Friday, March 31, 2006

ENORMOUS TASK

In the last one year, I met many a wonderful people working for the betterment of society. But even with those many people, the development that is taking place is very limited. It is only now that i am realizing the enormity of the task.
Now a days, I am busy working with BHARAT UDAY MISSION (www.bharatudaymission.org).
Visit the site. We are working on some very good projects.

keep visiting........................

THE FIRST VICTORY

After many efforts, the first fruits of success. MCH has replied, The reply in their own words,

" With Reference to your letter cited,the following information is furnished under Sction 3 of the RTI act 2005. An amount of Rs 77,000/- was collected from the Indian National Congress Party through Cheque bearing NO:452841,dt.07-01-2006(A/C no:11638) of Central Bank of India drawn on Kalyan Nagar Branch in favour of Commissioner,MCH and the same deposited into MCH account vide challan No: 2182/39 at SBH, MCh branch. The breakup of RS 77,000/- is as follows,
1. Usage of 9 MCH arches for one week @ Rs 5000/- each.
2. Erection of Bunting,Bill Boards,etc at 34 locations @ Rs 500/- each.
3. Erection of flags at 100 locations @ Rs 150/- each.

Please acknowledge the receipt of this letter."

So there is the official word. Only Rs 77,000/- for using the entire city. YOu all might have seen with your own eyes as to how many flags and bill boards have been erected. If it is so cheap that by paying 77,000 if you can use the city, I sure will bet that every film producer would do that to promote their films. And even an ordinary rich person can do that if he is willing to become famous in one day by putting his posters all over the city.So by this we understand one thing thatEither the COngress party is at fault that they used in excess of what was allowed(if this true, then they have to pay up the remaining amount) or the MCH officials are at fault that they turned a blind eye towards all that was happening(may be there was something taken from under the table)
SO please let me know your views on how do we take this official information forward in punishing the guilty............

THE SECOND VISIT

On Saturday(25th FEB 2006), I was off again on my pursuit of filing more requests. I started early at around 10.30 am.

STOP 1: Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad (10.30 am)

Subject: To know the status of my earlier filed request.

30 days have passed and still no signs that my request was even looked into.It started the same way again, tussles with officials of various departments. All of them blamed each other saying that it was the other's responsibility. I was frustrated. This was the second time, I was going through this. This time I was prepared to go the distance no matter what it takes(This may sound a little filmy, but this is true). I raised my voice saying that I will have to go to the commissioner if this continues. Finally they realised that i was not going to leave them unless they give me the information.One department official (clerk in the office of Asst Commissioner ADMIN) was very smart. He accompanied me to the advertisements department where the application was stuck. He told the officials there that I had met the commissioner and the commissioner was actually very angry at the issue not being looked into. (Actually nothing of that sort happened, that was only a trick by this clerk to get the work done as this clerk was responsible to give the information as he is the one who looks after these issues). Then they woke up, and assuring me that they would send the information to me in 1-2 days. I was a bit satisfied and continued from there.


STOP 2: Police Control Room, Traffic Department (12.30 pm)

Subject: To meet the DCP, traffic and file a couple of requests and also discuss about the traffic warden program.

I had to wait for nearly 2 and half hours to meet the DCP as he was very busy in the arrangements for Mr.Bush’s visit. Finally at around 3pm I went in and submitted a couple of requests.

Request 1: To know the amount of fines collected (official figures) from 1st Feb 2006 to 25th Feb 2006 from traffic offenders.

