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A South Gujarat tribal youth uses RTI, ensures his remote village gets good road, power, education, transport

A tribal village in Dediyapada
By Pankti Jog*
Bharsingh Vasava, a tribal youth from the backward Narmada district, is proving to be a tough fighter against bureaucratic inertia. And, the tool he has been using is the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, amidst heavy odds. Belonging to South Gujarat's tribal village Samor, 40 km from Dediyapada town of South Gujarat, the place where he lives was devoid of regular transport. Even today it is devoid of mobile or telephone connectivity.
However, all this did not prevent Bharsingh from using RTI to make government accountable. A tribal farmer, he has a small piece of land that he got from his father. He has been using RTI despite the fact that, due to non-availability of educational facilities in his or nearby the village, he could not continue his education beyond seventh standard.
“I see many problems in my village. We hardly get benefit of any government programmes. Being the last village of Dediyapada taluka, the government officers have not paid much attention to us. But when I came to know about RTI Act, I tried it to seek information regarding the bus service, its irregularity, action taken by government, the rules, etc.", he says.
"Even before I was given any information on the basis of the RTI application, the driver and the conductor of the bus coming to my village were transferred to a different route. After this, the bus services improved by 80%, if not completely”, he states.
In the year 2010 Samor got a concrete road. However, Bharsingh observed that the material used was of poor quality. This was brought to the notice of the taluka development officer (TDO) but this was of no use. In the next rainy season, the road got washed away.
This made Bharsingh seek, under RTI, details of tender, the materials used in the road, the inspection report by the engineer, and details about who supervised the work. He got information, which was contradictory to the ground realities, revealing bad quality of construction.
This made Bharsingh to complain with the State Vigilance Commissioner, who ordered an inquiry. Following the inquiry, action was taken against the contractor, whose license was suspended for a year.
Samor village had electricity, but it was not extended to the nearby tribal halmet, or falia, where he lived. The issue was brought before the Gram Sabha many a time, yet there was no progress. Bharsingh filed RTI to know what actions were taken against the demand that falia dwellers had been raising. As no information was given, he approached the Gujarat Information Commission to a file complaint, after which a Gujarat government engineer was forced to apologise and provide power to the 217 families of the falia immediately.
In 2013, 11 checkdams were sanctioned in Dediyapada on the river for recharging groundwater. Five of these were made in 2013-14. However, Bharsingh found that low quality material had been used. Tender documents talked about putting sand and concrete, but only small and medium sized pebbles were used for constructing the checkdams.
The checkdams got washed away during the same year. This made Bharsingh use RTI, and on crosschecking once again, he found misappropriation. He simultaneously filed a complaint in the chief minister's online grievance redressal forum. Result: No contractor now wants to fill up tenders for rest for the check dams, as they fear that these might be strictly checked.
Teachers would be very irregular in reaching the village as well in the nearby villages. Whenever the sarpanch or other villagers would seek to know why, they would reply that they had to go to attend meetings at Dediyapada. Bharsingh filed RTI to seek information about their attendance, including on which the days and in which meetings the teachers had gone. “I was not given information, however teachers now come regularly”, he says.
Bharsingh, who is a regular caller on the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel's (MAGP's) RTI helpline, learnt of the RTI through a Doordarshan programme. Currently, he is a torchbearer for ensuring good governance in his village and the falia. The helpline gets from 1300 to 1500 calls per month, and above 60% of these calls are from the rural areas. This suggests that villagers are keen to seek information about government functioning.
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*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

Comments

shailesh gandhi said…
My salute and compliments to MAGP and Bharsingh on this fantasic achievement.
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