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Archive for the ‘Rajastan RTI’ Category

Age-old Afflictions Snare New Act of Freedoms

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 5, 2006

Age-old Afflictions Snare New Act of Freedoms

Sowmya Kerbart Sivakumar goes to a social audit in Rajasthan and discovers that the Right to Information Act is coming against a few usual Indian suspects. The bureaucracy among them

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main18.asp?filename=Cr060306Age_old.asp

Information Is Empowerment: Public hearing in Girwar panchayat
Photo Jan Chetna Sansthan

Many villagers who had earlier testified on video to irregularities simply did not turn up or pretended to have forgotten what they said

Irregularities amounting to Rs 6 lakh in Valota panchayat, Dungarpur of Rajasthan and seven tonnes of “missing” wheat in Girwar panchayat, Sirohi district came to light on April 25 and May 9 at two separate jan sunwais (public hearings) in the presence of local residents and government officials. The public hearings demonstrated once again the power of the National Right to Information Act that was used in drawing out the panchayats’ records for public scrutiny, in exposing corruption.

However, for one focussing only on the event of the jan sunwai, these outcomes overshadow a much larger context. This is the process of the social audit that starts much earlier and whose effects persist much beyond the date of the public hearing; a story less scripted but far more significant than the amount of corruption itself (The disappointment on the faces of mediapersons — “only Rs 6 lakh?” — was discernible!).

In January, local NGOs — Wagad Mazdoor Kisan Sangathan (WMKS), Dungarpur and Jan Chetna Sansthan with the Bhakhar Bhitrot Vikas Manch, Abu Road — had respectively helped residents of Valota and Girwar in getting information pertaining to the major development schemes implemented in their panchayats in the year 2004-05 (and 2005-06 in Girwar). Their experiences show that, to begin with, obtaining information was no cakewalk.

Why do you want it? you are illiterate

In Girwar panchayat, residents Lala Ram and Dharma Ram had applied for the information and had to face serious resistance. “Why do you want this information, you are illiterate, what are you going to do with it,” was the response from the sarpanch and the Block Development Officer (BDO). When Richa of Jan Chetna Sansthan accompanied them to meet the BDO, he wanted to know why her NGO was instigating them to do this, and what was their real motive after all? “When the district Collector came to know that the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (that spearheaded the Right To Information (RTI) movement in the state) was involved and the purpose was to do a social audit of the development works, he also put pressure on the BDO and they all ultimately fell in line,” says Richa. Incidentally, the social audits were jointly organised by the Centre for Equity Studies, Jaipur supported by the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD), in itself a government-backed body.

In Valota too, there were similar obstacles and it was only after some “pressure from above” that the information was given. But the manner in which this played out reflects a certain thought-provoking irony. The RTI Act grants a legal right to every citizen equally but in Valota and Girwar, it could not bypass the very power structures that it aimed to bring down, questioning the true accessibility of the law to the ordinary citizen.

RTI ACT

 

How the cover was blown

After obtaining the information and collating it, came the actual door-to-door verification. In both Valota and Girwar, this commenced a few days prior to the day of the jan sunwai, and efforts were made to match the records with the oral evidence of labourers supposedly employed on these works. In the social audit process, this stage marks a transition point; when vested interests start to realise that the Right to Information users mean ‘serious business’. As they see groups going around the panchayat with muster rolls, pointing out to labourers the amounts of money and grain lifted in their name under their signatures and physically measuring and assessing the quality of the finished works to corroborate what the measurement books (MB) say; they realise their cover is blown. And this is when the backlash begins.

A tale of two sarpanchs

At this juncture, Valota and Girwar need to be distinguished. Valota panchayat holds the record of being one of the leading beneficiaries of government schemes in the district with substantial funds flowing in. It has seen the incumbent sarpanch Kurma Ram and his wife hold fort for the last 13 years. His family tractor business has a monopoly of sorts in all development works in the panchayat — bills show that material worth Rs 15.2 lakh (out of the Rs 50 lakh worth of works for which records were obtained in 2004-05 alone) was transported by his son and the panchayat sachiv’s brother to the worksites. The effects of these were apparent on the day of the jan sunwai when many villagers who had earlier testified (on video) to irregularities simply did not turn up or pretended to have forgotten what they said.