Again the first question, why do you want this information? He asked me whether it was part of my study etc. I told him that it was just like that I needed this information. In the mean time two other officials(one ACP and other DCP) entered the scene. One of them was very authoritative in his voice and kept asking me why did I need this information. He actually quoted an analogy that we eat only when we feel hungry. Finally I had to say to say something. I told him that I saw a couple of traffic constables taking money without writing a challan, so I wanted to check out how much is actually being collected. Then started the discussion (I would term it more as a Fight). The ACP was just fuming on me saying “ You are making a damaging statement on the entire police department. Why didn’t you complain to the higher officials when you saw that. Are you honest?”I was soon realizing why common public are so much afraid of the police. I was caught in between 3 police officials. But the DCP(Mr Anil kumar ,IPS) cooled down the atmosphere asking the ACP not to get too emotional. And he actually told him that “they are young people who want to know things”. The reason for which I went there was soon being lost in unnecessary discussions. But the DCP was a very good person from what I could make out. He showed the excel sheets where they compare fines collected in the previous 3 days and how do they analyse things. They actually deposit the entire sum in the Govt account daily. He told me that in 2005, they deposited around 10 crores collected via fines. One one day (24th Feb 2006), they collected over 5 lakh rupees. Those were staggering figures for me. It such was the amount that was official, the unofficial amount would easily be double. They can easily pay for the salaries of the officials through fines. He told me that I can collect the information on Monday. (That was very quick by any standards). He was very proud saying that the police was the best department where they take immediate action on any report of fraud by their personnel.By the time I left that place, Everything was fine and I could convince the ACP that he misunderstood me. So at last this was successful.


Request 2: To know if any permission was given by traffic police to park vehicles on the main road by those coming to the “Bottles and Chimneys” pub near begumpet airport.

I was always very pained by the way the so called rich and elite behave socially. They park their vehicles on main roads, break all rules and above all blame the illiterates and poor people for all that is going on. These people happily get away with offences. I was determined to take this to the police. The DCP directed me to the ACP punjagutta area for this issue. In the ACP’s office punjagutta, the people there took about 10 min to decide whether that place would fall in their limits. After deliberations, finally they concluded that it is indeed in their limits. After that they asked me when are they parking vehicles. I told them it was after 9pm and will continue till 1am. The police SI said that they usually don’t check after 10pm. The ACP there was very angry with the SI and directed the SI to take my request and note all my details. These days I feel very happy when I see less number of vehicles being parked on the main road. Still I am expecting the reply from them on what action they have initiated. There are some more locations in the city where there is exactly the same problem. (Ex: Coffeeday in jubilee hills on the way to madhapur)

STOP 3: Secretariat, AP Govt (4pm)

Subject: To know the status of my earlier filed request.

I was by then exhausted after all that went on in the day. Here in the secretariat, the people have misplaced my request and they were unable to find it. I was very angry and started serious discussion with the Secretary to the Govt(an IFS officer). He assured me that by Monday he would call me personally and let me know the status. I left the place after his assurance. They didin’t call me on Monday. I had to call them when they informed me that my request was forwarded to director of school education and they will provide me the information. This was far better than knowing that my request was misplaced.What I generally observed in all these offices is that the higher officials are a little better in the sense that they understand our concerns. But the sub-ordinates are the ones who are spoiling it. We need not blame them also as they are not very well educated about this law. Govt needs to first create awareness among officials. The Police department also was very receptive to the concerns. This was by far the best department in all that I saw.They called me up on the “fines” request and asked if I was available so that they could give me the information. I will collect it next week.

THE FIRST VISIT

I visited to MCH and secretariat on DEC21st 2005 to file applications requesting information as per RTI.My eriences.
1. Municipal corporation of HYderabad (MCH)
I had to virtually fight with everyone(from security guards toadmin staff) to make them understand that something called RTIexists. I ran around for abt 2hrs and finally submitted a petiiton.The quation is simple." HAs the congress party paid MCH for using MCH property duringAICC pleanry".They were reluctant to take the nominal fee of Rs 10/- They were treating them as bribe. Anyway they did not take it.I am sure that i will not get the required information. I am planningalong with loksatta( i contacted them also) to take it to the mediaonce i dont get the reply.
2. School education Dept.(Secretariat)
I had to wait for 90 min to meet the Joint secretary to Govt(anIFS officer) who happens to the the PIO(public information officer).The first question he asked me was " why do you want thisinformation?"I told him "just like that and also there is clear provision in theact that you need not disclose ur identity and the purpose"I paid the nominal fee of Rs 10/-.The information i requested was reg1. The details of dropouts in govt schools of hyd.2. dEtails of funds sanctioned for improving infrastructure3. DetaILS of computers given to govt schools.4. Details of library allocations.A wonderful xperience for me. I ran around thw whole day for this. Ihad plans of filing more petitions, but i was short on time.I am planning to take it up with loksatta and the media once i dontget the information.The funniest part was at both the places, i was the first personfiling this request and they knew nothing abt how to go about filingthis. Any how i am very happy that i have been able to make some employees of MCH and secretariat realise that RTI exists..

