“The Soul of India lives in its villages”, declared Mahatma Gandhi in the beginning of the 20th Century.
According to the Indian Census of 2001, 74% of Indians live in villages. But ironically today a common villager of India is man who is poor, deprived, uneducated, jobless far from the maddening lights of the city. Perplexed, he wonders- are we a poor country or we lack resources or is it a governance failure? Every year Government of India, State Governments and lots of other Non Government Agencies spend billions of rupees to improve the quality of life in rural areas. This money is supposed to cater to seven basic elements of social and economic infrastructure, i.e. Livelihood, Food, Health, Education, Drinking Water, Housing and Roads.
Money being spent on all the above categories clearly proves that we are not a poor country. But still, villagers are not getting their basic amenities despite schemes like NREGA they are forced to die because of hunger and chronic diseases, and are illiterate. Schemes like Indira Awas Yojna are serving the high and mighty; the people who actually deserve such schemes are left homeless. Safe drinking water and roads are a matter of distant reality for the common villager.
Villagers are now questioning the government. They are demanding answers regarding the welfare and developmental schemes being carried on by the government in their villages.
A Campaign to facilitate the same was launched from the 9th of December in 5 districts of Uttar Pradesh namely: Faizabad, Bahraich,Band, Chitrakoot and Allahabad.
The campaign will try to cover more and more villages in its ambit.
Workers and volunteers from various organizations involoved in the propagation, spreading awareness and struggle for the right to information are organizing workshops and discussions in the villages and are helping the villagers in drafting and filing RTI applications. RTI Experts from Delhi based NGOs like Kabir and Parivartan ,and the local workers from approximately 10 organisations , who are dedicated to the cause of this noble mission are working hand in hand for this campaign. The local volunteers have taken up the responsibility to help the villagers submit the applications to the concerned departments.
On the first day of the campaign- Questions of my village (9thy December,2006) Pure Kuhai village of Faizabad district of UP entered the new era of the campaign of Right to Information. Pure Kuhai village of the Bishanpur panchaayat consists of 45 families, on the very first day of the campaign, 35 of these families filed applications under Right to Information act 2005 to seek for the details of their own money and their rights. Mostly, these families were facing the problems in the public distribution systems. Ration dealers provide the ration at higher prices and the quality of the ration is also very poor. 20 families of the village raised questions related to this issue and questioned the officers of the ration department seeking details on action taken on the mal practices of the ration dealer.
As per the rules, the ration dealer is required to put up a board in the ration shop giving details of the availability of the ration, how much has been distributed and at what price, the ration is available. None of the ration shops in the village have put such boards. The villagers have sought the information about how far the officials are responsible for non compliance of the rules and the poor distribution of ration. If the villagers succeed in this experiment and they will start getting quality ration at the correct price, then the scam in the ration distribution in all parts of the country, estimated to Rs 27,000 Crore, can be checked.
” Right to Information empowers the people to question the Government. People pay taxes from their hard earned money. They now have the right to ask the government about how their money is being spent.” The residents of Taj Khodai Village of Bahraich District, Uttar Pradesh experienced a sudden splurge of emotions the moment they came to know about the right to information. All emotional barricades were broken. Their problems now had a voice.
One by one the villagers started raising issues and a phenomenal number of 165 RTI applications were drafted by the villagers. On the 10th of December, 2006, the Dehat Sanstha of Bahraich District, Uttar Pradesh, organized a Right to Information camp in the village in which RTI experts and representatives of organizations like Kabir and Parivartan from Delhi spread awareness about Right to Information amongst villagers
It was the dawn of a new wave of freedom struggle for the inhabitants of 8 forest villages situated on the banks katarnia ghat, bahraich, Uttar Pradesh. People here exchange slogans of “jai Azaadi” as pleasantries .The right to information is serving as volatile weapon in their unique struggle for freedom. The discriminatory policies of the Uttar Pradesh Government have robbed off their freedom. The villagers are being alienated from the benefits of the welfare and developmental schemes enjoyed by the other Indian villagers. A few years ago, the government had declared the forests of Katarnia ghat as a sanctuary and had stopped taking taxes from the villagers.
