7.79 per cent in April due to a favourable base effect, as per data released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. 

The retail inflation for farm and rural labourers increased to 6.67 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively in May due to higher prices of certain food items.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on June 8 hiked the inflation estimate by 100 basis points to 6.7 per cent in 2022-23 from 5.7 per cent in April with Q1 at 7.5 per cent; Q2 at 7.4 per cent; Q3 at 6.2 per cent; and Q4 at 5.8 per cent. 

Governor Shaktikanta Das while announcing a 50 basis points increase in the repo rate to 4.9 per cent said, "The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) is focused on the withdrawal of accommodation. The war in Ukraine is lingering and India is facing new challenges every day, accentuating supply chain problems."

The central bank in a statement said that the tense global geopolitical situation and the consequently elevated commodity prices impart considerable uncertainty to the domestic inflation outlook.

Meanwhile, BW Businessworld contacted Panchayat Pradhan, Reena Devi and she was not aware of this person at all. She, however, said that she will look into the matter. "I am going to visit his house today and will look into the matter as I was not aware of this entire situation."

Singh lives barely four to five kilometres away from her office.

Ravi Prakash Joshi, Block Development Officer, Paonta Sahib said, "This is a very rare case as there are many people who are benefiting from government policies. I will visit the site by myself to check the entire situation. I understand that this is an unfortunate situation."

Joshi dialled Pradhan and slammed her for negligence and asked her to come with the team to visit the site. Pradhan should be aware of all these things. We do regular field visits to monitor the situation and act on the complaints too, he said. 

While talking about PM Awaas Yojna, Joshi said that names are selected on the Panchayat level and money directly comes from the central government. For CM Awas Yojna, we received assistance for only 20 houses and I look after 45 Panchayats. 

What government saying

"The 'Double-Engine' government is working with full energy to connect common people with a life of basic amenities and dignity," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi said recently. Modi noted that in the schemes made by his government in the last 8 years, priority was given to the spirit that they should touch and reach all the sections of the society and also all the sectors. 

Another top BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah also said that to make rural development a contributor to the economy, we need to take people living in villages towards prosperity through rural development, without doing this our country can never be self-reliant. 

Shah was addressing the 41st Annual Convocation of the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA).

Villages did not have electricity, because which rural population used to migrate to cities, but today the government led by Narendra Modi has provided electricity to every village and due to this villages are also becoming self-reliant, claimed Shah. 

However, Singh's story is stating otherwise. “I go almost 1 KM every time to source drinking water, you can see my house and my living conditions. It's been more than 75 years, I do not have any electricity in my little home, let alone the other facilities,” Singh said.

Side view of Bishan Singh's house | Picture credit: Abhishek Sharma/ BW Businessworld

A few kilometres away from Singh, Subhash Sharma lives with his wife in a small house. He has been listed for PM Awaas Yojana for a long time, however, he is yet to receive the monetary assistance under the scheme.  

Sharma, however, is aware of many government schemes and recently received his e-Shram card by registering on the e-Shram portal, a national database of unorganised workers which was launched in August 2021 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led central government. The scheme aims to provide social security measures for an estimated 380 million unorganised workers in the country.

A few months back, while travelling to different parts of district Sirmaur of Himachal Pradesh, BW Businessworld found out that rural many people are not aware of this latest scheme. They blame the local authorities for that. 

Also Read: Home Left In Ruins, Lost All Belongings: Unaware Of Shram Card Benefits, Ali Seeks Help

"Sir, can you please tell me what are the benefits of this card? Will this be of any help because no one has told us anything? We registered on the e-Shram portal a few months back as our Panchayat Pradhan (Panchayat head) told us to do. I have lost the belongings of almost Rs. 2,00,000," Wajid Ali, who is unaware of the benefits of the e-Shram card,  told BW Businessworld earlier. 

What experts say

In Himachal Pradesh, several rural households are not aware of many government schemes. Talking about the lack of awareness, experts pointed out that centre and state governments often fail to communicate the rights and entitlements of citizens under schemes. 

"There can be various reasons for lack of awareness –lack of information, lack of full information, low education, digital divide, do not know where to access the information, do not know whether eligible, corruption at the last mile etc. However, government authorities can attempt doorstep delivery of benefits and schemes to overcome all the above-mentioned challenges," said Bornali Bhandari, Senior Fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER).

Bhandari added that the West Bengal Duaare scheme is a case in point. Immensely popular, the citizens are able to access government benefits at nearby camps overcoming any local last-mile challenges of accessing those benefits.

"While successes of schemes are publicised, there is little information on what exactly a citizen is entitled to and how they can access these benefits. Poor governance also often causes a lack of awareness among citizens," said Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India (PFI). 

According to Muttreja, the lack of efficient governance mechanisms means that the benefits of schemes often do not reach those who most need them. There’s also a trust deficit, which makes citizens reluctant to claim their entitlements from the government. 

"The concept of rights and state obligations should be an integral part of the communication strategy, wherein the citizens are empowered to communicate and share their feedback on government schemes," said Muttreja

To move forward, government authorities need to properly and widely communicate all schemes to the communities. Social auditing is a must to measure whether a particular scheme is reaching the intended beneficiaries, experts said. 

Even today, 70 per cent of our population lives in villages and due to lack of facilities, this population is unable to contribute to the development of the country, if we connect this 70 per cent talent with the task of speeding up the economy, Modi’s dream of a USD 5 trillion economy will be fulfilled in 5 years, said a confident Home Minister Shah.

"Panchayats must also play a crucial role in disseminating information. Forums such as the gram sabha and ward sabha should be widely used to disseminate information about existing schemes and their functioning, and seek community inputs on the delivery of the schemes.  In addition, mass messaging should be done to promote schemes through the internet and mobile phones," said Muttreja.