HOW To Go about filing Requests

Here I would like to say a few things,1. Some of the friends were of the opinion that we should take the help of media before we go to anyoffice(give a tip off to the media). I also thoughtabout it and let me tell you, if we go with the media, out of fear, the officials may accept and giveinformation. But what we need is that the purpose ofRTI should be served. Lets say an illeterate villagergoes and requests information, he should be given thesame importance as given to a media person.RTI will have served its purpose only when a commoncitizen with nothing behind him can get theinformation. When officials give information feelingas if it is their duty but not out of fear.2. Once we do not get what we requested for, then wecan take the help of media in highlighting their lethargy. This will serve better as govt officials willrealise the importance.

HOW TO GO ABOUT FILING REQUESTS?
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1. Get the department from you are seeking informationright. Then approach the department.
2. Enquire for the PIO(public information officer) oran APIO(asst PIO). Just write down whatinformation youare seeking on a paper. (there is no specific format,you can write it according to your wish).You need notdisclose your identity and needn't tell them why areyou requesting the information for. BUt you need togive the complete Address for communication.
3. Be very specific in your application. The morespecific you are, teh more chances of getting therequired information.(like how many,how much,figures,numbers etc)
4. Pay a nominal fee of Rs 10/-. Take the receipt withthe date and time with a stamp of the concerned dept.

MY EXPERIMENTS WITH RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT 2005 (RTI)

I should say i was really impressed by only one act that the UPA govt passed. That is RTI.
In my view RTI is the most powerful tool that ordinary citizens have to wake up the dormant bureaucracy and bring in more transparency in Govt departments. Here we will discuss,share and spread the word about RTI.

My petitions to date:
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1. Peition with MCH on AICC plenary(reply received)
2. petition with Traffic police on fines collected (reply received)
3. petition with Traffic police on illegal parking at Bottles and chimneys in hyderabad
4. petition with School education dept of Andhra pradesh on the state of Govt schools in Hyderabad
5. petition with Mandal educational officer in warangal on the state of govt schools in warangal mandal.
6. petition with Reserve Bank of INDIA (RBI) on the amount of debts written off to corporate business houses.
7. Petition with MCH on propertyyax payment in Prashasan nagar of hyderabad

PHOTOGRAPHS OF MY VILLAGE VISIT

Venkatamma with her Mobile store



Venkataiah infront of his fruit shop


Thimmanna in his tailoring shop


Narsamma’s only daughter


Satyanarayana’s General Store

Mehboob’s Wife preparing Tea

THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING MY MOTHERLAND

In the past 22 years of my living, I never had such an emotional journey. A journey that was the first step towards understanding my nation. For a few years now, I had been roaming around with friends, running around malls, restaurants and multiplexes. I was missing something. My conscious kept reminding me that. I was moving away from my roots, my culture and most of all my nation. It was time for introspection. I had to understand my motherland, its culture that is alive in villages and not in these so called modern examples of globaliztion.

During the course of this first step of a long and unending journey, I was fortunate enough that I was shown the way by “BASIX” a Microfinance Organization run by
Dr. Vijay Mahajan. I had the oppurtunity to meet him in person on Dec 3rd 2005. I told him that I would be very happy if I am led by their team to some village visits and if I am given an oppurtunity to work in some project, which to my surprise, he readily agreed.

On Dec 24th,2005 I embarked on my journey. Here are a few people who in my view represent the real INDIA.

PLACE: A Village called Duppalli in Mahboonagar District of Andhra Pradesh
( About 130kms from Hyderabad)

I was recived by a BASIX employee ready with his motorbike to take me round the village. Here was I, a stranger from far away merely wasting their time with a Camera in hand as though I had never seen a village before. There they were taking me round the village as if I was their superior. I felt ashamed that I was merely wasting their precious time. This is the difference between them and us. They work for a cause, a cause that encompasses fellow indians. Of course we also do work for a cause, a cause that is confined only to our family, at the best to our friends and relatives.