In Girwar panchayat, residents not only showed up in large numbers but also testified without going back on their word. Here, however, the twist in the tale was the sarpanch’s own prior affiliation to the NGO which organised the social audit. “Bhimaram (the sarpanch) had joined the Bhakhar Bhitrot Vikas Manch about six years ago, and went on to become its adhyaksha for the last three years. He actively took up issues like employment guarantee and right to information and agreed to start his own panchayat for social audit in a meeting of the manch three months ago — which is how Girwar was chosen. He probably did not think that the social audit would go into such detail and he would get into trouble!” remarks Richa. He too tried to hush up the villagers prior to the jan sunwai, but was definitely less successful than Kurma.

Got the information. what now?

A panel comprising Planning Commission member BN Yugandar, Joint Secretary and Financial Adviser (Lok Sabha Secretariat) Amitabh Mukhopadhay, Shailesh Gandhi, member, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Trilochan Shastry (Professor, IIM Bangalore) besides local political representatives and administration witnessed the jan sunwai on April 25 in Valota. The district Collector pledged to bring anyone found guilty to book after an official enquiry, no matter who they are.

“We heard that sarpanch Kurma hosted a sumptuous feast on the night of the public hearing and warned people that no one should give any further evidence. He also gathered all workers on a later date and threatened that if they wanted work and payments, they’d better not open their mouths. He got two women to physically assault the wife of one of those who testified, charging that her husband caused all this. NGO workers who reside in the panchayat are facing a social boycott with no one willing to visit them,” revealed Maan Singh Sisodia of WMKS. Political equations are also bound to play a role, as the sarpanch’s alleged saffron affiliations are said to have got him some sympathy from the government.

An enquiry committee set up at the district level has been directed to submit its findings by May 20, but it has asked for more time now. “Everyone knows that it is not the sarpanch alone who is corrupt and there is a nexus. In the least, the enquiry should be done by an independent authority,” says Maan Singh.

Will more heads roll?

In Girwar, it is too early to say what the enquiry will lead up to but some encouraging spillovers are in sight. The fate of Bhimaram within the manch is to be decided in a meeting. In nearby Aamthala panchayat, people have demanded information on Indira Awas Yojana, old age and widow pensions. In Shurpakala panchayat, an application for muster rolls has been put in.

But ultimately the ball will be in the administration’s court. Valota and Girwar have demonstrated that the RTI Act may be a powerful tool to get information but then it is back to facing the same systems — of law, politics and administration. A serious thinking needs to go into the processes that follow a social audit within this system, if the objectives of the RTI Act have to be taken to its logical end.

Jun 03 , 2006

Posted in Rajastan RTI | 3 Comments »

SUCHNA EVUM ROZGAR KA ADHIKAR ABHIYAN – Jaipur

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 11, 2006

SUCHNA EVUM ROZGAR KA ADHIKAR ABHIYAN

Press Note

Jaipur, July 10 2006: The confusion regarding file notings is yet to
be put to rest in Rajasthan. Although this had been repeatedly
reiterated by the Central Chief Information Commission (CCIC) in its
appeal decisions on 31/1/06 and later on 15/5/06, the Home Secretary,
Rajasthan government has verbally clarified that unless the Department
of Personnel and Training (DoPT) does not remove the sentence that
exempts file notings from the definition of information in its
website’s Frequently Asked Question (FAQs), he will be unable to issue
any order permitting the disclosure of file notings for the state. The
decisions of the CCIC, any PIO or appeal authority in this respect
would apply only to that specific case, and cannot be taken as a
blanket direction, he said.

Under the FAQ “What does information mean?”, the DoPT’s website says
“Information means any material in any form including records,
documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases,
circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples,
models, data material held in any electronic form and information
relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public
authority under any other law for the time being in force but does not
include “file notings” [S.2(f)].

However, it remains a mystery as to why the DoPT is yet to remove the
said line from its FAQs in spite of the CCIC asking it to do so and
the Act itself not putting any such restrictions.

