Official apathy and inaction of people’s representatives escalate issues in several parts of the state, pushing people into boycott mode to find solutions to their problems
By Amarpal Singh Verma
Hanumangarh, Rajasthan: Angered by the state government’s indifference, official apathy and inaction of public representatives in solving their problems, the rural residents in several districts of Rajasthan have decided to boycott the State Assembly elections scheduled for November 25.
For instance, at Daulatpura in Tibbi tehsil of Hanumangarh district, villagers have submitted a memorandum to Additional District Collector Kapil Yadav, demanding that they be provided with adequate drinking water. If the damaged water tank was located on the ground level and the filters were not rebuilt, they would not vote in the Assembly elections, the memorandum said.
Yuva Morcha worker Vikas Beniwal (33) told 101Reporters that the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) laid a pipeline under the Jal Jeevan Mission a year ago and constructed the water tank using bricks and cement. Even before water could reach the tank to provide potable water, the pond water filled it and a wall was not erected between the pond and the tank.
‘The filter has been damaged. The pipelines laid only at one ft depth in the ground have also started leaking. We have been demanding a solution for the last six months, but no one has listened,’ said Beniwal, alleging irregularities in construction.
Claiming that there was no irregularity, Tibbi PHED junior engineer Sakshi Sinsiwar said that the tank had been damaged due to flooding of the pond. ‘We will get the tank repaired soon,’ she said. However, Beniwal said the tank should be reconstructed as repair was not a solution.
People of Faridsar village in Thukrana panchayat of Suratgarh tehsil in Sriganganagar district have also decided to boycott voting in a meeting. They have informed Suratgarh Sub Divisional Magistrate Sandeep Kumar about this through a memorandum. Villager Nagendra Singh Shekhawat said they get piped water, but not in sufficient quantities.
‘Our village has been facing a drinking water crisis for the last 15 years. People give salt water to their livestock and spend Rs 700 per tanker to arrange water for themselves. We want water to be provided to us by laying a pipeline from Suratgarh Super Thermal Power Plant located in Prabhat Nagar to Faridsar, but our demand has been ignored,’ Shekhawat said. There is a proper arrangement for drinking water in the thermal plant and for supply to the colonies of employees.
Karnidan Singh Rajput (78), an independent journalist and writer from Suratgarh, said, ‘Poll boycott calls of rural voters have been happening more in the last 10 to 15 years… The MLAs spend funds on developing cremation grounds, but do not pay attention to basic facilities such as drinking water.’
Village sarpanch Girdharilal Swami said the water crisis was widespread. ‘Requests have been made to MLAs of every party, but no solution has been found.’
When asked about the situation, Suratgarh PHED Executive Engineer DP Chahar said they were supplying water at the rate of 55 litres per person in Faridsar, as per the prescribed parameters. ‘This quantity is sufficient for the human population, but in the sandy area of this village, the demand for drinking water for animals is 20 to 30 times more than that of humans. This is why there is a problem,’ he claimed.
Chahar said getting water from the Suratgarh thermal plant was not in his jurisdiction. ‘If the thermal plant administration wants to provide water by laying a pipeline at its own expense, we have no objection. We have also given no objection certificate to the villagers in this regard,’ he informed.
Resentment rules everywhere
An atmosphere of resentment towards public representatives is visible in many places in the state. The villagers of eight-gram panchayats, which were removed from Bhilwara district and included in Shahpura district a few months ago, have decided to boycott voting. In fact, when the Shahpura district was carved out by dividing Bhilwara, 16 panchayats of the Mandalgarh subdivision were included in the Shahpura. There was anger there over this.
Following protests, the government included eight of these panchayats back into Bhilwara, but the other eight remained in Shahpura. This led to another round of protests and the putting up of posters regarding the boycott of voting and a ban on entry of political party leaders into the villages.
Grameen Sangharsh Samiti chairman Bhairu Singh Gurjar told 101Reporters that the official work of villagers was done at Mandalgarh subdivision headquarters when they were a part of Bhilwara district. But now, they have to go to four different places for panchayat, police, administration and tehsil-related work. ‘We have full faith in democracy. Our displeasure is only with the public representatives who are not raising their voices in our interest,’ he clarified.
On the other hand, former Mandalgarh MLA Pradeep Kumar Singh said the villagers were emotionally attached to the Bhilwara district and hence wanted to associate with the Mandalgarh subdivision.
