Thursday, September 05, 2002

50 Dalits forced to vacate houses

Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Mehru (Jalandhar)

Nearly 50 Dalit families have been driven out of their houses by the administration and the police allegedly for voting for the SAD-BJP which had built them 12 one-room pucca houses under the Indira Awaas Yojana, when the combine ruled the state.

The victims, alleged that they were forced out of their houses by the administration at the behest of a panchayat member belonging to the ruling Congress party. They now are putting up in small tents in front of their houses after having been thrown out by Block Development and Panchayat officials, who descended on the village on August 27 along with 36 police officials.

Mr Karnail Singh, panchayat member and aide of Punjab Minister Amarjit Singh Samra, who allegedly was behind the Dalits’ uprooting, was one of the signatories to a resolution passed by the village panchayat on February 16, 2002, recommending allotment of houses under the Home for Homeless Scheme to 12 Dalit families identified as homeless by the panchayat.

The Dalit families, identified by the panchayat in 2000 for allotment occupied the half-built houses in February this year after a long wait as the Panchayati Raj Department failed to complete the houses despite its Construction Wing having started the job three years ago.

Showing the panchayat resolution, Dalit families alleged that they were cheated by the department officials and some panchayat members, who had made them sign some documents under police pressure showing that they were vacating the houses for repair. “They had threatened us to either vacate the houses or face beating at the hands of armed policemen who accompanied them in three vehicles. What could we do except bow to their wishes?” rued Satnam Singh, a Dalit, who added that all families putting up in the houses had ration cards. Satnam Singh alleged that at the time of the occupation of the houses, officials of the Block Development and Panchayat Office, Nakodar, had forced every family to shell out Rs 2,000 as bribe money. “They had also made us pay for liquor and other entertainment at that time,” alleged Satnam Singh.

“The only fault of ours is that since the houses were allotted during Akali rule. We had supported the Akalis,” said Sunita mother of two, who wanted to know what crime the 30 small children belonging to 12 families had committed for being forced to spend time in tents. Some children fell sick after the families shifted to tents. Joginder Singh, another Dalit, alleged that a panchayat member and a few others were conspiring with the Block Development and Panchayat officials so that the houses could be allotted to Congress supporters. Mohinder Kaur, a Dalit woman, said since their one-room houses were locked by the Block Development and Panchayat Officials in the presence of the police they had to spend time in small tents, insufficient to protect them from elements like rain. “See all of our belongings are rotting in the open as we don't have any place to store these”, she rued.

Karnail Singh, panchayat member denied the allegations and maintained that fresh allotments would be made as legally houses were not formally allotted to the Dalit families as these were still incomplete and as most of them (Dalits) were not eligible for these. When asked why he had signed a resolution recommending names of Dalits who had occupied these, Karnail Singh admitted that it was his mistake as he and other members had not verified the facts. He said that he was made to sign blank papers by the then BDPO Iqbaljit Singh. “Actually, most of the Dalits recommended by the panchayats are rich and have their own plush houses,” he added.

Karnail Singh, who alleged that most of the Dalits were relatives of the sarpanch, however, could not give a satisfactory answer why he had become party to a “wrong” resolution, Mr Ajay Block Development and Panchayat Officer, Nakodar, who was reluctant to say anything except that whatever had happened before he joined at Nakodar, was seen being tutored by Karnail Singh, who kept telling the former (BDPO) as to what answer he should give to the queries by The Tribune. Denying that any employee of his office had demanded bribe from Dalits, he maintained that legally allotment was yet to be made as the construction was not complete.

Source: The Tribune, September 5, 2002


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