Rights and Responsibilities

Posted by on Jun 17, 2011 in Blog, Life, Politics |

There has been a deluge of articles and news items on the recent movement against corruption. First by Anna Hazare and his associates from the civil society, then by Baba Ramdev and his followers. While the electronic media has been giving minute to minute accounts of the movements and organizing multi-party discussions on location and in studio, the subject itself is hotly debated everywhere in varying intensities.
Politicians from different parties have either supported the movement or opposed it based on personal opinions or depending on which side of the parliament benches they occupy – the governing side or the opposition. One minister from the ruling party likened the fast of Anna Hazare in pursuit of the Jan Lok Pal bill to holding a gun to the government’s head!
The focus of editorials, columns and op-eds of a majority of newspapers has been on showing how wrong it is for civil society to try to do what is obviously the role of the government. In fact, who constitutes civil society? Several columnists have declared that these movements are undemocratic, renamed civil society to “so-called civil society.”
So what is the role of a citizen? What are her rights and responsibilities in this current scenario? If a government official or elected representative is corrupt what should a citizen do? Report it to the media, raise an alarm in the affected community, try to access information through RTI Act to prove the allegations.
The RTI Act was passed and received assent from the President of India on 15th June 2005. 
In 2005? That is rather recent isn’t it? So I looked up the history of the RTI on the net. I found more than one source .  
History of Right to Information movement in India
To cut a long and successful story short, in the early 1990s, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS), a group of workers and farmers from Rajasthan, fought for fair working conditions and wages for daily wage earners and farmers by using the method of Jan Sunwai (public hearing) to raise awareness of the practical value of the right to information for poor people. MKSS lead the national campaign for right to information and continues to use the right to information to empower local people to root out corruption and hold their government representatives to account.
The movement for the right to information was started in early 1990s by Mazdoor Kisaan
Shakti Sangathan (which literally means ‘organisation for the empowerment of workers
and peasants’) in remote village Devdungri (Rajsamand district, Rajasthan).  It was a
movement to expose corruption in the famine relief work by demanding information
related to copies of bills, vouchers and muster rolls for workers  recorded in government
files.
Under the slogan ‘Our Money-Our Accounts’ MKSS workers and villagers demanded their local administrators to provide them with an account of all expenditure made in relation to development work sanctioned for the area. While there was resistance at all levels, little by little, as public pressure continued and the media began to take notice, the Government relented and eventually provided the information requested.
MKSS then used the information disclosed to organise ‘social audits’ of the administration’s books. They organised Jan Sunwais/public hearings to see if the information in the government’s records tallied with the reality of the villagers’ own knowledge of what was happening on the ground. Not surprisingly, it did not tally.
At each public hearing, a description of the development project, its timelines, implementation methods, budget and outputs would be read out along with the record of who had been employed, how long they had worked and how much they had been paid. Villagers would then stand up and point out discrepancies – dead people were listed, amounts paid were recorded as being higher than in reality, absent workers were marked present and their pay recorded as given, and thumb impressions that prove receipt of payments were found to be forged.
Most tellingly, public works like roads, though never actually constructed, were marked completed in government books. Though many villagers were illiterate, through face-to-face public hearings they could scrutinise complex and detailed accounts, question their representatives and make them answerable on the basis of hard evidence.
 Following a period of struggle, MKSS succeeded in acquiring photocopies of the
relevant documents in which the siphoning of funds was clearly evident. The successful
experiments of exposing corruption through access to information was good learning experience for civil society, led to the demand of enactment of RTI law in Rajasthan. Government of Rajasthan yielded to pressure of movement and enacted the law in 2000.
Success of struggle of MKSS led to the genesis of a broader discourse on the right to
information in India and RTI  laws were enacted in some states  of India. The demand for
national law started under the leadership of National Campaign on People’s Right to
Information (NCPRI). In 1996, the Press Council of India headed by Justice P B Sawant presented a draft model law on right to information to the Government of India. A working group (Shourie Committee) under the chairmanship of Mr. H D Shourie was set up by the Central Government and given the mandate to prepare draft legislation on freedom of information. The Shourie Committee’s Report and draft law were published in 1997.
Eventually, the Shourie Committee draft law was reworked into the Freedom of
Information Bill (FOI) 2000, which was passed in the Parliament in 2002 but it was not
notified. However, civil society raised several objections to FOI bill and suggested
amendments to National Advisory Council. As a result of long drawn struggle of civil
society; the RTI was enacted in 2005 in India.
But the key question is, can RTI be an effective tool for ensuring accountability in governance institutions? What happens when the information available through RTI reveals acts of corruptions on part of government officials or elected representatives? Would an independent Jan Lok Pal then help in investigations and pave the way for prosecution of the corrupt?
If a group of citizens of India agitated for the passage of the RTI Act, is it not their right, nay responsibility to see that an effective Jan Lok Pal bill be passed? Wait a minute, isn’t that what Anna Hazare and his team have been trying to do? Exercising their rights and responsibilities as citizens of India?
Journalists and news media now effectively use the RTI to get information, frame questions, write editorials, columns and op-eds.  Just like some years from now, they will use the happenings and proceedings of the Jan Lok Pal to frame questions, write editorials, columns and op-eds. But for that to happen, the Jan Lok Pal has to be in place and the Jan Lok Pal bill has to be passed by parliament.

