Walls of BPL families painted with the words “Main gareeb hoon”

The problem of identifying genuine Below Poverty Line (BPL) beneficiaries for the efficient last-mile administration of welfare schemes is a serious one throughout India.

However, in Madhya Pradesh this problem is quite acute, reflecting prominently in a consistent war of words between the Shivraj Chouhan-government and the centre over the correct number of BPL beneficiaries in the state.

Perhaps, therefore, the solutions that authorities here come up with are novel too, aptly reflecting the acuteness of the problem.

Thanks to one such initiative, in Dabhiya village of Khandwa district’s Khalwa block, BPL families can be identified without any problem.

Here, walls of the houses of BPL families are painted with three self-explanatory words-Main Gareeb Hoon (I am poor).

Out of the total 600 households in Dabhiya, 237-odd are BPL and so almost every other house in the village is “marked.”

Although the branding of BPL houses is not a new exercise, most houses continue to have the expression painted in big, bold letters.

“This was done some three years ago after we received an order from the Janpad (block) panchayat,” explains Panchayat secretary Makhanlaal, talking to The Hindu.

Most of the BPL residents say the branding was done without their knowledge.

“I had gone for work in another district (work migration) and when I returned I found my house painted,” says Rajaram. “Yes, we are poor but should the government try to address our poverty or mock us by branding us poor in this humiliating manner? asks Karma, another BPL resident of the village.

“Branding people rich, like its done through periodic lists in business magazines, can be a point of pride for some, but inscribing ‘main gareeb hoon’ outside someone's house, even if they are poor, is outrightly dehumanizing,” says activist Prashant Dubey, who has worked among people from this poverty-stricken region.

The district administration maintains the exercise was done by Panchayats themselves and no orders were given out at the district or state levels.

“This is not a new development, the houses were painted some three-four years ago and even then, the orders were given out at the lower level and the district administration was not involved,” says Khandwa district collector Kavindra Kiyavat.

“But in a sense, it does discourage those who are well-off—who own land, have a pukka house and drive a car or a motorcycle—from seeking the benefits available for BPL familes. These people want the benefits but dont want “I am poor” written outside their houses while a genuinely poor person wouldn’t mind that, if it ensures delivery of benefits that are due to him,” says Mr. Kiyavat.

There have been such initiatives in other villages in other districts as well. In 2010, Gopalganj village in Seoni district was in news for exactly such an exercise. In 2009, the Madhya Pradesh government had “officially” expressed an intention to start such an exercise to separate the “genuine poor” from the “well-off fakers.”

Minister of State for Food and Civil Supplies Paras Chandra Jain had then told IANS: “The government has been receiving several complaints of affluent people having managed to get BPL cards and availing benefits. We will write the details of the BPL card holders in front of their houses as a last resort. This would embarrass the non-deserving people who would then surrender their cards,” Mr. Jain had said.