Paan vend owner exposes job scheme graft, gets death threats

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

PORBANDAR - Aslam Khokker, a paan vend owner in Kotda village of Porbandar district of Gujarat, carries a paper on his person all the time, which has the names of some people who he says have threatened him. His crime? He blew the lid on a scam in implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

“The village sarpanch abused and threatened me. There are other powerful persons too who want me to remain quiet, but I will not be cowed down,” Aslam told IANS Tuesday.

Aslam, a school dropout, unearthed the scam by accident.

A few days back, he attended a Youth Congress camp in Junagadh city, where he was taught how to use the internet.

“It was at the camp that we were told about how we could find details of the developmental work in our area,” he said.

While going through a list of MGNREGS beneficiaries, a job scheme meant for the poorest of the poor in rural areas, he came across the name of his friend, a state government employee.

“As I explored further, I saw NRIs, doctors, engineers, teachers and affluent farmers on the list as well,” he said.

Official records show that there are 963 MGNREGS job card holders in Kotda village of Kutiyana tehsil in Porbandar district. They have been paid a total of about Rs.95 lakh over the last three years.

Aslam then filed RTI (Right to Information) applications to find out more, but received death threats on the phone.

He even wrote to the district superintendent of police, pointing to the death threats and seeking police protection. But he got a taste of official apathy when he was told to approach the police “if and when” something happened. Aslam also approached local Congress activists.

Last week, police registered a case against the local post master and sarpanch for siphoning off money meant for the poor.

According to K.D. Bhatt, district development officer (DDO) of Porbandar, an inquiry has been instituted.

But will Aslam’s Congress leanings hamper investigations, particularly since the sarpanch belongs to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party? Bhatt denies it vehemently.

“Why should there be any politics? What is wrong is wrong. In fact, this revelation should be used to conduct similar checks in other villages of the district,” he said.

But Aslam does not have much hope. He has now embarked on a mission to educate the locals and encourage them to speak up for their rights.

“Bulk of information on local projects is available on internet. People should be made aware of their rights,” he said.

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