In its appeal decision (dated 31.6.06) regarding the disclosure of
file notings from Ministry of Urban Development, the CCIC had said,
“The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions is advised to
remove such administrative instructions from its website that are
contrary to the RTI Act, 2005 as found by the Commission. In the
present case, the Ministry will make available the file notings
requested to the appellant.”

Direction on Acceptance of Rs 10/- Application Fees

Many complaints have been received in the course of the Abhiyan that
applicants are facing difficulty in depositing the Rs 10/- fee along
with the RTI application form. Applicants are being told that the
officers do not know under what head the receipt for Rs 10 should be
given. However, it seems this is simply being used as an excuse, as a
clear order to this effect has been issued by the Home department,
Rajasthan government one month ago, by its order order dated 6th June,
2006. The order clearly specifies the heads under which the Rs 10 may
be accepted in various offices.

Officer Sticks to RTI “Deadline”

Murarilal, a resident of Jaipur had applied for information under the
RTI Act 2005 from the Jaipur Nagar Nigam on the terms and conditions
under which contracts had been given to collect garbage in all zones
in the city. The application had been made in the first week of June.
On the 30th day, the Commissioner in the Nagar Nigam in charge of
providing the information realised that his time was up. He
frantically got the information together and had it sent in his
vehicle, to deliver at the applicant’s doorstep!

Rajsamand District Collector assures progress on RTI Implementation

A delegation from 10-12 organisations led by social activist Aruna Roy
met the Collector of Rajsamand district today to brief him about the
implementation of the RTI Act. He assured the delegation that he would
organise a training of all officers to sensitise them on the Act in a
few weeks and hold a monthly meeting in this regard. He also promised
that he would soon send out orders to all departments, especially
those concerning the panchayati raj and main public-dealing
departments, to implement Section (4) of the Act with urgency.

Abhiyan Going Strong at the start of Week 2

In Jaipur, the kiosk was shifted to near the Jaipur Development
Authority (J.D.A) from today onwards and received good response from a
large number of people. Till afternoon, 14 applications had been filed
in various offices/departments including the JDA, SC/ST Commission,
Archeological Survey of India, Directorate of Local Bodies, Education
(Elementary and Higher), Social Welfare, Electricity and so on. Many
visitors also expressed interest in joining the campaign on a long
term basis. Among the many applications filed, Pawan Nakwal had some
difficulty in trying to file his application with the SC/ST
Development Corporation in Bais Godaam, Jaipur. On going to the PIO’s
office, he found that he was not available. He then went to the
cashier who asked him to meet the CEO. The CEO was also not in his
seat. So he went to the Deputy Director, who again directed him to the
PIO! At the end of the day, he returned without filing the
application.

A total of 56 applications were filed between various centres in
Rajasthan today. These applications mainly concerned the panchayati
raj department, PDS, water, education and so on.

sd/-
(On behalf of the Abhiyan)

For further details, contact: Parash (9413046353), Gautam
(09374099988), Kamal (9413457292) or Sowmya (0141-2362358)

Posted in Rajastan RTI | 10 Comments »

No chargesheet filed yet in Janawad scam case

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 11, 2006

No chargesheet filed yet in Janawad scam case

Special Correspondent

http://www.hindu.com/2006/07/10/stories/2006071008880500.htm

It was exposed through one of the early uses of Right to Information

JAIPUR: No chargesheet has been filed in the court so far in the multi-lakh Janawad scam which was exposed through one of the early uses of right to information in 2001 in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. The status of the case has come to light during the ongoing “Drive against Bribe” campaign in the State.

In an extremely fast response to an application filed over the week-end by Shankar Singh of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, who wanted to know the details of action on the Janawad scam, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Rajsamand, stated that chargesheets against 11 elected representatives and Government officials involved in the case had not yet been filed.

Irregularities worth lakhs of rupees were unearthed in panchayat works in Janawad in 2001.

Mr. Singh was also informed that investigation into the case had been delayed because original documents such as muster rolls, based on which the scam came to light, had gone missing.

At the end of first week of the campaign to counter corruption and bribery in Government offices, interesting cases of people taking up the use of the Right to Information Act in public interest, such as for exposing corruption or fighting for their collective rights, have come up.

