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May Day Celebrations

2 Dec

Mazdoor Mela :

The Mazdoor Mela this year was held in Araria town, Yadav College

grounds. The mela was attended by over thousand saathis, from various blocks of Araria and also Katihar district.

Saathis inside the pandal

Other than our local saathis we had the privilege of having with us saathis from NAPM UP Sandeep Pandey and Raju ji. Sandeep bhai talked about the need to unite and said that corruption has to be fought from the grassroots. Raju ji talked about the situation in UP and expressed his solidarity with the workers of Bihar.

Through the day songs, slogans, speeches filled the pandal and outlying the pandal were fair price shops of clothes and workers instruments. There was a stall put up by the Pratham team to talk about children’s education and there were some colourful and appealing books for sale at this counter.

The biggest success of the day were performances by Araria IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) and Abhiyan. This was followed by the screening of mirch masala, we were all under the pandal, the film had just picked up momentum and was being taken very well by the audience but as is typical of this time of the year, a monsoon storm hit the pandal.The heavy shower disrupted the gathering, we made one more valiant effort when the rain subsided but this time the storm came with a big fury, blew

IPTA performing a natak

IPTA performing a natak

away the pandals and ensured we all ran for refuge, salvaging whatever daris we could from getting wet. It was a terribly wet night for those who had come from faraway places but we were all ok. The screening that could not happen was supported by the Aman Trust, Delhi.

Though the basic content of the mela was the same as last year the change in venue changed the participation, last year the mela having been organized in Gram Panchayat Sharanpur had a lot of people from that area and people kept coming even in the evening, this time we saw the participation was more varied, as people from even far away blocks came but the evening flow wasn’t much. 

Social Audit 2011

2 Dec

ICDS and MNREGA Social Audits: An exhilarating and tiring experience

This is the second year that the Araria district administration organised special social audits along with civil society groups, the JJSS, Advisor Right to Food Commissioner (Bihar), Action Aid and the PHRN. And of course like last year a large number of young students, more women than men, joined in as volunteers. Over 50 volunteers passed through the entire exercise which lasted about two months.

Public Hearing Aurahi

The Social Audits focused on the Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). One audit in one panchayat each of each of the nine blocks of Araria was done. In each panchayat two separate teams were formed to focus on MNREGA and ICDS separately. Though social audits are mandated in the MNREGA there is no such provision in the ICDS and therefore the entire exercise was both a challenge and also a very fruitful experience, as the
opaqueness of the system is fairly high. The SA exercise
started with a district level training on 25th May, 2011 and the last audit public hearing was held on 27th July, 2011 and report writing continued for another three months.

The following extract from the JJSS letter to the Minister Social Welfare, Government of Bihar (dtd 27th September, 2011), clearly summarises the ICDS findings:

“….

SA summary of the ICDS:The nine social audits clearly showed that there is a high level of misappropriation of funds in the distribution of take home rations (THR) in each of the nine panchayats.

Bhargama Public Hearing

  1. The overall fraud percentage in distribution of the THR was found to be 58%, i.e. for every 100Kgs of rations claimed as given to beneficiaries in Araria district, only 42Kgs actually reaches them. (Please see attachment 1: Summary of THR funds misappropriated across 9 panchayats of Araria district).
  2. The SA team also found many weaknesses in the running of the health and pre-school components, which are also discussed in the reports being given to you.
  3. We feel stern action, on those involved in misappropriation of funds, would go a long way in ensuring a better run network of Anganwadi centres in our villages.
  4. d.      We also feel that action should not be limited to the sevikas, but extend to officers like the CDPO & the Lady Supervisor (LS), for taking bribe money (where such statements were given) and also gross negligence in monitoring the AWCs run in these panchayats.

……”

People reading the "hisab" "kitab" of their panchayat

However, despite our assertion that action should not be limited to sevikas, the only action so far has been that 78 sevikas have been dismissed, we sincerely hope this is just the beginning.

