Scion of the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior, Jyotiraditya Scindia is considered one of the most influential young leaders of the Indian National Congress. For the last 17 years, he’s been a Member of Parliament (MP) from his constituency of Guna, located about 200 km from Gwalior. In the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, he held the crucial portfolios of power, information technology, and commerce.
But his promises of development and progress haven’t quite translated from paper to the ground.
Guna is one of the most backward districts in the country, according to data from the 2018 NITI Aayog report. Scindia’s constituency of Guna covers Ashok Nagar district, and parts of Shivpuri and Guna districts. Far from development, the constituency which has been voting him to power since 2002—and voted in his father Madhavrao Scindia before that—struggles with basic issues like illiteracy, malnourishment deaths, acute water shortage, poverty, unemployment, the neglect of economically and socially backward classes—and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
One such victim of government apathy is the Sahariya tribe that densely populates the constituency. Despite crores being spent on tribal development plans, this tribe still lives in abject poverty. But the Sahariyas continue to vote for the Scindias because voting for the royals of Gwalior is a deeply ingrained habit—being “subjects” of their “kingdom”.
Last year, media reports emerged about the death of 92 Sahariya men in Majhera village in Shivpuri due to diseases like silicosis and tuberculosis. Most of the victims worked as bonded labourers in stone quarries, and a letter sent to the then collector (2005) cited hazardous work conditions, no alternate employment, and “inaccessible and virtually non-existent” health facilities.
Dr Mihir Shah, the then advisor to the commissioner, Supreme Court of India, sent a letter to the then collector M Geetha on the basis of a report sent to him by activist Uma Chaturvedi, the then fellow with Right to Food campaign support group in Madhya Pradesh.
Newslaundry has accessed Shah’s letter that states: “Health facilities remain completely inaccessible and virtually non- existent in these neglected Adivasi pockets despite the government having a special programme for the free treatment of TB patients. After hazardous quarries were shut, Sahariyas were on the brink of starvation in the absence of unemployment opportunity. Left without any choice these people have to turn towards the forest from where they gather various herbs and leaves for their survival. Not all of them are safe for eating.”
The letter further stated that a girl died because of eating poisonous leaves for her meal and others face the danger of similar death. Even the entry into their own habitat of a forest is not easy for these people as forest guards take money from women every three to six months to allow them in the forest.
The letter mentioned that not a single woman in Majhera village has got any benefit under the national maternity benefit scheme. Many of the women and families are devoid of schemes like widow pension and national family benefit scheme. Even the rice is being given to the Antyodaya Anna Yojana card holders at double the price. It also mentioned the condition of three men who were on the verge of death owing to continuous starvation.
According to a 2017 report of an investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court on Silicosis, during their visit to Shivpuri the team met around 104 widows in Majhera and Pipalkhedi villages whose husband died of tuberculosis (TB). The report accessed by Newslaundry states that there are around 48 villages in Shivpuri where mine workers are affected by TB and other respiratory diseases. The investigating team has observed that district officials purposely attribute a high rate of TB to alcoholism whereas they are unable to provide any proof on that.
“The investigation team observed that alleged alcoholism is a way of sidelining the actual issue of high rate of TB/Silicosis in the mine workers of Shivpuri district,” says the report of Supreme Court’s investigating team.
Yet, Scindia said at a public speech in 2014 that Shivpuri—one of the districts in his constituency—would be developed “in such a manner that people from Paris will come and see it and follow its development”.
Newslaundry visited some of the villages in Guna constituency to check the disconnect between his political promises and the situation on the ground.
In Gopalpur village of Kolaras block in Shivpuri, 48-year-old Ramwati Adivasi is well-known as a crusader for community rights. When Newslaundry met her in her village, she said, “Scindia kept his hand on my head and told me, ‘You are like my mother. I will make sure the problems of your village will be resolved.’ But nothing has happened. He just makes promises and forgets them. I have met him multiple times and been voting for Congress since ages—but nothing has changed for us.”
Gopalpur has a population of 400. When this reporter paid a visit, 80 per cent of the houses were empty as their inhabitants had gone to Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to seek work as labourers.
