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RTI powers change in Chhattisgarh villages

For the two villages that had fallen off the development map and were infamous for their violent conflicts, it's been an impressive turnaround.

india Updated: Jul 23, 2010 00:39 IST
Ejaz Kaiser
Ejaz Kaiser
Hindustan Times

For the two villages that had fallen off the development map and were infamous for their violent conflicts, it's been an impressive turnaround.

Taking the help of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, a determined group of youngsters have changed the negative narrative of Moch, a two-village panchayat in Chhattisgarh's Bilaspur district, into a positive script — greater political accountability, transparency and social change.

Earlier, elected officials avoided the area.

"The conflicts and clashes, mostly caste-based and political, were so frequent that the administration was forced to set up a police chowki here," said Shiva Dhruve (35), a resident of Moch, the larger of the two villages, around 140 km east of Raipur.

The light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel came in the form of a campaign by the NGO Chhattisgarh Citizens' Initiative.

"After participating in their campaign, we geared up to draft a development agenda for our village," said Dhrup Prasad (32), one of the RTI volunteers.

Initially, there was resistance to change.

"Our panchayat's bad image followed us. Our pleas were seldom heard by ministers or officials — till we began filing RTI applications," said Janki Kashyap (37), a member of a self-help group that serves mid-day meals to schools in the villages.

"Everyone listens now," she added.

The volunteers slowly gained the trust of the villagers as their problems were addressed. RTI applications came in handy when faced with official apathy.

A drive to end social disputes also began.

During the panchayat elections in January, the RTI volunteers compiled a development pact, listing issues faced by the villagers after discussions with them. Appeals were made to candidates to sign it as part of their declarations to fulfil after winning.

Not everyone obliged. But the voters made it clear whose side they were on, electing 18 candidates of the 20 who signed the pact.

Of them, 14 winners, including 28-year-old Rameshwari, who was elected sarpanch, were RTI volunteers.

Leading by example, Rameshwari set up an RTI centre at her home.

"You name any welfare or development scheme — villagers are no longer deprived," said Prateek Pandey, convener of the Chhattisgarh Citizens' Initiative.

"Villagers are making the system accountable," said J.D. Madawi, manager at a local bank. "Any delay in their payment under the welfare programme is inquired'.

The villages' example has stirred the administration into informing the panychyat about the various schemes that will benefit it.

And thanks to the determination of a few brave Moch residents, other panchayats will also get such information now.

First Published: Jul 23, 2010 00:36 IST