With regard to the MNREGA the social audit was combined with a survey and gave the team an opportunity to visit more than one panchayat in a block.  Below is excepts from the Press release held on 1st October 2011

मनरेगा विशेष सामाजिक अंकेक्षण / सर्वे के निष्कर्ष:

  • अररिया जिला के नौ प्रखंडों में से प्रत्येक में एक चयनित पंचायत में विशेष सामाजिक अंकेक्षण / सर्वे किया गया.  2010-11 में किये गए कार्यों का विशलेषण किया गया.
  • मजदूरी के  भुगतान और डाक विभाग के माध्यम से किये जानेवाले भुगतान एक प्रमुख समस्या है: पिछले साल की तरह इस साल भी यह पाया गया कि लोगों के खाते से  बिना उनकी सहमति अथवा जानकारी के पैसे की निकासी हो गयी. देरी  से भुगतान मनरेगा में मजदूरों की भागीदारी को कमज़ोर कर रहा है. देरी  से भुगतान के लिए कोई हरजाना भी नहीं दिया जा रहा है.
  • उपर्युक्त समस्याओं के बावजूद, इस वर्ष काम के पैमाने में वृद्धी और पारदर्शिता के नियमों के अनुपालन में कुछ स्वीकारात्मक बदलाव दिखाई दिए:
    • 44% कार्यस्थालों पर बोर्ड पाए गए जो पारदर्शिता के लिए आवश्यक हैं. (पिछले साल के अंकेक्षण में केवल 27% कार्यस्थालों पर बोर्ड पाए गए  थे)
    • अधिकतर पंचायतों में 20 लाख से अधिक लागत के कार्य आयोजित किये गए, यद्यपि इन का कार्यान्वयन अभी भी एक समस्या है
    • पिछले साल के अंकेक्षण में यह नज़र आया था कि 2009-10 में किये गए मनारेगा कार्यों में 74 में से 9  कार्य ज़मीनी स्तर पर किये ही नहीं गए थे (ghost works). पर इस साल के अंकेक्षण में ऐसा कोई कार्य नहीं पाया गया.
    • पिछले साल के अंकेक्षण में जोकीहाट प्रखंड की चौकता पंचायत और नरपतगंज प्रखंड की भंगाही पंचायत में ghost works पाए गए थे पर इस साल जो एक कार्य इन पंचायतों में देखा गया, उसमें मस्टररोल में कोई धोकाधडी नहीं पाई गयी
  • सामाजिक वानिकी की योजनाओं के  क्रियान्वयन की स्तिथि बहुत बुरी है. इस का मुख्य कारण वनपोषक(care taker) के चुनाव में पारदर्शिता का अभाव तथा भ्रष्टाचार है .

For detailed reports please see the reports uploaded by Vibhore, a dedicated volunteer with the SA team. http://goo.gl/6q4bs

One additional advantage of doing the ICDS social audits was that our entire team, now actually understands the ICDS functioning and the sangathan has been able to bring out a parcha (leaflet) on the anganwadi centres, and what they are meant to achieve and deliver. We hope that the JJSS will be able to work on the issue of the ICDS even in our villages, long after the SA taste is gone.

Panchayat Elections

2 Dec

Panchayat Elections

The Panchayat elections which followed soon after the May Day celebrations were a great learning. We have no common view but we know of saathis who after facing electoral defeats swore they would not do any election campaigns with the sangathan, given the way we flowed against the stream. As you know the Sagathan supported two mukhiya candidates in their election campaigns, who brought out election manifestos and stood by them, fighting their elections within Rs.5000 and not giving any enticements for votes. We share with you some of our khatta meetha experiences.

The poll in Sharanpur Panchayat was the next morning, it was late at night and I had gone to bed in Krishna Kumar ji’s kaccha house, when I heard mad laughter from outside. Shivnarayan and Krishna Kumar ji had just come back from a dalit tola, which was Krishna kumar ji’s stronghold. He said in his jovial voice “arre sharab ki thaili baant rahe hain, agar koi darwaaza nahin kholta hai to thaili ko andar phenk dete hain”. (They are distributing liquor, if the house owner does not open his gate they just throw

Election Meeting in Chittoriya

the pouch inside). Much later after the defeat, we were all sitting discussing a lot of things, elections being one of them, when Vimlal ji, a landless Dalit saathi from Sharanpur said “humari bakari bhi uski zameen par charti hai” (our goats also graze on his lands). These little stories tell the election tale of the state, the poor many a times have no real vote, it is tied to their livelihood, if the local big wig gets low votes from a dalit tola, we can only guess where our dalit saathis will take their goats for grazing and if liquor does not flow on the katl ki raat, when will it.

Elections are fought on lies I remember this one little point ashish kept making at the election meetings “look at each candidates’ pamphlets, it always says 500 pamphlets were printed but we all know more, much more was printed, we are not lying, we stand here asking for truth to be voted to power”. Probably Krishna Kumar ji and Deepnarayan ji were the only two exceptions whose pamphlets said “prati: 2000” (copies: 2000).

