April 24 is the birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, architect of Indian constitution and the main force behind the fight against untouchability in India. Yet, as recent RTI replies to senior activist Kirit Rathod suggest, Gujarat government remains indifferent towards remembering him. A counterview.org analysis:
Information provided by the Gujarat government’s social justice and empowerment department, under the right to information (RTI) Act, as also other sources, suggests that the state government has shown high degree of indifference towards promoting ideals and values for which Dr BR Ambedkar stood. An RTI application was made by Kirit Rathod, a senior activist of the Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad, seeking to find out what exactly has the Gujarat government done to build Ambedkar Bhawans in each of the 225 talukas of Gujarat, as also all the 26 districts, about which a big announcements were made way back in 2007, with an eye of the then state assembly polls in order to woo Dalit votes. The information sought included how many of the Ambedkar Bhawans were constructed between 2001 and 2014, as also the amount spent for constructing the Bhawans.
The reply received by Rathod, on April 9, 2014, suggests that only 12 such Bhawans have been constructed so far. These include one Bhawan each, in the district headquarters of Gandhinagar, Mehsana, Patan, Banaskantha, Surendranagar, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Junagadh, Amreli, Porbandar and Valsad. Not only have rest of the 14 districts do no such Bhawans; plans to construct them at taluka level have been doing on at the snail’s pace. Recognizing this as a serious lapse, Rathod recently wrote a letter (April 12, 2014) to Dr Kamla Beniwal Gujarat governor, highlighting how even Gujarat’s most important district, Ahmedabad, is devoid of any of the Bhawans.
The letter, written to mark the birth anniversary of Dr Ambedkar (April 14, 2014), says that while huge preparations have been taking place to celebrate his anniversary, it is sad a sad commentary on the present state of affairs that, despite the social justice and empowerment department’s declared intention through a government resolution dated March 29, 2007, to construct one Bhawan in nine talukas of Ahmedabad district, the progress so far is extremely pathetic. The letter says, an amount of Rs 2.25 crore was set aside for constructing nine Bhawans in Ahmedabad. Even then, land has been allocated for building Bhawans in just three three talukas – Detroj (1,000 sq metres), Viramgam (1,000 sq metres) and Dholka (1,241 sq metres).
“As for the rest of the six talukas, Ranpur, Bawla, Dhandhuka, Mandal, Barwala and Sanand, even the land has not been acquired for the purpose”, Rathod’s letter to the governor says, adding, “This information was received from the district backward class welfare officer, Ahmedabad district. Even seven years after the declaration of constructing one Bhawan in each taluka, the district collector, Ahmedabad, has still not set aside land in six of talukas for the purpose, while in the rest of the cases, the construction activity is yet to begin. This is an insult to Dr Ambedkar’s memory. I would request you to ensure that the Gujarat government acts on its commitment as early as possible.”
The RTI application by Rathod wanted to know from the Gujarat government details about the specific programmes the Gujarat government carried out to celebrate the birth anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, who has gone down in the history of India not just as one who fought for the Dalits’ rights but was father of the Indian constitution. The details sought included special programmes, if any, carried out for remembering Dr Ambedkar between 2001 and 2014, the amount spent on constructing Dr Ambedkar’s statue in any part of Gujarat, and government resolutions or orders about each of the programmes during this period. While details on the number of Bhawans showed the indifferent manner in which Dr Ambedkar was treated, the total amount set aside for constructed them was Rs 22.17 crore during these years. The reply suggests that most of the amount remained unutilised.
As for constructing statues in the memory of Dr Ambedkar, the Gujarat government told Rathod in the RTI reply, “No provision was made in the budget for the construction of statues.” This is particularly significant, as the reply comes at a time when the Gujarat government has decided to build the world’s highest statue, 182 metres high, in the memory of Sardar Patel at the cost of Rs 3,000 crore. The reply has come a time when Navsarjan Trust’s founder, Martin Macwan, recently made a fervent appeal to build statue higher than that of Sardar Patel in the memory of Sardar Patel. Macwan believes, Dr Ambedkar’s stature was higher than that of Sardar Patel in nation building, and the decision to spend so much of amount on Sardar Patel, and nil on Dr Ambedkar, smacks of a particular kind of bias. “This is the language they understand”, he said, addressing a meeting.
The RTI reply also suggests that the only time when the Gujarat government spent some money for the birth anniversary of Dr Ambedkar was during Gujarat’s golden jubilee celebrations between May 1, 2010 and May 1, 2012. While a sum of Rs 25. 45 lakh was set aside for different programmes, the state government could spend Rs 23.25 lakh, and the allocations were included against programmes in 12 Ambedkar Bhawans, 46 hotels for Dalits, and 10 Adarsh Nivasi Shalas for Dalits. Rs 3.25 lakh was set aside for organizing seminars for Dalit intellectuals and litterateurs. Significantly, no amount to “celebrate” Dr Ambedkar was spent between May 1, 2010 and April 31, 2011, after which the unused funds were transferred to the Gujarat Safai Kamdar Nigam, so that it could be used at the time of Dr Ambedkar’s anniversary on April 14, 2011.
These facts have come to light at a time when the latest information collected by Navsarjan Trust suggests that as many as 67 Dalits died while working as manual scavengers in manholes between 2005 and 2014. Giving year-wise breakup, the information suggests that, ever since April 2013, as many as 12 manhole workers died due to poisonous gases in manholes, as the workers are forced to enter into the manholes forcibly. These are Anilbhai Amratbhai Kuvariya, Hareshbhai Babubhai Kuvariya, Anilbhai Ratilalbhai Chauhan, Anilbhai Amratbhai Kuvariya (all four from Unza), Mangabhai Jivabhai Maruda (from Gandhinagar), Ishawarbhai Chatru Pathrod (from Gandhidham), Jetaram Sopaji Pariyad (from Kadi), Valpesh G. Patel, Rohit D. Vasava, Sanjay Vijaybhai Patel, Mohan Kalipada (all four from Surat), Shankarbhai Arvindbhai Thakor and Pratapbhai (both from Godhra).
The 67 persons who have died while doing manual scavenging work in manholes in Gujarat should now get compensation from the Gujarat government in accordance with the new law, passed in Parliament recently. The Supreme Court has directed the Government of India as well as state governments to “identify the families of all persons who have died in sewerage work (manholes, septic tanks) since 1993 and award compensation of Rs 10 lakh for each such death to the family members depending on them”. In its judgment by Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam, the court categorically said that if the practice of manual scavenging has to be brought to a close and also to prevent future generations from the inhuman practice of manual scavenging, rehabilitation of manual scavengers will need to be carried out.