(Bihar Times) Palamu  commissionerate  in  the state of Jharkhand consisting  of  districts  of  Palamau,Garwah  and  Latehar  are  better  known  for  their  alarming  poverty  levels, drought, hunger  and starvation  in  extreme times resulting  In  deaths  ,  absentee  governance,   highest  levels   of  corruption, punishment  transfers  In  terms  of the  community  getting  notorious  and  corrupt  officials,  equally  corrupt political  parties and  its  leaders.   It  is  unfortunate  but  many  civil  society organisations are  not  far   behind  them  and  most  of the  development  programs in  the  region are given to  agencies who  can  tread  the  same   path of  corruption.   Thus this region is steeped in deep corruption.    As   there  are  frequent  droughts in  the  region,  there  is  always  speculation  and  declaration  of  drought  is greatly   looked  forward  as   the natural   calamity   brings  about  bounty  In  terms   of  programs  and  resources  .   
The  poor   are  steeped  in  extreme  illiteracy  and  their  prime  concern  is  survival  of  self  and  their  families.  They  consider  the   poor governance  and  maladministration  as  their  fate  and hence  in the  absence  of  any opposition  there is  uninterrupted  looting  of  the  resources  meant  for  the  poor.  In the  absence  of  able  leadership  that  works  for  the   people’s  cause  the  different  political  parties  are  at  a  collision  course .    Incidentally  this region was  earlier  steeped  in  feudalism  the  traces  of  which  are   still  existing  to  till  date.    Large  tracts  of  land   called   Gair  Mazrua  land  also  was  usurped  by  the  landlords.   The   mean  existence  of  the  poor  at  the  behest  of  collection  of  mahua  fruit  and  flowers  -  these  resources  -  the  trees  also  were  under   landlord’s  control.   The  other  attributes  of feudalism  are  creation  of   bonded  labour,   child  labour,  using   the  entire  family  force  of  the  dalits  for  domestic, agricultural  and  cattle  rearing  and  grazing .    The   dalit  women  being  subjected  to  sexual  harassment  were  common   features  of  the  region.
Independence,  land ceiling  act, abolition  of zamindari    system,    peasant   revolution   brought  about  some  cosmetic  and  some deep  rooted  changes.   The   extreme  left   ideology   took  deep  roots  in  the  region  as  all  the  ills of  the  class ,caste divide  of  the  society  were  found  in  the  region .    Majority  of  the   landlords  sold  their  lands  or  leased  their  lands  and  shifted  their  base  to  escape  the violence  and  life  threats  from  the  extreme  left   ideology  groups.   They   took up a new avatar in the form of contractors. 
The  contractors,  corrupt officials  both  civil  and  police ,  political  groups   forms   core  nexus  .    This  nexus   eats   into  almost  80%  of  the  resources  allotted  for  the  poor.   The  forest resources  such  as  kendu  patta  generate  huge  resources  for  the  contractors.    But  they  give  “protection  money”  or  “levy “ to  various  sources  which  includes  the  extreme  groups .   In   the  similar  manner  for  execution  of  any  development  works  in  the  region  the  kickbacks  to  the  various  levels   is   included  In  the  estimation  itself  and  an  inflated  estimation  is  made.   Thus   most  of  the  works  are incomplete  or  it is   of  most  poor  quality  .    It  is  observed  that   in  the  name  of  drought  relief  umpteen  times   irrigation  structures  of  various  hue  and  cry  are  announced.  And  if  really  executed  then  there  would  be  no  more  ground  available  in   the region  for  execution  of  watershed  works.   During each drought relief work some cosmetic work in the same structures take place and it is shown as new work. 
It  if  difficult  for  any  outside  person  to  understand  the  complex  failures  of  systems  and paralysed programs in  the  region.  The  education, health, agricultural, banking ,  the  government  and  name  any  system  all  are  paralysed  .  
Though  so  much  hype  is  created  In  the  media  and  the  government  circles  on  NREGA .  It is a non-starter or total failure in   the region.   Recently  we  had  a  rapid  assessment  of  the  ground  level  realities  on  NREGA.     There  is  no  need  to  conduct  any  social  audit  on  the  system.  Because  already  it  is  known  that  all  the  documents  are  fake  and  built  up.    In  the  entire  year  only  5—7  days  and  in  some  places  14  days  of work has  been  carried  out under this  scheme.  But  the  entries  in  the   job   cards  shows  56,60  and  even  100  days  of  employment  given  to  them. 
  Even in this  scheme  touts  are  fully engaged  as link  person  between  the  community  of  the  poor  and  the  government.   The  illiteracy  , ignorance  and helplessness of  the  poor  is  brought   to  full  utility .     The  people’s  testimony  and  their  job  card entries  are  enough  to estimate  the  extreme  levels  of corruption  In  the  region.     No  doubt  the  lives  of  the  activists  taking  up  such  complex  issues   are   always  under  the  threat.     Further the voices are muffled   and muted by the authoritarian administration.
Rita Devi, Sanju Devi, Gaura Devi, Sunil Paswan, Akileshwar bhuiya and countless more people all hailing from Palamu region have common problem.    They have all obtained the job cards.  But in the last one year they were provided work ranging from 7 days to 14 days and no more. What is more startling is that they never understood that their job cards show that employment of 54 to 100 days has been marked for them by the touts.  When this was brought to their notice they were furious and helpless.  They all want to catch hold of the contractor who is managing their job cards and take them to task.  But in the existing system only these contractors are their link with the government officials and hence cannot also do away without them and are in dilemma as to what is to be done? 
The SHG women groups in one of the tribal villages have taken tender for laying the roads.  It is a huge tender nearing 14 lakhs of rupees.  The tender was for laying a stretch of 3k.m. road. The first stretch of 1 km was laid by the women group and their family members and members of the village community at a cost of Rs.2 lakhs.  But the average estimate of 1 km works out to be Rs4.60 lakhs .  The women groups members are aware that they need to “manage” the accounts  and the major money will go to the different levels of officials  and inspite of that they will be able to make better margins out of such contracts.

