Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Understanding the heart and soul of Anna Hazare’s movement

My article in MoneyLife (www.moneylife.com)
Understanding the heart and soul of Anna Hazare’s movement

Vinita Deshmukh

The snobbery of intellectual writers and insensitivity of the political class comes as a shame at this defining moment in our country’s history. Let’s show some respect to this mass awakening, so essential for a vibrant democracy and a pro-active citizenry 

Propagators of mass hysteria and mobocracy have one thing in common-they refuse to get out of their mindset and understand the new wave of mass participation, so essential for a vibrant democracy, that is now sweeping across the country. They have to realise that the printed word in newspapers or the debates on TV channels, are not longer bible truths for people, who have begun to examine the facts and reject untruth. This is evident from the comments on articles about the movement available through a random check on the Internet.

Clearly, the ruling political and intellectual class (at least most of it) is in disconnect with people's sentiments and the untiring efforts being made to get the government to work for the people and not for a privileged few. In fact, these privileged classes have themselves completely forgotten the fundamentals of governance in a democracy-first, information dissemination and second, participation in governance.

The movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill may be largely a campaign against corruption, but to say that most of the participants involved in this peaceful social revolution know nothing about the Bill is an insult to what is probably the biggest people's movement since Independence.

Everyone need not know every detail of the Bill like a scholar, academician or an activist would, but they have sensed that the government was trying to push down the throats of millions of people, an absolutely weak and draconian bill that would ultimately protect the corrupt. This attempt by the government to try and fool the people and numb them into submission, should have been reason enough for intellectual writers, newspaper editors and activists across the country, no matter what their differences over the alternative Jan Lokpal Bill, to unite and pull up the government over its sinister plan. Or, they ought to have tried to work out ways to strengthen the Lokpal Bill with a sense of urgency since the issue came into the public domain instead of criticisms and new drafts that have come a bit late in the day. This is no time for prolonged debates anymore-the nation is outraged; what is necessary is swift action.

The government says it requires time-an excuse that has been supported by several high-profile columnists. Don't they realize the uniqueness of the situation, when lakhs of people have come out onto the streets in the cities, towns and villages, to peacefully agitate, and many more are supporting the movement from their homes and share this spirit in their hearts. It's an extraordinary situation, when citizens in such massive numbers are demanding a quick decision. If something extraordinary came up in our day-to-day lives, say a marriage that is to be organised within 48 hours as the bridegroom has to return to his job abroad, or a lucrative project that has been awarded with a challenging deadline, what would we do? Obviously, we would work round-the-clock, if this is necessary, to complete the task. Is the government so insensitive, so callous, as to not be able to work 20 hours a day if required, to debate and reach a conclusion during the ongoing parliament session itself? It is outrageous that ministers continue to buy time when all that the protestors are peacefully and humbly saying is "please do it with immediate effect". Even Lord Meghnad Desai told a television channel that the issue could be debated and decided in 60 hours.

By criticising the movement at this defining moment in the country's history, we are encouraging the government to close its eyes and ears to the foremost demand for a strong anti-corruption law, which is unarguably the urgent need of the hour.

As a journalist who has watched Anna Hazare's crusades from close quarters, over the past two and a half decades, the government should have known that Anna never takes up an issue he does not believe in and that once he takes it up he is not known to give up easily. Also, the government should collect intelligence from among the crowds to understand that the young generation will not be victims of mobocracy or mass hysteria. They will not join a movement that they are not convinced about.

I have worked with students in Pune who have been a part of this movement and it is a pride and passion for them to be part of the process to cleanse the country of corruption, which they believe is the single biggest factor that has tarnished its image, and this is admirable. Anna might be a rustic villager and may not have studied law as Gandhiji did, but his knowledge of the laws by which our democracy functions is better than many of us who are educated. Hence, there is no dismissing him as some "instant saint" trying to play God or turn into a legend.

