In Nitish Kumar’s home district, Dalits get plots to build their homes — in a pond

In Nitish Kumar’s home district, Dalits get plots to build their homes — in a pond

One family builds a house that has no walls, no doors, just a bizarre semi-circular curved strip buried in the sand; another builds a thatched house with no approach road so everyone has to sleep by the side of the highway and cook in the open. And 70 other families don’t know what to do because all the plots they got last November — to build their homes — fall right into a pond that’s dry today but won’t be next month when the rains come.

This is how the Nitish Kumar government’s showpiece Mahadalit Vikas Yojana scheme — under which the poorest, landless Mahadalits get a 3-decimal (1306.8-square-foot) plot each — is playing out on the ground in Bihar.

As The Indian Express reported in two parts on Wednesday and Thursday, in some areas, an alleged nexus of government officers and brokers has bought land from villagers at dirt cheap rates and then sold to the government at four to five times the cost. In others,Mahadalits have been allotted land but only on paper.

And, here, in Nalanda, Nitish’s home district, Sonmati Devi’s new address is Khata number 35, Khesra Number 307 under mauja Akbarpur of Islampur block. This plot falls in the village pond duly shown in the official land survey which clearly mentions that Khesra 307 can “only be used for irrigation”.

This pond has water from July until March, and is the only source for the irrigation of the two-crop (rice and wheat) agricultural land for over 300 villagers.

She isn’t the only one high and dry.

Mahadalit land racket: Nitish wakes up, orders probe

There are 69 other Mahadalit families of Akbarpur and Panchlova villages who have been allotted plots that fall in this 6.99-acre pond.

Some beneficiaries like Gauri Devi and Munna Manjhi from Panchlova and Kesar Manjhi and Siddhi Manjhi from Akbarpur want the government to take back the land and give them Rs 20,000 each instead — the ceiling price fixed by the government to buy the 3-decimal plot.

“Can anyone believe that this is happening right here in Nitish Kumar’s home district? And when we complain,the Islampur circle officer says no other land was available to give to us,” says Chander Manjhi, one of the beneficiaries.

So seven months after the allotment, 58 Panchlova Mahadalit families live on land belonging to the government primary school adjacent to the pond and Akbarpur’s beneficiaries live along the pond’s embankment. The two villages, Panchlova and Akbarpur, are connected via a mud road which meanders into fields before it merges with a metalled road.

The government, despite receiving complaints from villagers, has not moved and is said to be looking for an amin — one who measures the land — to mark the plots.

Says Pramod Kumar Singh, a villager who is an advocate for the Mahadalits: “If the allotment is not cancelled, we will move court. We have enough documents, land maps and survey records to challenge the government.”

When asked why the pond was allotted given that it has water for almost eight months in a year, Islampur Circle Officer Ramesh Prasad told The Indian Express: “This is the only land the government had, we had no options. It is not up to me to cancel the allotment. It was given after clearance from the Patna Commissioner’s office.”

After The Indian Express reported on alleged irregularities in Araria, the Nitish Kumar government has ordered a probe into the manner in which land was bought for redistribution. Villagers here said that they hope the probe covers the glaring gaps in the manner in which land has been allotted. “What do we need to do to show that we can’t live inside a pond?” asks one of the Nalanda beneficiaries.

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