The school   teachers need not attend the schools.   It  is  enough  if  they  provide  money  to  the  school  inspectors  .   In  some places  the  teachers  are  generous  enough  to  appoint  local volunteers  to  take  classes at  very  low  costs.    The   emoluments of  the  teachers  are rotated  for  money  lending  to   the  villagers  at very high  cost .  Further  the  teachers  are at liberty  to  continue  their  domestic  chores and agricultural  works  unabated.    While  at  the  residential  schools for  the  girl children  the  families  of  the  teachers   are    well   taken   care  at  the  cost  of  food   deprivation  of  the  girl  children. 
The health care is in shambles.  The  life of the  poor  is not  valuable  and  in the absence of  appropriate  and  minimum medical care  the  poor  are  forced to fully  depend  on the quacks  locally called “Jholachap doctors”.Most  of them  have  either  worked  under some doctor for short  period  or  have  just  learnt  the art  of  providing medication and made it as their means of livelihood.  Malaria and diarrhoea are the most common ailments and there are many times deaths due to these preventable and treatable diseases.  Due to lack of transport  the villagers  bring  the  patients  by  carrying the cot  and  walking  a distance of 16-20 kms.     This is the stark reality in the region.
As the poor’s livelihood is totally dependent on agriculture, they necessarily have to migrate enmasse with family at least for 3-4 months in a year to the neighbouring Bihar or to far off places like Punjab for their mean survival.   As there is no organised system of labour migration, they go through contractors or based on their earlier rapport built.  There have been several instances of fatal accidents as they try to travel in every means of available transport on the goods vehicles and top of the trains. 
Very  recently  5 men  from this Lesliganj region went to UP for agricultural labour but found  the  owner was too demanding and tried to escape from him as they were almost living in captive condition.  They started running towards the railway station on the railway tracks.  While they were trying to cross the bridge a train was approaching and had no option  and three of them jumped into the river and lost their lives instantly.  Two of them tried to hang o n to  the rails and have their fingers badly mutilated . 
The fact that many times such deaths  are hushed up as they are afraid of the lengthy police cases.  Migration is a means for their survival.  
In the absence of any kind of constructive intervention from the government the people are forced to devise their own means of livelihood and thus migration has become the way of life for the poor in the region.
As far as agriculture is concerned, it is the experience and the expertise of the farmer and the entrepreneurship of the seeds and fertiliser dealer which takes ahead the agriculture. It is untouched by any kind of intervention from the experts.  The scientists are in their ivory towers and their expertise never reaches the common farmer.  There is no advice for the drought resistant crops and which to be used in   which season.  Each year when the monsoon starts the entire farmer sow the seeds.  As it is totally rain fed agriculture, they wait for rains during  the  “ Hatia Nakshatra”  which falls in  the  Hindi  calendar  month of  “Ashwin” and  in  English  calendar  is  it  around  September  -  October.  If the rain fails in   this period of 15-20 days then the farmers are aware that all their crops will wither and they cannot go for the next Rabi crop as well.  Thus they mentally prepare themselves and make plans for migration for their survival. This is also indication of the upcoming drought in the region. There is no meteorological forecasting but it is indigenous knowledge and expertise of the local farming community which determines their immediate future in relation to assured livelihood or there is need for migration.
The so called food security schemes   are in total disarray. Primarily  the  BPL  number   and  card  is  the  poor’s passport  to  social security entitlements of the  government.   To enable the poor get this entitlement itself is a big hurdle.  But  having  the  BPL  card  is  no  assurance  that  they  will be  able  to get  hold  of  the  social  security  measures.
Manoj Bhuiya of Bakasi village is a daily wage labourer.   He lives with his wife and 9 children.   He  has been  allotted  the  Antyodaya  card  -  which  is  the  food  security  scheme  for the poorest among the  poor in the  village.    While  going   through  his card  we can  find out  that  for  the  current  year  all the  10months  are  ticked  showing that  he  got  his ration entitlements of  35  kg’s of rice  at  Rs.2  per  kilo.  But while  discussing with him ,we  understand  that  so  far he has  received  the  rations only  thrice  but  records show  that he  has been issued the  rations  for 10 months.   
In spite  of  various  ills  the  administration  thinks  it  is  a  blot  on  its image  to  accept  the  fact  of  starvation deaths  in  the  region.  It  bends  back   to  declare  that  the  deaths  are due  to  “ disease”  and  denying the  facts that  disease  at  the  first place  has   been  manifestation  of  cyclic  hunger,  consumption  of  forest roots ,ill health   and  ultimate  death.     As  if  the  government  is  not  responsible  for deaths  due  to  ill  health  ???  
In this scenario  the  central  government  envisaged e-governance  has been   planned and  brought  in this region  also.  Common Service   Centres  (CSC)  is   one of   the  policies  of  Central   Government  of India  -  Ministry  of   Information  Technology(IT)  to    launch  1  lakh  centres   covering  all  the  rural  panchayats  of  India.     A  public  private   partnership  initiative was  mooted  and  tenders  were  called   for   by  different  states  in  India.   Jharkhand   though   lags   behind  on  all   the  development  parameters  surprisingly  was  one  of  the  first  state to  launch  this  program  in  the  country  which many are  unaware.