This is an example of a pro-active democracy and the powers that be and the celebrity columnists must see it in this new perspective, by dropping the conditioned mindset to look down on the "middle class fraternity" (one columnist had the gall of calling it the "chattering class".) It is evident that Anna Hazare's movement is cutting across many classes-whether it is the poor, the lower middle class, the upper middle class and now even the rich-are  represented in the movement. It is the yearning of every Indian that corruption should be rooted out, and now. Whey then are some intellectuals playing into the hands of those who sow and breed corruption?

Having said this, one must admit that the film fraternity, barring a few exceptions, has shown sensitivity to the people's sentiments and to Anna Hazare's selfless crusade. It, too, is a privileged class in that sense, but it has heard the heartbeat of millions of Indians. It only goes to prove that if your heart is in the right place, you can read the pulse of the people. Otherwise, you are simply convenient spokespersons of scamsters who are a hindrance to the tremendous movement for change that we are witnessing now.

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Dhruv 3 hours ago
Very well said, Ma'am. All through, the government's disdain for the public, the opposition, and the 'unelected' comes through in the way they have treated Anna, the IAC movement, and the people on the streets. But what the government mistakes for a high-tide that will pass with time, is for sure a Tsunami that will wash them away for a long time to come.
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kARAN veRMA 4 hours ago
It is a very grim thing that the person ,who is fighting for such a noble cause, who wants the lokpal bill to get passed which has everything that would eradicate corruption, has not been entertained by the government and everyone should now raise their voices against the govt. till it gets passed. Corruption is one of the major threat faced by India which is prevalent in each and every small thing that we want to get done viz., paying bribes evading paying fines for violating traffic rules; education has been commercialized which is not given without paying bribes or is given to persons of high status; admissions been given to politicians' relatives; no citizen is assured of food shelter etc; failure of judiciary law and order to provide justice on time
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Narendra Doshi 6 hours ago
Well said dear Vinita madam. Time may prove u correct, sooner than later.
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Roopsingh 6 hours ago
Thanks Vinita for such timely article which i was thinking to point out at some platform but did not find any.
After release of Annaji from jail when it was felt by most of corporate driven media and govt supporting media that the movement was heading towars success-every one started about METHOD and AGENDA of Anna Team,to divert masses from supporting Anna team,they talked about DESTABILISATION OF INDIA due to this agitation as if whole of india was under CIVIL WAR(This just showed the NAKED agenda of all these media people)who left no effort to divert attention of peoplefrom supporting Anna team,
this is just another example of how Corrupt are most of media people in india and how they try to forge public opinion by their power.
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Babubhai Vaghela 7 hours ago
We are put on one track of Lokpal. Other possible solutions need to be explored by Parliament Govt & People.
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Vaidya 7 hours ago
A news item in MT, says a police had refused to take bribe, qouting faith in Anna Hazare. The bribe was being offered by youths. Should we take this opportunity to tell all participating youths that they should stop violating traffic rules and in case they do by inadvertence, they should pay the fine and not the bribe.
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  deepaksb 7 hours ago  in reply to Vaidya
Procedure for paying fine is made deliberately complex so that a person BRIBES rather than paying fine.In case of traffic violation,one has to submit driving lic. and attend court located may be 10/15 kms away.appear before judge and listen to what fine is awarded and then pay fine at cash counter and collect back your driving lic.DOES EVERY ONE HAS PATIENCE TO DO ABOVE FORMALITIES ??? what is required is to change rules for paying fines,pay instantly and obtain official receipt.
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  Vaidya 7 hours ago  in reply to Deepaksb
Do you mean, till the rules are changed, you support all those who pay some bribe to save their time and money. Is it not a corrupt practice. Best is you should not violate the rules, no matter whether you agree with them or not. Unless you are voilating them to protest against them. And in case you have, then be ready for all the consequences, not seek any compromise by paying bribes.
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S kaushik 8 hours ago
Yes, without entering in to falt finding mission ,every one needs to acccept that corruption does hert in day to day life from the poorest of poor to the richest.
At least today there is a man ,who still has immense faith in what Gandhiji taught long back.
Government's inertia only proves that they do not want to change & ignoring what is written on the wall.
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rprtr 8 hours ago
It is a pity that a great country like India has fallen into the clutches of a bunch of crooks and criminals who have tried their best to derail the Jana Lok Pal Bill.
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RRAVI 8 hours ago
Corruption is the foremost issue leading to our country's destruction today and needs to be addressed on a war footing. Anna's bill may not be perfect but which bill is? Nevertheless, it must be brought into being immediately. Changes which are necessaty can be brought in at a latter date by amending the bill after seeing its effectiveness say over a year's time.
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surendra N Agarwal 9 hours ago
Our PM is acting more like a Procedure Minister then as a Prime Minister. He keeps on telling what procedure to follow, he does not understand that exceptional situation requires exceptional responses and not a bureaucratic response. May be he is still a bureaucrat at herat an. than a statesman.
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Pradeep 9 hours ago
Very True. The bill that has sprung up into prominence after 5 -6 days of the agitation and its authors are going ga ga over it. As Lord Desai said, where was this bill and its authors earlier. If they feel their bill is more adaptable then why did they not take up the issue earlier. Smacks of a government directed ploy to distract attention.
As regards some of the prominent Channels it is very evident that they are nothing but stooges of the Congress (maybe because of the Padmashri conferred). The moderators on these channels argue vehemently with the panelists who are anna's supporters but agree to anything that some one who speaks in favour of the Goverment.
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DEEPAKSB 9 hours ago
Most of the Govt.appointed standing committee’s ( for lokpal bill ) members integrity is questionable.