The Suchana Evum Rozgar Ka Adhikar Abhiyan has established assistance centres in Jaipur and several towns across the State as part of the campaign, which has received an overwhelming response from public and helped generate awareness about the path-breaking law on right to information.

Sowmya Sivakumar of the Abhiyan said here on Sunday that a group of 45 safai karamcharis employed in the Abu Road Municipal Council put in a joint application as to why they had not received their wages for the last three months.

These safai karamcharis were hired on a contract basis and paid a paltry amount of Rs. 40 to Rs. 45 per day.

Applications are also being filed asking for information regarding the Public Distribution System and Anganwadis. An application was put in by Hashim Bhai of Shurpagala panchayat, who demanded to know why there were no muster rolls or Government works in his panchayat. The results were immediate, and in a few days, works were started.

The newly appointed Chief Information Commissioner of the State, M.D. Korani, has decided five of the 20 second appeals received so far in favour of the applicants and referred 50 letters in the nature of complaints to the departments concerned.

Mr. Korani, telling this to a delegation from the Abhiyan, pointed out that the Commission was working towards publicising the names of Public Information Officers and simplifying the procedure for applying under the RTI Act. So far, he is the only officer in the Commission with no other Information Commissioner having been appointed.

The Abhiyan activists filed an application under the RTI Act in the Information Commission seeking to know the status of appeals and complaints received since the law came into force.

The CIC has also been asked what was the compliance of the Commission itself with Section 4 of the Act, as even its address and phone numbers were not in the public domain.

Ms. Sivakumar pointed out that several lacunae in the procedure for accepting applications had come to light in the course of the campaign.

In Bikaner, for instance, not a single receipt of Rs. 10 for applications under the RTI Act was given in the Collectorate. Most offices in the district are simply putting a ”received” stamp on the xerox copy of the original application.

Posted in Rajastan RTI | 1 Comment »

Rajasthan villagers use RTI to end woes

Posted by rtiact2005 on July 6, 2006

Rajasthan villagers use RTI to end woes

Rajan Mahan

http://www.ndtv.com/template/template.asp?category=National&template=rti&slug=Rajasthan+villagers+use+RTI+to+end+woes+&id=

89872&callid=1

Thursday, July 6, 2006 (Bikaner):

Residents of a village in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district have joined hands to put an end to the practice of selling grains from ration shops in the black market by using the Right to Information.

Revat Ram and his friends used the Act to get all records of their ration shop in Himmatsar village and exposed how grains meant for the poor were being black-marketed at a ration shop in Bikaner.

After the move, the villagers got the dealer removed.

”They threatened us and also offered money. But we refused, because we wanted to ensure that people in our village get the grains they deserve from the government. And we did not get scared in fighting for the rights of our people,” said Revat Ram, Secretary, Jagruk Yuvak Manch.

Pay compensation

Besides losing dealership, the ration shopkeeper was also forced to pay poor families in the village over Rs four lakh, the cash equivalent of the grains he had sold illegally.

Revat Ram and his friends used the Act to get all records of their ration shop in Himmatsar village and by exposing how grains meant for the poor were being black-marketed at a ration shop in Bikaner district.

After the move the villagers got the dealer removed.

”Earlier we used to be afraid that if we speak against the Sarpanch, he will not give us jobs under drought relief. But now we feel bolder and think that through the new law we can put an end to his frauds,” said a local resident.

And now it seems people across Rajasthan are keen to use their information rights. Bunglings have led to 15 sarpanches being removed and a dozen officials suspended.

Fake muster rolls

Frauds confirmed through the Information Act have shown that in Panchayats across the state fake muster rolls are rampant.

Many schools and health centres exist only on paper as funds meant for the poor are diverted to the powerful in most villages.

“People need to fight together to get information. They need to realise that this is a crucial right and must fight united to get information which is now our legal right,” said Chetan Ram, Co-ordinator, Urmal Jyoti.

It was a grassroots mobilisation in rural Rajasthan, which inspired the Right to Information movement in the entire country.

But despite being compulsory under the Central Act, Information officers have not been designated in most departments.

Government offices in the district do not even have signboards on how to use the Right to Information.
 

