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Law that powers rural justice

An illiterate woman forces the powerful village head to return the money that is rightfully hers, reports KS Tomar.

india Updated: Jan 15, 2007 01:30 IST
KS Tomar

An illiterate woman forces the powerful village head to return the money that is rightfully hers. He even admits in public that he had tried to cheat her. Sounds like Bollywood material, right? Well, the hero in this case is not a macho-man but the much-talked-about Right to Information (RTI) Act.

"Village sarpanch Gomand Ram had withdrawn Rs 17,500 from the office of the block development officer in my name by putting a false thumb impression. He showed that a house had been constructed under the Indira Awas Yojna and possession had been given to me," relates 50-year-old Panna Devi, of village Bhadla in Bikaner district.

An NGO working for social awareness helped Panna Devi. They got details of the houses built under Indira Awas Yojna from the block development officer, which showed that a house had been constructed for Panna, though it did not exist on ground.

A 'jatiya' (caste) panchayat was convened to discuss the issue, attended by about 50 elders. "Gomand Ram was given an opportunity to speak the truth before the panchayat, where he admitted to having withdrawn the money without the knowledge of Panna Devi and agreed to return it with interest," disclosed social activist Chanda Ram Sansi.

The sarpanch gave Panna Rs 20,000, though she had demanded Rs 23,000. Since he refuses to pay the balance, she has filed a case against him in the local court.

Gomand Ram said, "I admitted my mistake in front of the Jatiya Panchayat and decided to return the money to Panna Devi who can now construct her house herself."

There are other examples too. Daily wages earner Moola Ram Meghwal and eight others from Roda village in Nagaur district got justice through the RTI Act. They were being cheated by their contractor, who did not pay full wages to them.

Some social activists convinced them to fight against the injustice. They applied to the block development officer to get photocopies of the muster rolls, which exposed the contractor. It was revealed that Moola Ram and others were being paid full wages on paper but not in reality. "We got Rs 31,000 as a difference of the wages," Moola said.

Similar is the case of a rations dealer in the Himmatnagar village in Nokha Tehsil. He used to sell off the wheat meant for BPL category in the open market. The Nokha Residents Forum pressurized him to provide copies of the distribution register. Pushed into a corner, he not only gave up his dealership but also returned the difference of Rs 3.25 lakh that he owed to the villagers. The villagers spent the money to purchase equipment for the local health centre.

Email KS Tomar: ktomar@hindustantimes.com