All tainted members should be removed from govt's standing committee (lokpal bill) before any of the draft is taken up for discussion.

Else corruption can not be removed from india even for next century/ies.
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Atul 9 hours ago
In spite of the glaring instances of rampant corruption where politicians are directly involved, the Govt.'s apathy to this issue is not explainable.

The common man is more affected by and agitated because of:

a. Failure of the Govt. to implement various social welfare schemes in the manner desired/ expected,

b. common man is not assured of food, clothing, shelter and education.

c. The education system has been commercialized and predominantly controlled by politicians.

d. The failure of judiciary on account of long delays and failure to deliver justice.

e. The failure of the Govt. to provide quality health care at reasonable rates.

f. The most important - widening gap between have and have-nots.

Friday, August 5, 2011

18-year-old’s persistence leads to mandatory stock disclosure for fair priceshops in Gujarat

18-year-old’s persistence leads to mandatory stock disclosure for fair priceshops in Gujarat
August 03, 2011 04:18 PM Bookmark and Share
Vinita Deshmukh

Ignoring intimidation and family pressure, Bhadresh Wamja of Saldi village used the RTI to restore foodgrain and fuel rations that were being denied to villagers and spurred a policy decision by the state government 

Saldi village is 13 km from the district town of Amreli and about 225 km from Gandhinagar, the Gujarat state capital. This innocuous village has a population of barely 3,000, and very little information is available about it on the internet. But it is from this obscure corner of Gujarat, that a teenager has succeeded in persuading the state government to list fair price shops also under the Right to Information Act, 2005. This, even though the shops are not public authorities, but are privately owned!

Bhadresh Wamja is a second-year B.Com student, who had been bothered for a while that the two fair price shops in his village never seemed to have enough stocks of wheat, rice and kerosene. His family of four members was among those categorised Above the Poverty Line (APL), and this entitled them to 10kg wheat (at Rs10 per kg), 2kg rice (at Rs7.25 a kg)  and 2 litre of kerosene per person (at Rs12.53 to Rs13.43 a litre).
"My family is well off and we don't need to buy the ration; but many of my friends complained that they never received it. So, I decided to go to the shop and buy supplies on my family ration card. Predictably, the shopkeeper said that he had not been getting any stock of wheat, rice or kerosene from the government for the past several months; so from where will he give me?'' That ignited the idea of an RTI campaign. "Not for my personal benefit, but for the good of the village," says Bhadresh.