Mehboob and his wife—Hotel


They run the most famous hotel of the village. By the time we reached there, it was nearing their daughter’s marriage. The hotel was temporarily closed and the preparations were in full swing for the marriage. They took a loan of Rs 30000/- from Krishna Bhima Samruddhi Bank (KBS) a subsidary of BASIX. The loan helped them expand their business. Their savings neared almost Rs 40000/-. All that was being spent on the marriage of their only daughter. She told me how the loan has changed their lives. They augmented their savings and are leading a more comfortable life.

Mehboob was out on some marriage preparation work. His wife offered us tea. The tea was very tasty and much more satisfying than the “capuccino’s” and the “coffee day” stuff. I took out some change to pay for the tea. After all they were running a hotel. She plainly refused to take the money. She said “ this is nothing when compared to what you people gave us”. I was so moved that not even a single word came out of my lips. Basix did not run a charity and give them the loan for free. They were a commercial bank catering to the needs of such people. All the more surprising was that I was being thanked. Neither did I help them nor was I a Basix employee. The fact that these people also live in skyscrapers, but different from those in which we live (skyscrapers of honesty,gratitude,caring nad most of all compassion) strengthened in my view.


Satyanarayana --- General Stores


He took a loan of Rs 15000/- from KBS. He now educates his two children. He recently opened a monthly savings account with KBS in his wife’s name and the insurance facility that comes with the loan is also in his wife’s name. The same story repeats, The story of how BASIX changed their lives.


Narsamma — Insurance Beneficiary


Hers was the most tragic story. Her husband used to do the cabling work in the village. He took a loan of Rs 5000/- from KBS. With the loan came the free insurance facility. (KBS has tied up with AVIVA life insurance for this. Kbs pays the premium from the EMI’s of loans they receive. KBS also extended this loan facility to cattle). She received a sum of around Rs 10000/- in insurance with which she paid off some of the debt. She still has debts in the range of Rs 10000/-.She is running a small general store for living now. BASIX has helped her clear a part of her debt.

When BASIX initially discussed this insurance plan with the villagers, they opposed saying “ Why should we pay for something which we get after death? Do we pay for
Dying?” But Narsamma’s case changed that perception. Noe they are much more interested in insurance plans and even started advising others. The BASIX employee who took me round says that villagers are easy to handle. They are not complex like us urban chaps. But they believe something only when they see it practically. Narsamma’s was one such case.

Narsamma has a little daughter whom she hopes to educate. May GOD help her.


Venkataiah

He is a Shepherd who took a loan of Rs 10000/- from KBS. He now runs a fruit shop parallel to grazing the sheep. He also has the same story to tell of how KBS helped make his living better.



Thimmanna ---Tailor


A Young guy in the village who runs a tailoring shop. He took a loan of Rs 8000/- to buy a new machine. Now he is able to earn more as well as save more.



Venkatamma


She runs a small road side mobile store that caters to the needs of ladies in the village. She does daily saving of Rs 20 in her savings account. She now has savings in excess of Rs 4000/-. She took a loan of Rs 4000/- from KBS.

All that BASIX does is to cater to the needs of those people who cannot approach the big banks for peety loans. These big banks need surities, which they cannot provide. The only option left for them is to approach the money lenders in the village who charge interests in excess of 30% a year and make them pay heavily if they fail to repay the loan in time.

BASIX introduced a concept called JLG (Joint Liability Group) where in people in groups of “4” are jointly liable. Each one of them is the surity for the other three. These JLG’s are free to be formed by villagers on their own. BASIX does not interfere in the JLG formation.

One accusation microfinance institutions(MFI’s) like BASIX have been facing is the high rate of interest they charge. BASIX charges an interest of 21% on loans and pays an interest of 8.5% on savings which is higher than any other bank. The defended by saying
“ Our target customers are the people who do not have access to government loans and who often fall into the trap of the money lenders. The interest we charge is much less than what they charge. And we also do not run a charity rather we are a commercial bank. We also have to pay our employees.” This I think is completely justified.

Now BASIX is concentrating on inculcating the culture of savings and insurance in them.

My first step was a wonderful experience. We all so called modern professionals need to change. We have to understand the real INDIA. Recognize their needs and lend a hand in their development. We have to make them a part of the much hyped “INDIA on the MOVE”

I have just started learning the alphabets of this complex language called INDIA. I would have accomplished my goal If I learn to make a sentence of my own in this language.