Ramwati hasn’t seen her oldest son Rakesh in the last four years. She says, “We don’t have any land nor do we have enough work as landless labourers to survive on that. My son went to Hyderabad to work as a labourer so that he can earn money.”
The residents of Gopalpur manage to find only one month’s work in neighbouring villages—10 hours a day with a salary of ₹150. Then they’re forced to move to other cities and states in search of employment. Ramvati says: “More than 300 people from our village are out for work, with their little children, to do manual labour jobs.”
Ramvati’s second son, 22-year-old Mahesh, holds a diploma in computer application. He can’t afford further studies as his family doesn’t have that kind of money. He also can’t secure a job in Shivpuri “because there are no opportunities there. In order to survive, I’ve started working as a labourer at construction sites in Agra and Dholpur.”
The villagers are tribals but do not own land in their names, despite the rules of the Forest Rights Act. Ramwati says: “Our ancestors have been farming in Pisnari Ki Toria near our village for over 50 years but the land is still not in our names. There’s a lake next to the area, but only influential and big farmers are allowed to take water from there. The forest department does not allow us to do so.” Ramwati says they face issues from the department even while harvesting their crops. “They demand money from the tractor and thrasher owners, also whom we call to collect our crops. As a result, the equipment owners refuse to help us during harvest season.”
She says she’s told Scindia about these issues multiple times—from malnourishment to unemployment. “Every time he tells us ‘aapka kaam ho jaayega (your work will be done)’. But nothing happens. He talks about helping farmers and tribals but does nothing, despite being such a big leader.”
Children of Gopalpur
Another issue Gopalpur battles is that of housing. The villagers were allotted houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY)—some of them a few years ago—but still, haven’t received the funds. One of them is 40-year-old Gaura Adivasi. Her husband worked as a labourer in the stone quarry and contracted tuberculosis, leading to his death three years ago.
Gaura points to her mud hut, where she lives with her six-year-old daughter Pinky. She was allotted a house under PMAY two years ago but never received the amount of ₹1.2 lakh to construct it. “I’ve been to the collectorate and the Kolaras tehsil over 20 times but no one has taken action on my application. The clerk and peons there tell me the money I was allotted has gone into someone else’s account.”
Desperate, Gaura approached Scindia, who is popularly addressed as Scindia Maharaj in his constituency. “We told Scindia Maharaj about our problems many times. Every time, we receive assurances from him but no results. He’s such a big man, he can easily resolve our problems. We have always voted for him—and will vote for him again—but he should at least do a little bit for us.”
Then comes the issue of ration cards. Rajkumari Adivasi’s husband deserted her, leaving her to take care of two children aged five and two. She’s been struggling to obtain a ration card for her family. “I don’t have a ration card, a house or employment. I work as a labourer in the field during harvest—that’s the only job I have. It becomes difficult for us to survive. Politicians assure us of everything when they come to our village. But once elections are over, they don’t care about us.”
Rajkumari Adivasi with her child
While this reporter was leaving the village, the residents of Gopalpur asked him to take photographs of them standing outside their huts, hoping a story about their problems will push Scindia and other politicians to resolve their issues. Ramvati says: “Janta se Raja-Maharaja bante hain (people make kings). We’ve been voting for Scindia Maharaj since long. But we are fed up now. If things are going to remain like this, a day will come when people will stop voting for him.”
Residents of Gopalpur
In Kumhraua Kalony of Shivpuri, the story is no different. Kumhraua Kalony is a hamlet surrounded by barren land in a radius of 3-4 km. Most villagers go to Rajasthan and Gujarat to work as labourers in mills and construction sites.
Kaliya Bai, 70, told Newslaundry: “We will die voting for the Scindia family but nothing will change for us here. We don’t have proper homes. Our children have to go to other states and towns in search of work. We don’t have land, and we don’t have water.”
Kaliya Bai has lived here for over 50 years. She says their condition has always been like this, and she doesn’t see it changing in the future. “Scindia Maharaj is aware of our situation, but he doesn’t do anything. We’re just vote banks—nothing else.”
Kumhraua Kalony has a single hand-pump to serve its population of 600. There had been a second water pump, but it broke down a year ago. The panchayat was informed, but no action was taken. Kaliya Bai says in the summer, even the single hand-pump doesn’t work. Villagers travel to a well 1.5 km from the village to get water.