Newspapers publish stories on the RTI and Bhadresh reads these with great curiosity. In January, Gujarat Samachar, Gujarat's leading newspaper, printed a chart about how much foodgrains and kerosene, families of APL and BPL (Below Poverty Line) should receive every month, along with a table giving the prices per kg. Bhadresh says, "That news along with the price chart opened my eyes and I decided to show this to the shopkeeper. But he wasn't impressed. I asked him why he was overpricing the wheat and rice (selling them at Rs15 a kg)," but the shopkeeper reiterated, "what can I do when the government does not send us any supplies."

He decided to apply for this information under the RTI Act. He sent an RTI application to the tehsildar of Lilia taluka (Saldi is in Lilia taluka) on 11 February 2011, asking him the stock supply that the fair price shop has been receiving every month, between August 2010 and January 2011. And the tehsildar ordered the shopkeeper to disclose the details within 15 days. The shopkeeper did not oblige.

Bhadresh informed the tehsildar about this, and while the tehsildar first declared that he would come to inspect the shop on a particular date, he did not turn up. Subsequently, he assured that he would visit the place on Monday; but on Sunday itself the shopkeeper started removing the sacks of grain, to take them elsewhere, so he could show that he did not have any stock.

Bhadresh called Pankti Jog, a member of the Mahit Adhikar Gujarat Pahel in Ahmedabad which runs an RTI helpline, to inform that the shopkeeper was taking away the ration stock from the shop. Ms Jog asked him to photograph the act with his mobile phone camera.

The tehsildar came to Bhadresh's house on Monday, but instead of inspecting the shop he tried to persuade him to withdraw the RTI application and not to get involved in such activities. The 18-year-old had also been receiving threats from the shopkeeper, which prompted his family to remind him that his career should come first. But Bhadresh had decided not to get swayed and to ensure that the shopkeeper learns a lesson.

Ms Jog says, "We launched the RTI helpline five years ago (number 99240 85000) and since October last year we have also been helping those who have been threatened in connection with the use of RTI. Bhadresh called me up complaining about the threats and the reluctance by the shopkeeper to disclose details of the stocks, despite an order from the tehsildar, the alleged nexus between the shopkeeper and the tehsildar, and the pressure that was building up at home.''

Ms Jog advised Bhadresh that under the Food and Civil Supplies Regulatory Mechanism, these details are categorised as pro-active disclosures, that is under Section 4 of the RTI Act at the office of the deputy tehsildar. Therefore, he should approach the deputy tehsildar for information. She also asked him to lodge a police complaint at the office of the deputy superintendent of police in Liliya.

So, Bhadresh lodged a police complaint. He also visited the office of the district supply officer (DSO) where he found out to his utter shock that the shopkeeper was supplied with 8,306 kg of wheat as regular supply and 1,599 kg as extra wheat between August 2010 and January 2011.According to the documents, the shopkeeper had supplied the entire stock to ration card holders, which indicated that the shopkeeper was lying to the villagers.

Bhadresh spread this information in the village and very soon the villagers started to back him openly. The threats automatically reduced as he built asupport group. Twenty villagers even signed an appeal to the tehsildar for an inspection of the shop. The fair price shop is owned by Paresh Shejpal, of Deendayal Grahak Bhandar.

"I also called up the tehsildar and informed him that I had a recorded conversation of Bhadresh complaining about indirect threats to him and that if he did not inspect the shop, I would hand over the tape to the deputy superintendent of police and the district supply officer who could take action against him," Ms Jog said. She also sent a complaint to the State Information Commission.

When the tehsildar visited the village he asked 10 villagers to produce their ration cards and found that nine of the ten had not received even a single kilogramme of grain during the last six months, although the shopkeeper had reported that he had supplied the stock according to the rules. The one person who did get some ration managed to do so after a heated argument with the shopkeeper.

The tehsildar was forced to write a report against the shopkeeper, and the district supply officer ordered an inquiry. Immediately after the check, the shopkeeper began supplying the ration to the villagers without any excuse about not receiving supplies. He has also been made to put up an item-wise list of the supplies that he receives.

Bhadresh's tenacious campaign and the support from Ms Jog, encouraged the chief information commissioner of Gujarat, RN Das, to dash off a letter (17 February 2011) to the secretary of the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, to order proactive disclosure of ration supplies not only at tehsildar offices, but also at fair price shops across the state.