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Support the movement against corruption

Posted by on Apr 6, 2011 in Blog, Life, Politics |

At the moment of writing this, there are over half a million official supporters of the India Against Corruption Movement. In reality, there are many many more supporters of Anna Hazare’s fast and movement to get the Jan LokPal Bill redrafted and passed.
Details of the existing draft of the Jan Lok Pal bill and suggestions to change it are all available on the India Against Corruption website.
On 6th April Anna Hazare wrote to the PM again and here is the complete text of  the letter.
Here is an important excerpt from that letter by Anna Hazare to the PM:

We are not saying that you should accept the Bill drafted by us. But kindly create a credible platform for discussions . a joint committee with at least half members from civil society suggested by us. Your spokespersons are misleading the nation when they say that there is no precedent for setting up a joint committee. At least seven laws in Maharashtra were drafted by similar joint committees and presented in Maharashtra Assembly. Maharashtra RTI Act, one of the best laws of those times, was drafted by a joint committee. Even at the centre, when 25,000 tribals came to Delhi two years ago, your government set up a joint committee on land issues within 48 hours. You yourself are the Chairperson of that committee. This means that the government is willing to set up joint committees on all other issues, but not on corruption. Why?

Politicians showed their true colours from the first day onwards. By evening of 5th April, the first day of the fast, spokesperson of the Congress Party Abhishek Manu Singhvi showed his and his party’s contemptuous attitude by saying that others were instigating the veteran social activist to take a premature action. It speaks volumes about the ruling party and its attitude towards an activist using Gandhian methods to root out corruption. It shows how far the ruling party has moved away from the principles of the father of the nation.
Dr Kiran Bedi made a very valid and important point when she said that if Public-Private partnerships can be pursued for business ventures or infrastructure projects, why is there so much opposition in letting the citizens participate in the drafting of a bill that is so necessary in today’s time to root out corruption from the polity of India. 
Manish Tewari, another spokesperson of the Congress Party tried to obfuscate the issue by saying that there is the legislative and the executive of the government to make and pass the bill. Where is the need of people like Anna Hazare to intervene? Well, perhaps Mr Tewari does not realize that viewers and readers are not fools.  What is asked by the eminent citizens is that they be a part of a committee to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill. They are not asking the government to bypass any constitutional authorities nor short circuit any existing democratic methods. It is a straight forward, valid suggestion.
The BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad tried to show solidarity with Anna Hazare and asked him to give up the fast. Well, we know that neither the Congress nor the BJP during their tenures have passed the Jan Lok Pal Bill so both are equally guilty of letting corruption thrive in the country.
On day one, Mr Sharad Yadav and on day two, Mr O P Choutala and Ms Uma Bharti tried to take advantage of the platform created by Anna Hazare and his supporters to create political mileage for themselves. Rightly, they were asked to go by the people.  Subsequently, Anna Hazare requested the people gathered there to let politicians and anyone else join if they want to support the movement and refrain from sloganeering against them, but he maintained that they cannot use the stage to make political statements.
While there is tremendous response and support to the movement from citizens and even film personalities, the silence from corporates is deafening.  The people of India are supporting the movement from every part of the country. We hope the government takes required action before the fast affects the health of Anna Hazare.
I pledge my support to this movement against corruption led by Anna Hazare. 
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Censusional Lady

Posted by on Feb 20, 2011 in Blog, Life, Politics | 2 comments

Just a while ago, a young lady, pleasant and well-dressed came to my home for the Census-2011. Mrs Jyoti Pokhale is a school teacher at the Maharshi Karve Stree Shikshan Sansthan in Pune. Like over 25 lakh Indians, she is a part of this massive exercise. She stressed on the fact that she was doing this additional duty over and above her work as a school teacher. Earlier this morning, she gave a test-paper to her students before moving out to do the census work. After it is done, she will go back and continue with her duties at the school.
Although a little disgruntled about this work, she did her work well, strictly following all the rules while recording details. Surprised when I asked her to pose for a photograph, she liked that someone was appreciating this extra “unpaid” work that she was doing she said. It took much cajoling from me to get a smile out of her! When I told her she was doing very important work for the nation, she went away happy and smiling.
Here’s to Jyoti Pokhale and the hundreds of thousands of others who are giving their personal time for the Census-2011. Treat them well when they knock on your door!

(photograph not very clear – forgive me!)

Census 2011 official – Jyoti Pokhale, school teacher, Pune

  
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Can we dare to laugh now?

Posted by on Jan 6, 2011 in Blog, Life, Politics |

A post, a tweet doing the rounds of social media and drawing rings of laughter from everyone:
New words: 1Crore = 1 Khoka; 500Cr = 1 Koda; 1000Cr = 1 Radia;
                    10000Cr = 1 Kalmadi; 100000Cr = 1Raja; 100Raja = 1 Pawar;

I laughed too and circulated it to my friends. They liked it and laughed in return.