Election Rally

The elections in Katihar (GP Chittoriya, Block Mansahi) were a true exposure to vote politics with violence thrown in for a realistic election picture. We were on our third election rally, this was huge over 500 workers, disciplined in double line, with women at the head of slogan shouting “brush chaap jhaare jhaar!” “humara neta kaisa ho deepnarayan ji jaisa ho” “ladenge! Jeetenge”. We knew we were winning, but those around us were not happy, Deepnarayan Paswan, a dalit saathi, had stood for the post of mukhiya, on an unreserved seat and this did not go well with those in power “kal tak jo humare joote chatate the” (those who used to lick our feet) was one way of referring to our saathis. But, Deepanarayan ji and his team stood strong, stood tall. There were phone threats and offers to sit, but we were not perturbed we were going to win, not only by fighting clean elections but actually getting votes. This rally stunned the onlookers, and then we ran into trouble, we were stopped by the police and Deepnarayan ji booked for violating the model code of conduct. We tried to explain about the mistake, we had asked the election in charge in Araria (ADM, Araria) about the need for permission and he had said “no need” and so we had not asked for permission, it was just a mistake.

That night things became even more ugly, around 1 am, on voting day, one of our saathis was picked up from her house in Chittoriya Panchayat by a local MLA whose nephew was also a candidate, the vidhayak’s gang was looking for “your well wishers from Araria”. That night we knew fear, while one of us from Araria was present when this kidnapping happened and was hidden by saathis there, a couple of us went into corn fields fearing that we would get our local hosts into trouble. We had called enough people in the last eight hours to know that no adivasi-dalit in a far off rural area, can hope to survive if they challenge big-wigs.

Krishna Kumar Ji, Mukhiya Candidate from Sharanpur

The election experiences changed fundamentally the way, at least I looked at politics, the deceit, the lack of trust, the double play and the sheer violence and helplessness of ordinary saathis like Deepnarayan ji and Mary. Mary a young widow had been one of the many upset at the FIR against Deepnarayan ji, she had said “woh sooar ka meat batane aayenge, hum sab meat plastic ki thaili mein le lenge aur vote mein la kar dikhaayenge” (They will distribute pig meat tonight, we will not eat it, we will collect it in plastic packets and get it on election day for everyone to see). For this aadivasi saathi things changed that night after our mazddor meth was kidnapped, no packets came the next morning, fear played its role, Mary came and spoke to me, a soft voice I never knew belonged to her “hum nahin kar paaye” (We could not do it {get the meat}). In another tola Saraswati, Jiten and others refused to let in the vidhayak’s car, they said “if we violate the code because we make a mistake, we won’t let you make the mistake of campaigning at this forbidden time”. Courage and fear both played a role, we experienced both.

Strengthening democracy within the JJSS

2 Dec

Strengthening democracy within the JJSS: Membership, Unit formation and Sanchalan Samiti

As decided in the Aam Sabha the Sangathan registered as a trade union and in our last update we informed

Aam Sabha 2011

you that the sangathan membership had crossed one thousand, we are happy to inform you that our membership has now crossed 2500 and so One Lakh Twenty Five Thousand Rupees have been collected as membership fees, which has supported the functioning of the Sangathan.

At the same time we have been able to form only one unit so far, the JJSS, Chaukta unit in Jokihat block of Araria district. Formation of about 20 units is in the anvil and we hope by the end of this year, we should have at least 25 functional units. As for the Sanchalan Samiti, it has been able to meet regularly with near complete attendance (11 members) and take forward the decisions taken in the Aam Sabha, much of this update has been due to the consistent follow up of Sangathan whole timers, under the direction of the Sanchalan Samiti.

Farewell Mr. Mukerji

2 Dec

Farewell Mr Mukerji

Mr. Mukerji, the previous Chief Secretary of Bihar, retired on 30 September, 2011. We on behalf of the JJSS team thank him for his support. His keenness to make systems work, to take feedback from people and his prompt action made us great admirers of him. The first time Ashish and i walked into his office in 2009, when he was the Principal Secretary, Rural Development, he restored our faith in the administration, which in Araria was so apathetic to the efforts of the Jan Jagaran Abhiyan that we were on the verge of out and out confrontation. Mr. Mukerji gave us a hearing and actually followed up on matters we had raised with him, which we had simply not seen with other administrators till then. We went back with new strength and moved forward with the hope that there was scope to work with the system. We found practicable Gandhi ji’s thought ‘Cooperate where you can, Resist when you must’.