According to another villager, Prakash Sahariya, the government has introduced many policies for rural areas, but these policies haven’t reached them. “Some homes here have obtained electricity connections and our village has a single concrete road—but I don’t think this means development for people living here. Out of 600 villagers, less than 25 have tribal pattas (land) in their name. The rest go to other states in search of work. The huge water shortage in the area means that people who have land are totally dependent on rain for their crops. The area is barren around the village, and there is only one water tap.”
He adds: “We still vote for them despite knowing that they don’t work for us.”
Seventeen-year-old Pran Singh, says he had to drop out of the government school in Kumhraua Kalony because of routine absentia of teachers. Two years ago, he went to Jodhpur to work as a labourer in a pulses mill. Back in the village on a holiday, Singh said, “I get ₹300 a day and have worked there for the last two years. We don’t have any opportunities here; that’s why we go far away in search of work.”
Like Pran, 20-year-old Ajmer Singh also works in Jodhpur. He says: “Most of the boys like me couldn’t complete our education because teachers rarely came to school. Some parents didn’t send their children to school at all. But the children want to be educated—yet, their interest fades when the teachers don’t show up.” Newslaundry spoke to eight-year-old Luvkush, who studies in the village school. He confirmed: “In our school, some teachers sleep, and some teachers teach.”
Gilande Adivasi, whose 19-year-old son Kaliram works as a construction labourer in Gujarat, says politicians here are only hungry for votes. “They say they’ll get your work done but they never do it. The people in our village don’t even have proper houses, despite being eligible to receive houses under PMAY. Scindia came to our village last year to inaugurate the concrete road and then just left.”
Newslaundry also visited a primary school in Majra Dighodi, Shivpuri, and discovered that children from Classes 1 to 5 study together in a small room. The class teacher said, on condition of anonymity, “We don’t have proper infrastructure to teach every class separately. We have limited students too, so we teach all of them in one class.”
Children from Classes 1 to 5 study together in a small room in a primary school in Majra Dighodi
A primary school in Majra Dighodi
Toilets in the school premises
Water woes have left the village of Gugwara in Shivpuri incapacitated, to the extent that its villagers have started to migrate. Gugwara does not have a single water tap. Its residents collect water from the tubewell of a big farmer, saying they’re thankful for his generosity.
Geeta Bai, 33, told Newslaundry: “The village hand pump is drying up because of which we bring water from the tubewell of a farmer about 2.5 km from our village. I don’t how will we survive the summer.” Fifty-year-old Bhandevi says, “If we at least get water taps in our homes, we’ll be happy. Water has become our biggest problem.”
Gugwara received electricity for the first time in December 2018. It has 350 inhabitants, mostly from Sahariya tribe. Like its neighbours, it battles multiple issues apart from water shortage, including unemployment.
Suresh Adivasi, 41, says, “Our village doesn’t have water or employment opportunities. This is what forces our people to migrate to cities like Agra, Dholpur and Gwalior. They go with their families and work as labourers. This migration has uprooted many lives but we don’t have any other option. Otherwise, our children will die of hunger.”
In Gugwara, 60-year-old Narayani Adivasi had three sons. Two of them, Ramswarup and Ramjilal, died after contracting silicosis while working in stone quarries. Both their widows have gone to Agra, along with her third son Sugalal and his wife. “They work there as labourers in potato farms. They receive ₹200 per day and work for a month or two there. Overall, our entire family earns about ₹15,000 a year.”
Narayani Adivasi with her grandchildren
While their parents go to work, Narayani’s three grandsons and two granddaughters live with her. “It’s not an easy task for a family to survive in such conditions,” she says. “Politicians come to us, hold their hands in front of us for votes. But they don’t understand what we’re going through.”
In Guna, which falls under Scindia’s parliamentary constituency, the villagers in Dhanwadi Kalony survive on forest produce, since they literally have nothing else.
Chaiyan Bai, 62, told Newslaundry, “I have two sons. Both of them went to Chhabra district in Rajasthan to work in a brick kiln. We don’t have any work to do here. We collect gum, Mahua and Tendu patta (forest produce) from the forest of Putli ghati and sell it for our living.”