Later the villagers were declared as encroachers and orders were passed to oust them from their lands. Though the villagers have the relevant documents to proof that they used to pay taxes till 1994.Now with the help of the right to information they have not only started checking the government records to revolt against the unfair policies of the state government and the forest department, but also are raising questions regarding their basic amenities. On the 11th of December Dehat Sanstha of Bahraich District along with Delhi based organizations like Kabir and Parivartan organized a workshop in the village and explained the advantages of the use of right to information. The villagers enthused with the knowledge of this right drafted and filed applications to the forest department. People also asked questions regarding their day-to-day problems arisen from the unfair policies of the government in their RTI applications.
The villagers of Bulenkhand wondered: “Why is their school without the school teacher?”
The caravan set out to connect the common villagers to the Right to Information Campaign on the 14th of December,2006 halted at Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh.The villagers of Banda District assembled in the junior high school campus of village Panchampur Panchayat for a workshop organized for creating awareness about Right to Information.
After learning that with the use of Right to Information they could question the working of the government employees, most of villagers complained that the schoolteacher Mr. Promod Dixit does come to the school. The villagers managed to pool in some money and fixed up a village youth to teach in the school. This arrangement suited the appointed schoolteacher so he got all the more relaxed. Recently the schoolteacher went on medical leave consequently the school got closed. The villagers using their Right to Information have filed in RTI applications to inspect the attendance record, academic qualification record and the medical record of the government school teacher. Few villagers also filed in applications to the Food Control Department to question why the primary school is not receiving the allotted food ration of the mid day meals .A few villagers also complained that the road connecting the village to the main road has not been made. The two small bridges on the road have almost blocked the connectivity. People filed in RTI applications to ask about the repair works done on the road in the past ten years and also questioned about the expenditure incurred for the same. More than a dozen elderly villagers questioned the administration about why they have not been receiving the benefits of the old age pension schemes through their right to information.
The Campaign is still on in 5 villages of Uttar Pradesh.In the Initial stage this campaign will cover 6 villages. Extensive workshops will be organized. Volunteers working for the cause of RTI will be personally present in the villages. Approximately 300 RTI applications from each village to be filed in various government department in the following few months is the aim of the aim of this campaign. The common villager will now have the opportunity to ask questions regarding his basic amenities- from ration cards to health services, education, roads, etc. to the government. They will also demand information regarding the budget of the forthcoming welfare and development schemes.
Chingari,an NGO working in the villages of Chtirakoot and Banda will be actively partipating in this campaign. Mr. Bhagwat Sharma, Coordinator Chingari says,” The Money to be spent on the welfare and the development of the villagers is being openly misappropriated by the officials. The money is going in the wrong pockets and we are completely helpless about it. But now we are empowered with the Right to Information. So, every villager can stand up against such open thefts of his rightfully deserved money.
Manish Sisodia from kabir says, “We got the inspiration for this campaign from the villagers themselves.” Citing an instance he adds,” a few villagers not only constructed their houses allotted to them under the Indira Awaas Yojna, they also got the roads, schools and bridges etc. made without paying any bribe. So, if these questions are raised from all the villages the face of the soul of India i.e. the villages will definitely change.”
Mr. Jitendra Chaturvedi, An RTI activist from the interior UP Village of Bahraich, famous for the stoppage of the ration thefts in this region says, “Thousands of villagers do not even understand the meaning of freedom. The real success of this campaign would be to empower the common man and make him realize his identity, that even he has the right to ask questions in this country.”
RTI experts from Delhi based organizations like Parivartan and Kabir are touring the villages of Uttar Pradesh to explain about the right to information to the villagers. To take the Right to information to the villagers, to empower them with the right a campaign-questions of my village is being carried on in five villages of Uttar Pradesh.In these villages extensive workshops to spread awareness about Right to Information amongst villagers will be organized A minimum number of 300 applications to be drafted and filed by the villagers in various government departments is the aim of this campaign. The Chingari Sangathan of Bundelkhand who have used the right to information with great zeal in the past supported the workers and volunteers of this campaign in their noble mission.