PDS Survey

2 Dec

PDS Survey

The PDS survey, conducted by Prof Jean Dreze and Dr. Reetika Khera, happened amongst other places in Katihar. Jitendra Paswan a member of the JJSS joined the survey team for the survey period in Katihar and Barsoi blocks. The good news from the survey was that like all other places the PDS in Bihar had improved.

Abdul Kuddus in Barsoi, Katihar, shows coupons for months for which grain was not delivered in the village. Each coupon corresponds to one month of undelivered grain. Credits - Jiten Paswan

Five years ago, only 10% of PDS grain reached the poor, according to NSS data. In this survey, we found that BPL households were getting about half (45%) of their full quota. This is much better, but still far from satisfactory!

The sad news is Bihar was placed last amongst all the surveyed states. We have still have a long way to go and worst still our CM and Minister for Food are in favour of cash transfers. Reetika published an article in EPW based on the findings of the survey. Here is a link

As a follow up to the survey a meeting was organised with the Minister of Food Sri Shyam Rajak and it was interesting to note that despite his keen hearing of what we had to say and the ideas shared by Jean and Reetika, his stand on cash transfers seemed firm, though one would have to see what finally transpires. Jean, Reetika and JJSS held a press conference on 1st October 2011 in Patna to highlight PDS issues in Bihar and to share the findings of the survey. It was well covered in the media.

The Flood Situation : An experience with democratic Dialogue

1 Dec

The Flood Situation : An experience with democratic Dialogue

As most of you know by now, the Sangathan works extensively in Araria and Katihar districts, which are flood prone and we see annual floods from Kosi and many local rivers. This year soon after the Independence Day (15th August, 2011) celebrations saathis from GP Chittoriya complained of flood waters disrupting traffic, water current ran on the roads and cut off about 5 villages (tolas) lying east of the Kosi bandh (dam). The first JJSS delegation met the DM soon after asking for running of boats to ferry people across the flooded roads.

The situation in neighbouring panchayats of Barari block were similar, but in mid-September relief was distributed in these panchayats while without any public consultation it was decided that a few hundred families facing similar hardships, because they were in a different administrative unit would not be given relief. The JJSS as a matter of principle disagreed with this decision and petitioned the relevant authorities, we were told that there would be ‘practical’ problems in partial distribution of relief materials and therefore it was decided not to give relief in GP Chittoriya, which was partially flood affected.

JJSS in its village level consultative meeting decided the following:

  1. Find out why we were left out of relief without any consultation with us, the people.
  2. Those who had decided that there was no flood in Chittoriya to be identified and to tender a public apology.
  3. In case the Government could not give relief because of lack of funds, collect donations at the village level and give to relevant government official (In this case the Circle Officer, CO).
  4. Let the truth be known about the floods in Chittoriya at all levels.

It was then decided to hold a ‘Jan sanvad on the flood in Chittoriya’. The sanvad was held in the panchayat on 12th November, 2011, we wrote to the CO requesting him to attend informing him that if he would not help us bring out the truth, we would be forced to take the path of satyagraha. The CO and CI attended the Jan Sanvad, with about 250 people attending. It was an interesting experience, to be able to highlight the fact that our lives would go on without the Rupees 800 releif (part cash, part kind), but it was the principle of collective decision making which was needed and in this case had been completely ignored. In the meeting the following points came out clearly:

  1. Residents of flood affected Chitoriya (including the current mukhiya) and the CO agreed that this area was flood affected, and as badly as neighbouring panchayat of Barari block, where relief was distributed. There was a point of difference about the seriousness of the flood, which we believed was more than the CO’s assessment.
  2. The CO accepted his fault for not taking the issue seriously enough and becoming lax on the relief, because there was no ‘aavantan’ from the district for this block. He apologised what he himself termed ‘dhilai ya galti’ on his part.
  3. Since no reference was made to lack of funds, we decided to not move ahead with collection of donations for the government.
  4. That which was discussed in the JJSS meetings was echoed with greater strength in the Jan sanvad that this was not about getting relief but about a principle. We refused to be called liars and need the Government to know that though our lives would go on without relief what is the basis of distribution of relief? How can to equally affected areas be given relief differently. And this ‘vyavaharik dikkat’ (practical problems) in distribution in distribution of relief in partially affected panchayats is based on the misplaced idea that people would fight for relief, even when they were not affected. We have to start trusting people we have to trust ourselves there is no other way!