As Jasol lay asleep, the only sounds were the hissing and purring of nocturnal animals on the prowl, feeding and breeding. The stillness of night was like any other that Jasol has experienced over the past hundreds of years ever since it—my village—has been a settled establishment. And when that stillness was shattered, it was like nothing before. The largish village, which in a decade could well become a municipality, was rocked awake like it has never been. It wasn't an earthquake, for there were no tremors, and it wasn't from the nearby stone quarries—the labour had all retired for the night. It was a blast, and from within the village. The sound could be heard as far as Balotra, the neighbouring town. And the entire village was jolted awake in the dead of night, clueless as to what had happened. The evidence that became apparent the next day suggests the strangeness of the events.
Kamal Kishore, like many in Barmer district, lives and works in Gujarat, but has a house in his native village. His house in Jasol has been rented out and it was his house that was the source of the blast. The intensity was such that the roof moved! It went up, a bit, and then came down back to its original position. The doors were blown out of their hinges and the window panes were shattered. The glass utensils, however, escaped damage, as did the television screen! The earthen matka remained untouched, unscratched, but the copper pitcher lying on top was flattened beyond use. Squished perhaps describes it more appropriately. And all steel utensils were similarly disfigured. Even the bolts that kept the refrigerator together were loosened. And other than flying glass shrapnel bruising the tenants, there were no serious injuries.
The entire village thronged to Kamal Kishore's house the next day. Even in such areas, with very limited connectivity, the word has spread fast. And Kamal Kishore was there too, for at the very moment of the blast he was leaving his abode in Gujarat to visit Jasol. Inexplicable timing, inexplicable coincidence. Very soon it became a district-level event and forensic experts were called from Jaipur. All that they could surmise was a gas leak, which created a pressure that the house couldn't suppress. But at that time there was no source of ignition for the gas that could create such a blast. So, obviously it was not very convincing for the owner, or the residents of Jasol. What they talk about is that there was a cremation ground at the site of the house and the land had subsequently been sold, and all else that follows from such transactions. It was an event Jasol still talks about and which certainly makes for strange tales.
Stranger still has been a revelation since I moved here last year. And that relates to the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (mplads). The national press has been panning this scheme since its inception during Narasimha Rao's time. I too had images of MPs handing out dodgy funds from the scheme to cohorts. But if there's one development scheme that is difficult to corrupt, it's this. It comes with the most inflexible guidelines and the image of a sleazy MP signing away funds is a figment of the imagination of some in Delhi. Other than recommending a certain amount for a school, health centre, pipeline or some such public work, the MP has little else to do with the funds. The recommendation then goes to the district authorities who check the project's applicability vis-a-vis the guidelines.No funds can be allotted to a place of worship, nor can they be sanctioned along caste lines.
This is one scheme an MP can turn to for development work if his party is not in power in the state. Control over the district administration emanates from political power in the state and that determines how various funds are utilised. If the MP's recommendation abides by the guidelines, no district administration, however partisan, can stop its implementation. Party affiliations can slow down the pace of work but can't change it. The guidelines, I repeat, are inflexible on the nature of work and the channel of authority. Only public works can be sanctioned and the construction agency is the ubiquitous pwd. If the MP so recommends, the work can be given to a panchayat. That saves some money but could be the only outlet for corruption in this scheme. But then the guidelines also declare that at any site where money from mplads has been utilised there shall be a board placed, detailing the nature of work, amount sanctioned and the completion date. The quality of work is then directly associated with the recommending MP! The catch is in the recommending and sanctioning and it is all in the guidelines. Little wonder then that this scheme has the largest amount of funds which lapse on account of underutilisation. That should be evidence enough of insufficient avenues for corruption! Like a number of Narasimha Rao's scheme this too gets panned for the wrong reasons. n