Ration shop improves as people exercise their rights
By Ashok Herekar
Mangenkoppa and Kasamaligi villages of Khanapur taluk in Belgaum district together have around 1200 families. One third of the families in these villages are BPL card holders. By rule these BPL card holders are supposed to get ration and kerosene every month. The reality however is far from this. . Again the rules say that the ration shop should be kept open throughout the month excepting the Govt. holidays. The shop should be kept open from 8am -12noon and from 4pm to 8pm. The shop should have a rate board properly displayed. A vigilance committee should be appointed to ensure proper functioning of the ration shop. These rules however exist on the paper and at implementation level the functioning of the shop depends on the whims and fancy of the shop owner.
Ration in Mangenkoppa is distributed through a mobile shop which in turn is run by the society of Agricultural Products Marketing Centre (APMC) Nandgad village. With a mobile shop system the same person goes to distribute ration to different villages. As a result he can keep the shop open for 3-4 days in a month from 10 am to 5 pm, in each village. The villagers therefore have to forgo their income on the day they have to collect their ration. Tired of this system the villagers have submitted several petitions to the Tehsildar and the Deputy Commissioner but to no effect. Whenever they go on a demonstration there is some temporary relief and again the same old story continues.
Jagruti keeps villagers aware of the new developments at the policy level and also guides them in the direction of availing their rights. Under the guidance of Jagruti a new strategy was planned. The villagers organized a demonstration in front of the Gram Panchayat office. This strategy did have an effect for the next two months after which there was shocking news that 130 BPL cards have been cancelled! When this matter was brought to the notice of the Tehsildar, he shirked away from his responsibility stating that this cancellation was done in accordance with the Govt. order that 30% of the BPL cards should be withdrawn. When asked for the order copy, the Tehsildar said that it was only oral instructions. Later it was found that in all villages the cards were being cancelled. The sad part of this story was that the cards cancelled were of those who were really poor and needy!
Villagers again started discussing to find out a solution to this new problem. The issue was discussed with Jagruti also. With the new awareness that a special Gram Sabha may be requested for, if 100 members in a village demand for it in writing, the villagers put a demand before the Tehsildar and the Executive Officer that a special Gram Sabha be called to discuss about the issue of Ration card cancellation. The very moment this application was submitted , the process of returning the cancelled cards started! The Tehsildar and the Executive Officer have also promised to solve other ration related problems. The demand for special Gram Sabha however did not materialize as the Lok sabha election dates were declared but the functioning style of the ration shop is improving. Today the shop keeper is handing over the receipts and does not charge any extra amount for the ration distributed. Will these and other improvements continue to exist or will the villagers have to keep the struggle for rights…..? Who can give a definite answer?
A cool Summer This Time….
Come summer and the tension for water raises, rivers, tanks and bore wells all dry up. Open wells get bare. People walk kilometres hunting for water. Surapur village is no different from this situation. Villagers would raise the water scarcity issue in Village Panchyat Gram Sabha; but to no effect. Majority (more than 90%) in the village are scheduled caste and landless labourers. Forgoing wages for the sake of collecting water was inevitable but difficult. Frequent requests to panchayat members and appeal for water tankers all went in vain.
Jagruta Mahila Okkoota (JMO) took the matter seriously. Together with the villagers an urgent meeting was arranged in the house of the Gram Panchayat President at night. The Panchayat Development Officer (PDO) and the Panchayat Secretary listened to the grievances of the villagers and expressed their helplessness in this regard as all their efforts to dig bore wells in different areas of the village had gone futile. They ultimately requested the villagers to get a bore well dug in the area of their choice and promised to fund the work.
The villagers decided the village tank as the most suitable area for digging the bore well and immediately got into action. A bore well was dug and people were happy that their water problem would be solved, but… luck was again against them The present bore well was only 20 feet away from the bore well of a village leader who took objection and took the matter to the court. He would also create problems to water supply through the newly dug public bore well.
JMO intervened again and with the support of other local people’s associations like Bheema Sena and Karnataka Rakshana Vedike a demonstration was organised at the Panchayat office in March 2013 demanding for the survey of the tank area which the leader was claiming as his own property. As the PDO, the Secretary and Panchayat members took the matter lightly, the villagers got enraged and locked them all in the Panchayat Office and warned that they would not be released unless the concerned officers from the taluk office come to the spot and give a solution to their problem. When the matter was informed to the taluk Panchayat the senior officers, Executive Officer, Tehesildar and the Engineer arrived to the Panchayat, and ordered the Panchayat PDO and the Secretary to give a temporary solution at least till the survey of the tank area was done. The villagers would not settle for a temporary solution and warned all the concerned officers that they would not move from the place unless the tank area was surveyed. The people’s power won ultimately and the PDO Officer gave an undertaking that the tank area would be surveyed immediately.
Concerned staff and the officers came for conducting the survey to the tank area. While the demarcation was about to start the leader again took objections saying that the adjacent land owners should be served with a notice while such survey is being under taken. During the process of discussions with him all the officers disappeared which further aroused the anger of the people. They again went back to the Panchyat and sat there overnight demanding for survey. Ultimately officers had to heed to the people’s demand, demarcate the land and declare that the newly dug bore well was in the public land and the village people had full right over it. The survey also proved the bore well of the leader as illegal. Under Zilla Panchayat fund a wall was also built around the bore well to ensure cleanliness.
Villagers are blessed with regular and clean water supply today and are relieved that during the summer they do not have to forgo their wages hunting for water.
Jagruti Mahila Okkuta is a group of village level volunteers from about 10 different villages in Khanapur Taluk who come together weekly to discuss relevant issues and undergo leadership and informational training. They then go on to inform their respective villages on issues salient to the community. Relevant issues include domestic violence, education for women, child marriage, NREGA, food security, financial literacy, rights of underprivileged, and account keeping for Self-Help Groups (SHGs), health/malnutrition, and hygiene.
This quarter the training focused on the building of a Mahila Bank. Many members visited a Mahila Bank built by the Navajeevan Mahila Okkuta in Lingasugur and were able to gain first hand knowledge by speaking with founding SHG members.
JMO has recently chosen two of their village volunteers to participate in Loka trainings. Loka is a level campaign group that will provide leadership development training on social and cultural issues in different districts in Karnataka. Jagruti is also sending another two village volunteers for training sponsored by HID Forum of Bangalore. These two will undergo training focused on Dalit issues.
JMO also took part in organizing a Mahila Samavesha – a one day event in a small town called Bidi which brought hundreds of women together to discuss their achievements. These impressive women groups have discovered new livelihoods by coming together, creating, and selling locally made medicines, Terracotta beads, and food products. Women also were able to meet with other SHGs who have successfully started their own Mahila Bank (All-Women’s Bank). This self-organized event included speeches, songs, and an exchange of their experiences. More than 200 women participated in this event and left feeling rejuvenated, motivated, and hopeful that their own future ventures will become successful due to the collective power, exchange, and management of such strong female voices.
Other JMO activities involved building toilets for 12 homes under a village government scheme that promises to reimburse every household for building a toilet in their homes. Unfortunately, families are not being reimbursed by the Gram Panchayat, the village governing body, in a timely fashion. To add insult to injury, the panchayat has also delayed on the creation of work for rural laborers under the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). Angered by such bureaucratic neglect, village women demonstrated in front of the Gram Panchayat demanding that payment be made and NREGA issues be resolved. After being cornered by the women, the Panchayat Development Officer (PDO) promised to solve the problem and pay them within a week.
More news on NREGA and Jagruti’s activities to come!
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