Nearly a thousand angry men and women with children in tow, braving the stifling humidity and sudden spells of rain, were on Thursday marching towards the taluk headquarters at Sullia.
What started off as a meek grumble of discontent in February-end this year developed into a cascading surge against corruption in this remote village of about 600 houses, which is 120 km from Mangalore.
“We have no caste, no community, and no political allegiance. We are against corruption,” they chanted amidst the beating of drums and trumpets while taking out the 26-km-long march to Sullia, against what they described as rampant corruption in their village.
According to the residents, it all started with a chat Vasudeva Gowda (50) had with his friends during a village fair in February.
“I was telling them about how the gram panchayat authorities initially delayed and then denied the Rs. 35,000 for the construction of a house due to me under the State Government's Ashraya scheme. Then some of them said that the same thing had happened to them also,” he said.
The news spread like wildfire at the fair. Several people realised that they had been conned and soon an emergency meeting, headed by the village elders, was convened. It was decided that an application be filed under the Right to Information Act seeking details of sanctions under the Union Government's Indira Awas Yojana and the Ashraya Yojana, which are meant for below the poverty line (BPL) families and SC/ST beneficiaries.
By March-end, a few village-level volunteers, who had obtained the list of works under the RTI, went to every house and enquired with the residents if they had received the money due to them. This led to some startling discoveries.
“Out of the 64 beneficiaries in the list of beneficiaries of Indira Awas Yojana, 56 had not received a single rupee,” said Shankarnarayan Shastri, an elderly person in the village who spearheaded the campaign. Similarly, large-scale irregularities were found in the Ashraya Yojana.
On April, six angry youths laid siege to the gram panchayat office and locked it. “The discovery of the scam prompted the village people to form independent groups and investigate all developmental works, including the MNREGA,” said Mr. Shastri. Speaking to The Hindu on Friday, Chief Executive Officer of the Zilla Panchayat P. Shivashankar said that official investigations so far pointed to a scam amounting to Rs. 40 lakh. Commending the people of Marakanje, he said, “The scam surely involved officials at all levels. Even bank officials may be involved in it.”
All the former members of the gram panchayat, including its president, were voted out of power in the recent gram panchayat elections.