One of  the  main  planks  of  CSC  is  to  bring about   transparency,   accountability  and  good  governance  at  the  grassroots  level.   All   the   common  certificates which the  citizens  require  from  time  to  time  for  various  purposes  are  to  be  made  available  at  the  panchayat  level  itself through  the  CSC  centres   which  would  be  linked  with the Government  of  Jharkhand  portal  at  Ranchi.  Apart   from  this  the  CSC would  be  nodal  point  for  services  related  to education,health,agriculture  and   any  other  commercial  services.

CSC centres is a luxury in the state of Jharkhand which is second last state in the ladder of development next only to its parent state of Bihar with 50% of the population living below the poverty line.

The creamy layer among the poorest is only the stakeholder who come forward with lot of hesitation to take up the csc centers.

The  establishment of  csc centres amidst lack of  basic amenities  such as roads, electricity, telephone and internet connectivity, official apathy primarily due to lack of awareness and secondly due to fear on loss of “control” over people and resources   and last but not the least the threatening  of the Maoist groups is the ground reality in Jharkhand.

Both Centre and State accepts that establishment of CSC is very difficult in the tough terrain of Jharkhand but only lip service is paid with no pro-action.

The State and Centre retorted back that SCA’s have signed agreement knowing the infrastructure lacunae in the regions and hence should not complaint now.     Are the SCA’s supposed to establish the infrastructure required prior to establishment of CSC’s in the region??

Financial inclusion is a buzz word and bankers are just not inclined to render any financial assistance in terms of loans for the CSC’s.  They have been playing passing the ball game successfully for the last one year.  There is rampant corruption at the banking level as well. When you talk to any villager, they tell you the prevailing rates of commission for obtaining any loan.  Sudama Singh said that  for obtaining the  Kisan  credit  cards the  current  rate is  10-15% of the loan  amount,   Beena Devi  said , “revolving  fund for  the women  under the  Swarna  Jayanthi  Rozgar  Yojna (SGSY)  is  20% “ and thus  long  list of  existing  rates are available when  we talk to the  villagers.  Thus the  public  sector banks in  the  region  are  also  steeped   into  the  commission culture of the region.   Recent reports also indicate that many of the banks have not rendered loans to even a single BPL family in the past many years and they are categorised as zero lending banks.

Only corporate giants who can amass public wealth are appropriate for establishing the CSC’s.  Even the government is interested only in the same.  Be it banking, mobile technology, micro credits such institutional set ups which want to convert csc are as their upfront shops in every nook and corner of the country are the prime players.   Thinking about equal opportunities, enabling the poorest of the poor to participate in the decision making, making them party to the platform of CSC does not seem to happen with so many obstacles strewn around.  CSC is a platform for the rich and the richest and poor has no role in it.

