PARIVARTAN, Fighting Corruption – India

Linked with Arvind Kejriwal – India, and with KABIR.org – India.

Parivartan fights for people’s right to information. Parivartan, initially started up to help people get their work done in government departments without having to pay bribes, continues its crusade to educate and help people assert their right to information

Parivartan, a voluntary organisation active in Delhi, started out as a people’s movement in June 2000, to provide relief to taxpayers from extortionist corruption in the income tax department. “The idea was to help people get their income tax refunds without paying bribes,” says Manish Sisodia Parivartan’s founder. Taxpayers in Delhi were instructed not to pay bribes but to approach Parivartan with their grievances. The organisation has so far resolved about 700 grievances and helped some 2,500 customers in the Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB).

Parivartan soon realised that although its role as troubleshooter provided immediate relief to people, it neither empowered citizens to resolve their grievances directly, nor helped bring about permanent systemic changes. The organisation began to use the Delhi Right to Information Act 2001 to resolve public grievances.

The Delhi Right to Information Act, which came into effect on October 2, 2001, empowers citizens to access government files by simply filling out a form and submitting it to the concerned department. However, implementing the law is the problem. The Delhi government, while promoting transparency on paper, has been customarily opaque in informing citizens about their rights under the legislation.

Parivartan has now taken the initiative to educate the public on how to use the Act to resolve their grievances and ensure transparency and accountability in governance. “We are motivating people to fight against the corrupt system,” says Sisodia.

A recent initiative in Sundernagari, a resettlement colony in Delhi, forced the Delhi Municipal Corporation (MCD) to account for money spent on civic assets. There are 11 blocks in Sundernagari, and seven in New Seemapuri. In each block, Parivartan workers sang songs and held meetings at street corners. People were told about the construction and repair work claimed to have been done by the MCD in their block, and the amount spent on each of them. It emerged that a number of projects hadn’t even begun, or that they were incomplete, or that their quality was sub-standard. The residents went on site visits to see for themselves lapses between what was written in the contracts and the reality.

On December 14, a public hearing (jansunwai) was organised in Sundernagari by Parivartan along with the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and the Mazdoor Kissan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) of Rajasthan to publicly discuss audited works. Almost a thousand people attended the meeting including local residents, journalists and eminent personalities. For the first time, the people felt that the government could be held accountable under full public scrutiny.

The contract for each project was read out and residents testified as to their current status. Of the 68 works audited, an estimation of the misappropriation of funds was done for 64 works. The total amount of misappropriation was approximately Rs 70 lakh. It was also revealed at the jansunwai that often it was not inadequate funds that impeded development but so-called `leakages’.

In one instance, the slum and jhuggi jhopdi department of the MCD began laying a street in the jhuggi area of Sundernagari, in late February 2003. The citizens noted that the sand being used in the construction was of poor quality. And, the cement was not being mixed in the right proportion. They stopped the work and informed Parivartan as well as the junior engineer at the MCD. The latter admitted the deficiencies and offered to rectify them. But the people insisted on disciplinary action against the MCD officials responsible.

About 30 people, along with Parivartan staff, went to the office of the executive engineer for the region and demanded the suspension of the junior engineer. The executive engineer assured them the engineer would be transferred, the material replaced and the lane redone. All three promises were carried out.

Parivartan’s next initiative was to look into the documents of ration shops in the Sundernagari area, following complaints from residents about foul play. Triveni, a poor woman, complained to Parivartan that whenever she visited the ration shop the shopkeeper would always say “No stock”. She had not been given her rice entitlements for a number of months.

The public grievance commission directed the Delhi food and civil supplies department to make available the records of all 18 ration shops in Sundernagari, over four months, to Parivartan. However, on an application moved by the ration shopkeepers of Sundernagari, the Delhi High Court put a stay on the disclosure of the records, on July 22. No proper reasons were given.

The present system of secrecy breeds corruption. Parivartan has been demanding transparency in the operation of the Public Distribution System (PDS). Representatives from the organisation have met Delhi chief minister, Sheila Dixit, who in turn has asked the food commissioner to show her the records to ascertain the facts. One of the options with the government is to file for a vacation of the stay.

However, Sisodia says: “Our system does not have any law to enforce accountability so even if we get people apprehended, chances are no action will be taken against them. It is tantamount to encouraging corruption. We need more like-minded people to fight this scourge.”

Contact:Parivartan, E-109, Indraprastha Building, Pandav Nagar, Delhi 92, Tel: (011) 22063389, 22064281. Email one; email two.

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