How low would a person have to sink to seek a ‘cut’ from the money being handed over to a rape survivor?
Vinod Bhosale, an official from the Women and Child Welfare department, no less, could have the answer to that question. He was caught red-handed trying to extract Rs. 20,000 from a rape survivor to hand over her Rs. 50,000 cheques under a government scheme to aid victims of such crimes.
What’s even worse is that Bhosale is just one of 83 government officials, figuring on a list compiled by the state Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), who were caught red-handed and arrested for taking bribes in 2014 from the poorest of the poor to give them the benefits they are entitled to under several government schemes.
The list of shame covers doctors trying to fleece elderly women before giving them spectacles, health officers demanding money to release cheques for constructing toilets and even a school principal, who asked a cook making mid-day meals for children to fork out Rs. 1,500 before releasing her salary cheque. Even poor farmers, many of whom have been driven to suicide because of their financial situation, were not spared.
ACB officials say the details of these cases are meant to give a clearer picture of how the benefits from various government schemes meant for people living below the poverty line either fail to reach them in full or are made available to them after a long delay.
The only silver lining in this sordid tale is that in 2014, the ACB saw a considerable increase in the number of people approaching it to complain.
“It is the height of shamelessness. Whether it’s a rape survivor, a senior citizen or people looking for basic needs like toilets in their villages, the corrupt babus have not spared a single person coming to them for availing these benefits. We have also arrested a principal from a Latur-based school who asked for Rs. 1,500 from a cook of a municipal school to release her cheque for providing mid-day meals for the students,” an ACB official said.
As per the ACB officials, there are around 38 different government schemes to give subsidies and other benefits to people living below the poverty line. Of these, the major schemes are Employment Generation Scheme, Indira Avas Yojana, Ekatmik Vikas Yojana, Rajeev Gandhi Health Scheme, and others concerning goat farming, water supply, and tap connection. There are also schemes for rape victims, Dalits, slum dwellers etc.
To enjoy the benefits under the schemes, the villagers often have to go through the gram sevaks or their village head to get the amount. Many of the villagers are illiterate and usually give away a portion of what they are supposed to get as a cut or a bribe to speed up the payment process because they know that those who refuse to pay up are made to run from pillar to post.
“The schemes are meant for very poor people that need the government’s help to improve their quality of life and these officers demand money even from them to get the advantages of the schemes. Some of the complainants have approached us from faraway places like Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Washim, Yavatmal, and Amravati, and we have arrested the accused,” said Pravin Dixit, Director General of Police, ACB, Maharashtra.