Meanwhile, in Jaisalmer district, 50 villages have announced an election boycott in solidarity with the truck drivers who have been on a sit-in strike in Sonu village for the last two months. There are about 400 trucks in the area to transport limestone from the mines of Sonu. Truck drivers have been seeking an increase of Rs 3 per tonne in freight charges, but the Rajasthan State Mines and Minerals Limited contractor is not ready to accept the demand. Now, the people in 50 nearby villages have come in support of the truck drivers.
The villagers of Ladi Ka Bas of Neem Ka Thana tehsil in Sikar district have announced an election boycott as they want their village panchayat Ladi Ka Bas to be removed from Ajitgarh panchayat samiti and reinstated in Patan panchayat samiti. So far, the villagers have boycotted the elections six times raising this demand.
The villagers of Odhpur in Jhalawar district have decided to boycott voting demanding a proper road connection with the state highway. Similarly, farmers of Ladpura in Sangod tehsil of Kota district are boycotting polls because they are not able to draw water from River Chambal despite being included in the irrigated area. The villagers of Deoli in Tonk district are not voting as they are angry that the damaged road has not been repaired.
People of Seesola in Tonk district have warned of a boycott if concrete roads are not built on two major routes. Similarly, the people of Chandrawali village of Baseri Assembly constituency of Dholpur district have decided to boycott as the road is in tatters and they have been yearning for development for a decade now. Meanwhile, people of ward 43 of Bhilwara have barred political leaders from entering their ward, besides announcing an election boycott. Banners have been put up warning the political leaders.
This is not the first time that people have boycotted elections in the state. In 2018, about 7,500 voters of Jasana and Modhuwala in Hanumangarh did not cast their votes seeking arrests in the Pawan Vyas murder case. The killers in the case are still out of reach for the police. Now the family members of Pawan have decided to boycott elections.
Pawan’s father Ramswaroop Vyas (84) told 101Reporters that his son was murdered in 2017, but the police failed to trace the killers. ‘I staged a protest at Nohar Police Station for 171 days. I even walked 380 km from my village to Jaipur and staged a protest before the Rajasthan Assembly. Local MLA Amit Chachan raised the issue in the Assembly but in vain. Whether the villagers vote or not, my family and I will boycott the election,’ he says emphatically.
Poll boycotts have solved the problems of villagers many times. Five years ago, the people of Kutubpura and Dhatarwala of the Chirawa area in the Jhunjhunu district were troubled by the foul smell emanating from a poultry farm built on 100 acres of land.
‘The poultry farm waste was thrown everywhere and millions of flies started breeding on it. The stench was horrible. Even cooking, eating and sleeping became difficult. Infectious diseases were spreading and many animals died. We repeatedly submitted memorandums, but no one listened. We protested for two-and-a-half months. With no solution in sight, we decided to boycott polls in 2018,’ resident Nihal Singh Dhatarwala told 101Reporters.
Subsequently, the administration put pressure on the poultry farm owners and made them dispose of waste at a specific place. Flies were also controlled by spraying pesticides. Anita Jangid of Kutubpura said flies and bad smells are still present but have been controlled to a great extent. ‘This has been possible due to our strike and poll boycott,’ she said.
Had the people of 28 villages of Mavli Assembly constituency in Udaipur district not decided to boycott the 2018 elections, perhaps an underpass would not have been built on the six-lane highway passing through the villages.
‘When we put forth our demand to build the underpass to prevent the recurring accidents, we were not heard. Finally, about 50,000 people decided not to vote. When the administration held talks and assured us of an underpass, we cast our votes. The underpass was built about four years ago. We do not have to cross the six-lane road now,’ Dabok sarpanch Bhagwati Lal Patidar told 101Reporters.
The problems in Ranodiya village in Itawa tehsil of Kota district have also been solved by the poll boycott. Villager Ashok Kumar said the repair was not done despite repeated pleas when the village road constructed in 1992 fell into disrepair. So, the villagers boycotted voting in the panchayat elections of December 2021. After a year, road reconstruction began.
Similarly, panchayat elections had to be boycotted for the construction of a road in Mandavara village panchayat of Sultanpur panchayat samiti in Kota. Village sarpanch Mohanlal Verma said that despite repeated demands, the road was not built earlier. Five years ago, villagers in Siras in Tonk district boycotted Assembly voting seeking roads. Five years later, road construction recently started at a cost of Rs 9.38 crore.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer in Jaipur is motivating people to vote in the Assembly elections. Special Officer (Training) Dr Renu Poonia told 101Reporters that Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Gupta has given instructions to motivate more people to vote. If information about the boycott is received from anywhere, the returning officer concerned holds a meeting with the people and listens to their problems. Efforts are made for immediate solutions at the administrative level. If that is not possible, then we convince people to vote,” she said.
Amarpal Singh Verma is a Rajasthan-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.