Though CSC can be used as a platform to promote the youth from diverting themselves in joining divisive forces there is no political and administrative will. The government could direct all its energies to utilise the various developmental programs allocated to the states through CSC’s.  But as of now only the number games are on, There is a kind of rush and competition between states to show where they stand in terms of CSC.   The State of Jharkhand which is least in all parameters at least in the statistics of CSC is trying to catch the prime slot.   But the ground reality is totally different. 

The   governance is paralysed and proxy rule rules the roost in the region.  As  the  region  is  under  the  proxy  rule  of the  extreme  left  this is  used as major excuse by the  officials for not  performing their duties.     As  development  of  roads and communication  is  considered as threat to the extremists groups  they  make  every  possible  effort   to  sabotage  or  destabilise  the  communication networks. The  continuous blasting  of  the  mobile  towers in the  region  in  the  recent  times is  establishing  the  above  facts.   

There is   lack of phone and internet connectivity.  Even the government established Jharnet at the block level is non-functional.   The  computers   given  to  the  block  offices  are  non-functional  due to absence of electricity and no resources allocated for generators and running expenses and also the human resource crunch of no  trained  personnel   available.   The government owned telecom giant  has  been  given  crores  of  rupees to  set up  Broadband  connectivity  in  all  the  rural  regions. Yet we are struggling with basic connectivity.    Though  the  Rajiv  Gandhi  Rural  Electrification boasts  of  around   1500  crores  grant to  Jharkhand  state  ,  as  yet  the  CSC  centres  are  struggling  without  power  and  are  fully  dependent  on  the  generators  for  the  power.   There is no  proper  pucca  structures  available  everywhere  though  the  government  dictates  to  have  them  placed  in  panchayat  bhavans.  

Thus  the  CSC’s in  Jharkhand  are  struggling  for  its basic  existence  among  all  the  odds  and  most   importantly  the  government  apathy.    As  it  is  not  taken  as  an  opportunity  to  establish  and  nurture the  relationship of  partnership.   The approach is more intimidating.   If  Jharkhand  government  expects  the  private  players  will  take  the  entire  risk  of rooting themselves  against  all  odds  I n  the  state  and  it  has  no  role  to play  except passing  orders  then  we  can increase  the  list  of the  failures  among  which  CSC  may  feature  as one of  the prominent  programs.

The major issue which is affecting the functioning of the csc centres is the deep rooted corruption in the region.  The major plank of the program is for transparency and good governance, but again the programs are administered under the same set of inept corrupt officials the program will be tainted in corruption.  The government talks of outsourcing number of its programs to CSC’s.  But locally at what cost?  The first program of outsourcing has taken place for Narega Photography program.  Only the Village level Entrepreneurs (VLE’s) who were smart enough to strike a deal with the Block Development officers were successful.   The deal being for every photograph of Narega beneficiary a set amount is given to the officials.   This is the beginning….   There are many more programs to follow suit and if the same trend is going to continue then unless and until you are mentally prepared to be “practical” and go along with the existing practices no program will be forthcoming. 

The officials are not sensitised on the benefits of the program.  The majority of the officials are IT illiterate.   Their core concern remains that their power will diminish and their recourse to the speed money will be lost. By pushing the ICT program of CSC under the purview of such officials the sheen of the program is being lost and it is pushed to the brink in the same manner and fate as of other programs.

The biggest challenge will be whether you will be able to wade through the turbulent tides of corruption to enable the CSC’s to survive or the community will prepare itself to brace against corruption and fight to its logical end and ensure the CSC’s survive, flourish and bring about the required changes.

But  the  failure  of  CSC   will  be  a biggest  loss  to  the  community  especially  the  poor  who will  loose  the  opportunity  of  seeing  good governance  knocking  at  their  doors.   The  youth  who  have  involved  themselves  in  establishing  the  csc’s  will have their  dreams  crashed.   We  see  CSC  as  an  last  opportunity  to  ensure  a semblance  of   governance  in   the  region  and that  should  not become  a   lost  opportunity.  Amidst all its backwardness, controversies at least the CSC platform can be utilised by the Jharkhand state to negate its inactiveness in the region.

Before it is too late, the Government of Jharkhand and its officials need to wake up from their deep slumber.  They need to ensure the basic minimum infrastructure is made available to run the CSC centres.  Without internet connectivity, absence of pucca structures, absence of loans to the youth it is difficult to set up CSC centres in the state of Jharkhand.  There is need for a white paper from the Jharkhand government on the programs that are going to be outsourced to the csc centres.  There is need for bringing the different grant-in aid programs to synchronise with the CSC programs so that the youth are not pushed to the brink.