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The Right to Know – Raj Chauhan and Preeti Chauhan

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 23, 2006

The Right to KnowRaj Chauhan and Preeti Chauhan

https://www.ashanet.org/library/articles/sulekha.200204.html

[This is a local copy of an article originally posted at Sulekha.com]

The Majdoor Kisan Shakti Sangh (MKSS) is a more than a decade old organization in Rajasthan that has fought for the right to information. The organization was started in Devdoongri which is about a 5-hour drive from Jaipur.

This right to information campaign is for bringing about transparency in how and where the money is being spent by the government. It is an extremely powerful tool to expose corruption, so the funds allocated by the government are actually used for their intended purposes, i.e. to improve the lives of the people. A vivid description of the people involved in this struggle was written by Rajni Bakshi in her book, Bapu Kuti. Ex-IAS officer and Magsaysay award receipent, Aruna Roy, is the de facto leader of this organization. MKSS doesn't accept funds from any organization (especially none from abroad).

Recent legislation in Rajasthan regarding the right to information has primarily been a result of MKSS's efforts. So at least on the books there are laws in Rajasthan for people to demand information. In the recent past, MKSS has held Jan Sunwaayi (social audits) where all the villagers confirm or deny (in various degrees) all the public expenditures in their community. Earlier this year, the Rajasthan government asked MKSS to work with them and conduct about 6-8 social audits in gram panchayats where the most money was spent. The government organizes these audits and helps provide information to MKSS. Typically, 3-4 days before a social audit, the MKSS visits a village, tries to get as much information about the finances and the actual physical outlays from the money spent for the last 5 years. During the audit all expenses are discussed and the village locals decide whether or not they agree with how the money was spent.

We were fortunate to have found out about such a meeting or Jan Sunwaayi in a village near Devdoongri. It was organized by the government and facilitated by the MKSS. The notes below elaborate the nature of this meeting.

The Visit

We visited the third Jan Sunwaayi conducted by MKSS and the government in the village of Lasani, Rajasthan. After a five-and-a-half hour drive from Jaipur we reached the village of Lasani around 11:30 a.m. This village is about 12 kms from the village of Devdoongri where the MKSS started its efforts and where Aruna Roy and other volunteers still live. As one can imagine, the landscape of the area is dry and even in February the intensity of the sun felt like it was mid-summer. The villagers of Lasani slowly gathered under the large colorful shamiana (tent) put up for this meeting in the school ground. The loudspeakers were placed in such a manner that people who couldn't attend the meeting could listen to the proceedings.

 Jan Sunwaayi at Lasani

In the beginning there were no women at the Jan Sunwaayi, but soon they started coming in large numbers. The meeting began with a puppet show that laid out the rules of the meeting: raising objections was allowed for issues pertaining to their respective villages only, no smoking or drinking in the meeting, etc. Then brief introductions and the purpose of the meeting were put forth. The Block Development Officer (BDO) was responsible for sorting out issues. MKSS volunteers explained to villagers that they shouldn't be afraid to talk about any issue related to the money spent so far since after all it was their money. Soon the BDO started reading out the expense items as set out by the government for the time period 1995-2000. These expenses were for a number of causes such as school boundary wall construction, public toilet construction, hathia (community courtyard) repair and reconstruction, etc.

Initially, there was little response from the audience. No one would get up and say if an item was built or expenditure actually took place in their respective villages. Soon a few (especially the ones who were sitting in the front) would get up and say, Yes, the construction had taken place and the work done was fine. Then a few dissensions starting taking place — people sitting in the back came forward and disagreed with some of the expense items, e.g. 5 bags of cement was delivered instead of the 15 that was indicated in the BDO's list. Before one knew there were a host of allegations against the local thekedar (contractor) who seems to have delivered on 20-30% of what he had gotten from the government. The ex-sarpanch who was sitting in the audience was called up. He denied anything to do with what was going on and even denied his own signatures on the deliveries of materials. Later on we were to find out that the group sitting up front and agreeing with the BDO on each item were placed there on purpose by the ex-sarpanch. Also, it was learnt in the assembly that the thekedar had disappeared from the assembly and the village. So far the proceeding were reasonably smooth.

