Saturday, August 10, 2013

RTI application reveals, a small village in Jamnagar district suggests a huge toilets scam is taking shape in Gujarat

Pankti Jog
By Our Representative
A huge scam is suspected to be taking shape in Gujarat -- the scam to build toilets on paper. The first signs of the scam were visible in a small village in Jamnagar district, Nandana, situated in Kalyanapur taluka. "Things would have never come to light had a casual worker not filed a right to information (RTI) application in order to find out how many persons of the village had applied for grants to build individual toilets in their houses and how many of them were approved by the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) under Government of India's total sanitation programme", said senior activist Pankti Jog of the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), a state-based RTI NGO.
The casual worker, Rughabha, recently did receive the list of names who had been granted money, but the road to get the information was not easy. His decision to gather information on the persons who had applied for grant to build under  toilets was followed by allurements to take back the application and threats. He had earlier applied for constructing a toilet in his house a year ago, but he failed to get positive response. This prompted him to re-apply this year, and he was told by the taluka development officer (TDO) that as he had already "received" the grant his application was rejected.
Significantly, Rughaba was not alone whose application was rejected. There were as many as 15 other applicants who had reapplied and their applications were rejected citing the same reason. This prompted Rughaba to take the leadership and file an RTI application before the TDO to give the list of beneficiaries of the total sanitation programme. Instead of the list, the local sarpanch threatened Rughaba, asking him why did he want the list. This made Rughaba to file a voice complaint on the MAGP's RTI helpline No, 9924085000, and lodged a complaint at the local police station. However, he was advised to move to safer place to ensure safety, as the sarpanch was "very close relative of political leader".
Shailesh Gandhi
Meanwhile, Rughaba's voice complaint was immediately taken note of, and a documentation of the case was prepared and sent to the Gujarat Information Commission (GIC), the District Superintendent of Police, the DRDA director, among others, with two specific demands -- immediate disclosure of information of the list of beneficiaries who got support for making toilets; and ensure protection of the citizen. The document was also circulated to a few RTI activists. 
Jog said, "In this small village there are hundreds of names who have been listed as beneficiaries, but have never availed support. Rughaba is one of them, but he dared file a complaint about it to the TDO after seeking the list under RTI. After the intervention of the RTI helpline and the GIC, the sarpanch was arrested. This prompted the president of the block panchayat and the politician-relative, Pabubha Manek, a BJP MLA, to give phone up DSP, giving oral instructions to release him."
However, it was a call from former Central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi to the DRDA director which worked. The DRDA director was forced ask the TDO to release the information  of the list of beneficiaries. "A scrutiny of the has revealed that as many 300 persons have been listed as beneficiaries but they have never received any benefit from the government to build toilets. If this is true of a small village, we fear, a similar scam is taking shape in other villages, too", Jog suspected.
The sarpanch was released on bail two days later. Jog said, "The villagers phoned us up to say that the RTI helpline indeed worked wonders. It has helped expose the sarpanch, who is close relative of the political leader. Thanks to timely intervention by Gandhi, the powerful political rulers stood exposed." Now, RTI activists have demanded to paste the list of beneficiaries on the panchayat notice board for all to see. "The DRDA director has agreed to do it orally, though he hasn't so far", alleged Jog, adding, "The list should have been made known under the RTI's proactive disclosure rules much earlier."

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