Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday visited the Birsa Munda Samadhi Sthal and met Tana Bhagats and the party’s panchayat representatives, district and block presidents here.
Mr. Gandhi, who is on a two- day visit to Jharkhand, will attend a meeting of the Congress working body in Bokaro on Wednesday.
“Mr. Gandhi’s visit is meant to better organise the party cadre and discuss the problems the panchayat representatives face. Panchayat elections were held in the State after 32 years, but no rights have been given to panchayats yet,” Union Tourism Minister and Congress MP from Ranchi Subodh Kant Sahai said.
Tana Bhagat women and men, wearing white khadi clothes and Nehru topis, queued up outside the Mecon community hall to represent their grievances to Mr. Gandhi. They hail from the Oraon tribe.
“Tana Bhagats sacrificed their lives and land in the Freedom struggle, but the government has done nothing to restore us our land the British had taken away,” Sukra Tana Bhagat of Sidhrol in Ranchi, said, referring to the community’s participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Ganga Tana Bhagat, a former MLA and leader of the Akhil Bhartiya Vikas Parishad, echoed this view. “The British auctioned 4,332 acres belonging to 875 Tana Bhagat families; 703 families are still waiting for their land to be restored to them. Of 76 Tana Bhagat freedom fighters, only two received pension. We want help with pensions, jobs, forest rights claims.”
Small farmers from villages on the outskirts of Ranchi and in the adjoining Gumla district complained that their villages were yet to be electrified. “The electricity poles came up 10 years ago; an electricity substation was set up two years ago. But even now, no house gets electricity,” said Seeta Ram Sahu.
(It may be recalled that the former Chief Minister, Madhu Koda, is in jail for alleged irregularities in the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme during his tenure between 2006 and 2008.)
Others talked of problems in the working of panchayats. For the first time since 1979, panchayat elections were held in November 2010. In the interim, a legal battle is raging over reservation for the tribal people in the scheduled and notified tribal areas.
“There are two parallel systems now: the traditional Manki-Munda system and the sarpanchas. There is no clarity on who is to do what; nor have the sarpanchas been given any funds or control over minor produce as the Panchayat (Extension to the Schedule Areas) Act, 1996, specifies,” said Gurjeet Singh, a right to food activist.
“Discussions are under way on devolution of powers to panchayats; the government plans to take steps within the next two months,” said Raghuvar Das, a BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister.
“This country knows that Rahul Gandhi’s tours have done nothing for the Congress. His tours had no effect in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,” he said.