Then the more interesting aspect of the proceedings began. Since this social audit was government-sponsored, the collectors and divisional collectors started arriving with full fanfare. They sat on chairs in front of the audience who were sitting on the floor. The focus of the meeting began to shift from the people to these IAS officers who seemed to find the proceedings somewhat amusing. What was more disappointing was the way these officers tried to shift the attention from the main issue that was emerging at this social audit — which was the corrupt workings of the thekedar. Each officer then gave a speech for at least 20-30 minutes and at times they were talking about things completely unrelated to the issue at hand (e.g. how installations of MRI machines are helping save lives in Rajasthan and how weddings in villages were conducted when they were children!). In a cunning fashion they had managed to waste a lot of valuable time and change the nature of the meeting — the issue now being debated was how 'contractorship' in villages was better than other forms of construction in villages. MKSS and Aruna Roy, realizing this change in the proceedings, tried a number of times to bring the meeting back to its original basis. It did eventually get back on track but precious time had been wasted.

 Taking Stock: The Social Audit

The BDO who was reading each expense item before the audience was the most interesting character of all. He seemed most interested in getting through the list than actually hearing the people. If a villager would come up to microphone to deny a government expenditure he would quickly be brushed aside and sometimes he would say things like, This guy doesn't know how to read and write, so he shouldn't be really be commenting. In fact, we learned later that he had refused to use a wireless microphone in the meeting to prevent more people from participating (especially women). The women rarely came in front to speak to the audience. The collectors and commissioners left the proceeding shortly after making their long and largely irrelevant speeches.

The proceedings continued till about 7 p.m. There was continued denial by the villagers of certain projects that were supposed to have taken place in their villages. This list was compiled and is supposed to be investigated by the government. But generally the BDO quickly read an item and moved to the next item before any villager had an opportunity to understand or respond.

At the end of this meeting we accompanied the MKSS volunteers back to their village of Devdoongri. We met Aruna Roy and other MKSS volunteers and saw the little hut where they had started their struggle and where they live. The MKSS volunteers informed us of the behind-the-scenes activities of the meeting: for example, the ex-sarpanch and others had bribed the people sitting in the front, who were asked to go and accept almost all items being presented. The BDO who has a history of taking bribes was overheard saying, How will we get fat (moneyed) if MKSS keeps doing this Although the social audit was government-sponsored, the government team did little to present their findings, did not talk to the villagers, did not physically check the constructions claimed by the government, etc.

Opinion

In many ways what MKSS has accomplished in the last few years is amazing — an activity like social audit was unimaginable a few years back. Villagers wanted to know how their money was being spent. But this meeting also demonstrates that although there might be laws and there may be support for such activity from the top echelons of the government, the vested interests (e.g. officials at district and block level) will continue to protect and enhance their own economic interests.

 Aruna Roy speaking with visitors at her hut in Devdoongri

We were very impressed with MKSS and its volunteers and the way they dealt the proceedings. It was also quite evident that Aruna Roy has excellent leadership qualities. She maintained her cool and directed her responses at issues and not at people, without becoming bitter or angry.

Posted in Rajastan RTI | Leave a Comment »

Rajasthan Information Commission to review information disclosures

Posted by rtiact2005 on June 17, 2006

Rajasthan Information Commission to review information disclosures
Jaipur | June 17, 2006 4:49:49 PM IST

http://news.webindia123.com/news/Articles/India/20060617/365976.html

The Rajasthan Information Commission will soon review the voluntary disclosures of informations made by different state government departments.

Commission's chairman M D Kaurani has directed all relevant principal secretaries and secretaries to review the position in this regard at their level and also to prepare a list of subjects which should be included for voluntary disclosures.

He said once the disclosure has been made, it will be essential to let people know through the media so that they can access the information and there is less need for filing applications with Public Information Officers.

As required by the Section 25 of the Right to Information Act,2005, the Commission will be placing its annual report at the end of the year 2006-7 before the state legislature. The first report of the commission will primarily concentrate on the voluntary disclosure of information.

UNI RRT MA HT1615

Posted in Rajastan RTI | 1 Comment »

 
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