Dhanwadi Kalony also has an acute shortage of water. The village has no well and only two hand pumps which dry up during the summer, forcing them to go to the neighbouring village of Ikodiya to fetch water. It’s the same story that Newslaundry heard at all the other villages: Scindia was told about their problems, he gave them assurances, but nothing changed.
Badal Singh, 48, says, “We don’t have a school for our children in the village. There is no work, no water and no employment for us to survive. People might think we’re lying about our situation but you can see with your own eyes how we’re living.”
In 2017, the former Bharatiya Janata Party government in Madhya Pradesh had started a policy to check malnutrition among the Sahariyas, by which ₹1,000 would be deposited in the accounts of tribal women. However, the women of Dhanwadi Kalony haven’t received any money yet. Like his counterparts in Gopalpur, Gugwara and Kumhraua Kalony, Badal Singh says government policies haven’t reached the poor. “Authorities at the panchayat level are corrupt. They don’t allow those policies to reach us.”
To avail of the ₹1,000, 47-year-old Patiya Bai says the panchayat secretary even took their ration cards. “That was a year ago. Our ration cards haven’t been returned, and we haven’t received any money in our accounts.” Jeevanlal, 53, says he met Scindia to tell him about the panchayat authorities’ malfunctioning when it comes to implementation of government policies. “I met Maharaj directly a couple of times, sometimes through his personal assistants. Maybe they’re busy with some work as things have not changed.”
Dongan and Maar ki Mau
Newslaundry reached Dongan village in Guna district on a sunny afternoon. Seven or eight children were playing on a chabootra (platform) built around a mango tree. The group includes a nine-year-old boy that everyone addresses as Gunga. His own grandfather says no one is sure of his real name, but everyone knows one thing: this stunted child with blank eyes is a victim of malnutrition.
When this reporter reached Gunga’s house, his parents were out for manual labour work in a nearby farm. Gunga’s paternal aunt Kalli says, “Even I don’t know his name, but he and his brother (Deshraj) have been weak since they were infants. His brother has a deformity in his leg, while Gunga cannot speak.” His 65-year-old grandfather Dayaram says there are other children like him in the village.
When Newslaundry was leaving Dongan village, another child studying in Class 5 approached this correspondent. With deformities on his hands and legs, he said, “Sir, write my name as well. I am also a weak child.”
About 4 km away, in the village of Maar Ki Mau in Guna, 50-year-old Janak Adivasi says their biggest problem is water. “We don’t have water taps in our sahrana (hamlet of Sahariyas). There are about 500 people in our sahrana and two handpumps about 1 km away. At least 4-5 hours of our time goes in fetching water every day.” Dakkhu Bai, 66, says, “There is an acute shortage of water. To save water for drinking, we bathe once in 3-4 days. In summer, this situation will only deteriorate and we’ll have to go to wells to bring water.”
Janak’s daughter-in-law, Guddan has a one-year-old daughter who is malnourished. She says an anganwadi worker took her daughter to the district hospital in Guna last month where they stayed for 15 days. However, she sees no change in her health.
The suffering of the Sahariyas
The 2018 NITI Aayog report listed Guna as one of the most backwards districts in the country. Uma Chaturvedi, a social activist who has extensively worked on malnourishment in Shivpuri and Guna districts, was one of the first to spotlight the plight of the Sahariya tribals.
“They live in horrible conditions,” she says. “In May 2018, we conducted a survey of about 20 villages in Guna and Pohri tehsil of Shivpuri. We found that 80 per cent of people didn’t have ration cards. The percentage of those under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is 0.01 per cent—which means there are no job cards and no jobs for the people we surveyed.”
Chaturvedi says all these factors combined led to malnourishment. “This was the situation during the former BJP government. I don’t think the Congress had made any changes in the last six months. Whether it’s Jyotiraditya Scindia or Yashodhara Raje—the condition is horrifying.” She says the issues span the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana (health), anganwadi centres, maternity issues, education, unemployment and more. “It’s a grim situation.”