The letter stated: "… letter received on 15.2.2011 from the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) on the subject of difficulties faced by the citizens regarding obtaining of information on PDS in respect of Fair Price Shops. It appears that in the particular application enclosed with the above-mentioned letter, the applicant Shri Bhadresh Kumar V Wamja sought information related to the APL quota of foodgrain and kerosene issued to the particular fair price shop and alleged diversion of the APL quota by the fair price shopkeeper and that after the said application was made on 11.2.2011 the Vigilance Committee did make necessary inquiry, but as stated in the said letter under reference, neither the details (names, etc, and functions) of the vigilance committee were proactively disclosed at the village level/fair price shop level, nor the stocks issued to the fair priceshops were proactively disclosed.

"A copy of the proactive disclosure material at the village level which was prepared during the Panchmahal's district abhiyaan in active collaboration with the Panchmahals district administration, the civil society groups, in particular the MAGP, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Anandi, is enclosed herein for your easy reference. The proactive disclosure material is in two parts. Part I deals with critical information which is more or less static and is required to be painted on the walls. While Part II deals with substantial information which may be dynamic and is therefore required to be revised periodically.

"I would request you to consider the above-mentioned proactive disclosure material for its adoption and implementation by your department and to issue necessary administrative instructions to the district supply officers, mamlatdars and the fair price shop licensees.''

The Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department in an order, dated 4 March 2011, to all tehsildars and fair price shop licensees in Gujarat directed them to proactively disclose ration supply information on the walls of fair price shops as well as at the tehsil level.

Have shopkeepers been abiding by the order? Ms Jog says, "We had made a template of how to declare information about the ration in shops and adopted it in 22 model villages. This has been replicated in many other villages after the information commission's order. We have been conducting a mass campaign through distribution of pamphlets and advertisements through the media. So villagers are aware about the proactive disclosure of ration supply in their respective fair price shops. They take the pamphlets and show it to the shopkeeper to demand information. Thanks to Bhadresh, the ball is in now in the shopkeeper's court. And this time big brother (the Food and Civil Supplies department) is watching and the villagers are not relenting."  Villagers are now demanding village vigilance committees for the public distribution system.

It's another tremendous example of the success of an individual, just 18 years old, in bringing about a mini social revolution through the RTI, in a hitherto little-known village.

(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at vinitapune@gmail.com.)

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ramani sagar 5 hours ago
thenks my frend
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Anil 22 hours ago
If just using an RTI act an 18 yrs old can do so much.what can be done with Janlokpal bill.
To set an example the govt. should be forced to give Shri Bhadresh Kumar V Wamja a bravery award . It will create proper awareness of the empowerment of the common man
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Pawan Duggirala 1 day ago
Excellent work by the boy. Hope the villagers get inspired by him and encourage him to tackle more issues.
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Nitin Kirtane 1 day ago
Commendable work done by bhadresh in taking up this matter , looks a small matter but it helped their village and villagers a lot ,also how usefull RTI act can be , an excellent article by mrs deshmukh ,who herself is a firm beleiver in RTI , keep up the good work
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M.C.Aggarwal 1 day ago
The bold action taken by Mr.Bhardesh is praise worthy.We should learn from this.There are still so many such depot holders exploitng the innocent public.There should have been a strict action against shopkeepr and supporting Govt. officials to put these corrupted behind the ba
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Mukesh Vora 1 day ago
Thanks for bringing this news to us. I also congratulate Mr. Bhadresh Wamja to follow up with his RTI application. Most fair price shops dont give most of the rations to general public this is true in Maharashtra also.
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Dara J Kalyaniwala 1 day ago
Congrats to Bhadresh for his tremendous effort and for the success it has brought. May he be able to tackle more such causes for the benefit of his village. Best wishes
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Babubhai Vaghela Ahmedabad 9427608632 1 day ago
My hearty compliments to Shri Bhadresh Wamja. In the era of RTI Activists getting victimised and even murdered, I pray Almighty for his well-being.
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