The fact that those in power take bribes will not come as a surprise to anyone; however, what is shocking in the 83 cases mentioned in an Anti-Corruption Bureau list is the background of the victims. Here are some of the sinners.

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  cheque under a government scheme to aid victims of such crimes.

It’s all about the money: Even poor farmers, many of whom have been driven to suicide because of their financial situation, were not spared by the officials. Representation pic
It’s all about the money: Even poor farmers, many of whom have been driven to suicide because of their financial situation, were not spared by the officials. Representation pic

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 various government schemes.

The list of shame includes 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.

According to 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 main schemes are Employment Generation Scheme, Indira Avas Yojana, Ekatmik Vikas Yojana, Rajeev Gandhi Health Scheme and others related to goat farming, water supply and tap connection. There are also schemes for rape victims, dalits, slum dwellers etc.

To avail 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 benefits 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.

Sparing no one
ACB officials said they were shocked when they found doctors, health officers and even a school principal indulging in such activities. “One government officer demanded money to release cheques for building toilets in a village in Nashik. The gramsevak was arrested while taking Rs 600 from the complainant to release his cheques. A doctor was also arrested for demanding R400 from poor elderly women for giving them spectacles under the government’s health scheme,” said Dixit.

Unemployed villagers work under the Employment Generation Scheme of the government, but when it comes to releasing their wages, the Panchayat Samiti officers demand a cut from them. “Some such villagers approached us and we trapped around 14 officers,” said an ACB official. Officers also arrested around 12 government employees who demanded money from poor people who had got fund for housing from the government. “The officers from the Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis and Gramsevaks demanded money to release cheques under the Indira Vikas Yojana,” the official added.

“They (corrupt babus) don’t understand that such schemes are meant for very poor people who don’t have food or employment and make do with the money they get for whatever days they can get employment through government schemes. The corrupt officials demand cuts even from them. We had published our numbers in such areas and that’s how the complainants approached us,” said the official.