Its incredible how in less than a decade what was termed a Khoka in underworld lingo and seemed huge, the amount of Rs 1Crore, possible to be acquired by ordinary mortals by only winning the final round of a television reality show hosted by the Big B, now stands looking shamefully small against the sheer amounts that corruption and scams have thrown up. The amounts are all relative to each other on a scale of numbers from zero to trillions. But what do these numbers mean?

That crores of rupees set aside for a definite purpose like development of a sector to reach the most vulnerable people of our society are swindled. The money dwindling all the way down until it reaches the hands of the deserving in amounts not adequate enough to buy food, to keep shelter, to pay for health or education. For every crore that reaches undeserving pockets, there are tens of crores of rupees that are not made available for developing our infrastructure, for building hospitals and providing electricity in remote rural areas, for providing much needed public transport systems in our emerging and expanding cities. For every crore that exchanges hands without being accounted for, women in villages and city slums walk long distances or spent long hours to fill up drinking water for the day for their families. For every hundred crore that was given secretly in exchange of favourable outcomes in business, generations of children will grow without proper nutrition or healthcare or education.

For every obscene amount of public money that the country has lost in corruption, every rain-fed farm is waiting for irrigation systems and farm ponds to get rid of the unpredictable outcomes of every crop season, driving farmers out of their centuries old occupation to leave in search of work as labourers to cities. For every unthinkable amount that is yet to reveal itself in yet another scam, for every such terrifyingly monstrous amount, the freedom we so proudly proclaim every August by unfurling the tricolour in all its glory, that freedom is rapidly eroding, the colours of the flag are slowly fading. The injustice of living under a foreign power is replaced by the worse imposition of living under the power of a monster of our own creation, that only we can get rid of. Should we remain calm and go about our daily routines? Can we watch the issues debated on television and read in newspapers over dinner and breakfast only to leave it aside and put up our blinkers?

Are we doing enough to keep this monster from growing? Are we knowingly or unknowingly feeding this monster with our own corrupt ways? Where are our fingers pointing, at those laughable figures or at ourselves? Can we dare to laugh now?

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Onions please!

Posted by on Dec 22, 2010 in Blog, Life, Politics | 1 comment

A steaming cup of hot adrak-ki chaye slipped off my hand and the tea spilled, half on the kitchen platform, half on the floor and splattered everything in the vicinity including myself with drops of tea. Oh what a mess! But happy to note that the cup was intact. The Schipol airport mug with the smiling cow and chubby windmill was unbroken. Great! Now all I had to do was make some more tea quickly and I was setup for an evening of blogging and surfing. Now why can’t feeding the millions of our country be managed as simply? Why do onion prices shoot up uncontrollably? What, we don’t have enough agriculturists, economists, engineers and management graduates in India to figure out how to maintain the balance of production, demand and supply? I mean, hey, we write software that will manage zillion volumes of transactions through payment gateways, stock exchanges and banks without a hitch. Ok, we have power outages & software glitches and human errors that bugger up the systems once in a while but we manage to get back on track quickly. Even a mind-boggling event like bombs exploding on Mumbai local trains does not stop us from jumping back to normal within a few hours. Heathrow airport in London may be facing the flak for not clearing up the snow fast enough to avoid flight-freeze every Christmas season for the last three years. But we manage pretty well each year through Mumbai rains, Bengal floods, cyclones in the south and excruciating heat in summers throughout the country. Then why can’t we manage food for all at reasonable prices? Is that like asking for too much?

Does the man incharge not have enough time after the additional burdens of the BCCI, IPL, Lavasa and party meets in New York?  The man is Incharge of Agriculture and Food Procurement is he not?

Take a woman in this country. Any simple woman, a housewife for starters. She will not rest until she has fed her family well within her capacity. If the earning member does not provide enough income, she will work. If one job is not sufficient, she will work two jobs and work at home to feed her family. No one will go hungry except perhaps herself at times. She will sell her jewellery and herself even to ensure each and every person sleeps at night without going hungry. This has happened since time immemorial. Whether the woman is educated or not, literate or not. It does not take economics or engineering or management or any other college degree to figure out how to feed all those who are in your charge. If she has ten guests at home, she will still manage to feed them all. Is she not incharge of food procurement in her house? How many such women do we have in our country? Millions and millions. Maybe they should be given a chance to manage this better. Maybe one of them will keep the onion prices from shooting up every other half-year. She will know how to calibrate the exports and imports well in advance to avoid shortages, she will know how to store stocks to make-up for loss due to rain. Hell, she is ingenious enough to bring out an alternative to onion in the days of shortages!

While at it, she’ll solve other problems too that you, Mr. Minister of Agriculture and Food Procurement have not been able to solve. Like the agrarian crisis causing farmers’ suicides, insufficient supply of water to unirrigated farms, shortage of storage options for grains without letting them rot while millions go hungry.   
Move over Mr. Agriculture Minister and give someone more efficient a chance to keep everyone well-fed at reasonable prices.

Now on to relish hot pav-bhaji. Someone pass me that plate of chopped onions please!

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