Beval Village

The model of public participation just got the perfect case it will quote for years to come. For the first time in India, transfer of power took place in full public eye. In this village of Beval, in Mahendragarh district of Haryana, is an exemplar of how the present Sarpanch (elected village head) demanded handing over of reins from the preceding Sarpanch in the presence of government officials and villagers in the Gram Sabha (village meeting). Otherwise the norm here, like other villages of India, was that all cash records, vouchers etc would be passed on behind closed doors. And any the deceitful details in the records would be laughed off with a ‘welcome to the club’ attitude. The closed doors then would become the training and induction centre for a new face into the corrupt system. This conceal is what makes corruption sustainable. To get out of this loop, one has to open the doors and let the public in, which in this case was a three month long struggle.

A law graduate from Ranchi who became a sanyasi (saint) is an unlikely description of a Sarpanch. But on 6th June this village voted Sanjay Swami into power. He won with the highest margin ever for this village, of 480 votes. He claims to have not spent a penny on campaigning. He was contesting against Mahavir Singh, the Sarpanch of the village since last 10 years. He says about his opponent’s expenses for election “ Unhone to sharaab pilai kitno ko, mene ek glass paani bhi ni diya kisiko vote ke lie (He gave free alcohol to many, while I did not even offer water for a vote’s sake).” Sanjay Swami had just one offer for the voters, that he would conduct   khuli baithak or open meetings with all the public to make every decision for the village. “Khuli baithak me janta saare nirnay legi, me bas kriyanvan karuga (All the villagers together will take decisions in the public meetings, I will only execute them).” He sees no dichotomy in being a Sanyasi and a Sarpanch as he reasons that both are meant for service of the people and both live off the people’s money. And it was by donation of villagers that Sanjay Swami had led construction of a Gram Sabha Bhavan (village meeting hall). Thus now he was adamant that it be used.

Sanjay Swami (Sarpanch)

His predecessor Mahavir Singh, Sarpanch for ten years or two consecutive terms, did not enjoy such saintly reputation. Roop Singh says that Mahavir would conduct meetings at his own house and would not call or inform any villager. People complained of a sad status quo during his tenure. No roads built, no schools built, everything remained in the sorry state as it was. However on paper, the story was different. A 27 feet wide main road supposedly runs across the village, but on site we only see a drain and some slush. The water problem is also acute here. In a village of farmers, the tubewells have all stopped.  Santlal, a villager alleges that Mahavir had not paid bills upto Rs 7 lakh apparently. It becomes obvious then that why Mahavir Singh wanted to pass his financial records behind closed doors in a hush.

One fine day after a month had passed, Gram Sachiv (Village secretary) came with some village officials for the handover. Sanjay Swami assembled people and started to scrutinise the records. People immediately pointed out that after Mahavir’s tenure was over, he had withdrawn sum of more than three lakhs from village funds which the law does not permit.

Sanjay Swami demanded a written acknowledgement of this discrepancy. The officials after much denying and deferring promised to return tomorrow. And tomorrow never came. What reached instead was a show cause notice by Deputy Commissioner which asked for Swami’s suspension as he was not accepting the charge of Sarpanch. Let this be known that DC is not authorised to do so by Haryana’s 1994 Panchayati Raj Act in the first place.

These were but desperate measures of intimidation.

A national media channel went to make a story on the stalemate. Vinod Agrahari from Zee news started interviewing everyone, Sanjay Swami, Mahavir Singh and other villagers. This triggered the authorities into action and by the next day, Swami had officers DDPO Deepak Yadav, and his assistant trainee Pankaj turning up with two sacks full of records like registers, pass books, bills, vouchers etc. In another hour the villagers assembled, but Mahavir, former Sarpanch was conspicuously absent. The hand over lasted for more than 8 hours. “This was a marathon meeting, marking the beginning of accountability”, said Swami.

Now this definitely is a leading case for Swaraj Abhiyaan (Movement for Self-rule). Public participation is indispensable to governance and this incident is a lesson for all the powers and the powers to be.

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