According to government records, in 2017, 501 children below the age of six died in Guna and 628 in Shivpuri. The children died of pneumonia, diarrhoea, fever, measles, and other diseases.
Shivpuri: from tourist town to urban filth
In 2014, Jyotiraditya Scindia made a public speech in Shivpuri during the municipality elections. Campaigning for the Congress candidate, he claimed he would develop Shivpuri in such a way that “people from Paris will come and follow the development in Shivpuri”.
Visiting urban sections of Shivpuri town, Newslaundry witnessed large swathes of dug-up roads and streets. The whole city was dug up—and stayed that way—over the last seven years thanks to failed projects under the Sewer Line Project and Singh Jalvardhan Yojana. Jyotiraditya Scindia and his aunt, BJP MLA Yashodhara Raje Scindia, in their individual capacities claimed the projects were started by them. Locals state the projects failed, turning what was once a beautiful tourist spot into a city of filth.
The condition of roads about six months back
Pramod Mishra, a member of a social organisation named Public Parliament in Shivpuri, had spearheaded a protest against the failure of the Sindh Jalvardhan Yojana project in Shivpuri. He told Newslaundry that cities usual develop from one level to the next, but Shivpuri moved backwards and has become a village.
He says: “One of Shivpuri’s biggest problems was water project. To sort that out, Sindh Jalvardhan Yojana was passed in 2007 to bring water from Sindh River, which is 32 km from the city.” The project was given to a company named Doshian, Mishra says, which violated regulations of Madhav National Park while carving out roads for pipes adjacent to the park. “In 2015, we accessed documents which said the project was disbanded in 2012. Then we started a hunger strike on June 15, 2015.”
On July 10, 2015, Misha says Scindia, Raje and others told them water would come to the city within six months. “But nothing has happened till date.”
Meanwhile, the sewer project began in 2012, digging up the entire city in the process. The project kicked off stating it would be required once the Sindh River brought water to Shivpuri. Unsurprisingly, it’s also in limbo.
Frustrated, Public Parliament put together a video on the state of Shivpuri which was screened for Jyotiraditya Scindia. Mishra says: “Whenever we approached him, he’d give us the same answer: that he brought in projects but the BJP is creating hurdles. He was a cabinet minister in the UPA regime! He’s a very influential leader. Such answers only show his disinterest in Shivpuri’s development.”
Saumitra Tiwari, a 34-year-old contractor and resident of Shivpuri says the town’s current chaotic state is actually an improvement from six months before. “Six months ago, this town was hell. It’s the dirtiest town in India. The dust level is so high that every third person contracts tuberculosis. The people of Shivpuri have been waiting for water for 12 years. They’re facing a water crisis. Projects come but aren’t implemented as there’s no monitoring of them at the ground level.” He says unemployment is rampant.
Tiwari says even Shivpuri’s Congress leaders don’t have Scindia’s direct telephone number. “They have to call his personal assistants and then wait two days for a response. If someone needs immediate help, there’s not a single person in his constituency who has his direct number. This is the condition of these Rajas and Maharajas. What development will they do in our town?”
Another resident, 31-year-old Ranu Raghuvanshi, says if Scindia received a rating, it would be a negative figure. “Every year, crores worth of scams are done in the name of water in Shivpuri. Water tankers owned by politicians are minting money in crores. In 1996, all stone mines of Shivpuri were closed to protect a national park. At that time, over 90,000 lost their jobs in one stroke. Since then, no employment project has been brought in.”
Locals informed that stone mining was stopped to protect the national park. However, with no monitor agency, the situation has worsened. The forest cover is being routinely depleted while illegal mining goes on, stemming the rise of TB and other diseases among villagers.
Political analyst Harihar Nivas Sharma says the Scindias, whether they fight elections from the BJP or the Congress ticket, only win seats due to loyalty and a sense of servitude among people. “Loyalty towards the palace of the Scindia royals and not towards their respective parties. The irony is that sycophants of Scindias are the ones who get plum posts in both parties,” he says. However, disenchantment is starting to run deep, especially among the youth. The lack of development might finally catch up with politics in this area.
Newslaundry reached out to Jyotiratidya Scindia for comment repeatedly (through phone, text messages and email) but he didn’t respond. The story will be updated when he responds.