Aamchi LOK SATTA!
LEADING citizens of Maharashtra have come together and started the LOK SATTA Maharashtra Chapter. Their office, located on Sussex Road, Byculla (Mumbai), was formally inaugurated on the 18th April. Surendra Srivastava welcomed the members and guests to this opening ceremony and the first meeting of the Lok Satta Maharashtra Chapter. The Chapter has appointed Anant Shende as the coordinator of the Maharashtra Lok Satta Chapter and Suresh Nandawat to administer the day-to-day functioning of the Mumbai office. The Chapter also requested Rohinton Dumasia and Mayank Gandhi to oversee the infrastructure and technological work for the new office.
The out station participants included leading figures of VOTEINDIA: Dr. JP, Fattechand Virani (Ahmedabad), Koushik Sekhar (Pune), Sandeep Verma (New Delhi). Dr JP, in his remarks, broadly outlined the strategy adopted by Lok Satta to bring about the desired changes in the governance of the country in order to improve the quality of life of the Indian citizens and particularly that of the common man. He emphasised that the movement started by Lok Satta can assume national proportions only if Maharashtra and in particular, Mumbai, provided the necessary leadership. In his opinion, Mumbai was best suited to adopt this role of providing national leadership to the movement because of the unique environment provided by Mumbai that can effectively mobilise national opinion.
Apart from leading the VOTEINDIA Campaign in the Maharashtra region, the Mumbai Chapter proposes to take up initiatives on:
[a] the reforms in Public Distribution System (PDS)
[b] the procedural reforms required in Excise and Service Tax department in order to eliminate repetitive visits to the department, multiple form filling, and other forms of harassment, without causing loss of revenue to the Government
[c] introducing citizen participation in the functioning of the Mumbai MunicipalCorporation The methodology would be: - [a] to set up a Research Team for exploring a "model system" [b] to formulate a plan of action to bring about the necessary changes in the system so that it conforms to the 'Model System' [c] help create partnership between all stakeholders, educate and inform people about "model system", mobilise their support and then devise ways and means to ensure that the opinions and the voices of the people are heard by those in power and authority to bring about the necessary changes [d] to monitor whether the changes are being introduced, how effectively they are being implemented and whether the changes are, in fact, brought about.
Following the formal opening of Mumbai Chapter, a group of 30 committed volunteers met on the April 24th to chalk out the action plan for the above activities for the coming 6-8 months.
(i) the EWRs are relatively inexperienced in governance and administration and face low levels of capacity and confidence, both feeding on the other
(ii) in AP, the local governments themselves are not adequately empowered vis-à-vis funds, functions and functionaries so the leaders find it extremely challenging to fulfill their mandated duties. To remedy this situation, Lok Satta, in active collaboration with the Singamma Sreenivasan Foundation (SSF, based in Bangalore), has been heading an effort towards building the capacity and confidence of EWRs in Andhra Pradesh. This effort also forms a key part of the broader movement towards the empowerment of local governments in the state. Formal federation of EWRs in several districts has been carried out as a part of this exercise, over the past three years. April 3rd, witnessed the culmination of the amalgamating phase of the effort when nearly 400 current and former EWRs from across the state convened at the Jeevan Jyothi Center in Hyderabad to form the AP State Federation of EWRs in Local Governments. These EWRs represented village panchayats, mandal parishads, zilla parishads as well as municipalities. The participants were from diverse social groups (including dalits and backward classes) and religions.
This meeting gained wide coverage in the state's print and electronic media for the unambiguous and strong message its participants sent to the state establishment on the need for immediate devolution of powers to the local governments and for providing the elected women with equal opportunities. The EWRs confidently asserted themselves and even put one of the main guests, JC Diwakar Reddy (State Minister for Panchayat Raj) on the mat when he in his address had questioned if local governments were 'capable enough' to handle the full and immediate devolution of the mandated powers. The EWRs almost immediately, unequivocally and unanimously raised the point that it would be fallacious for the minister to question the performance/ability of the local elected representatives even as local governments are being denied their constitutionally mandated powers. Every single EWR, including those from the remotest villages and mandals, expressed confidence in serving their constituents better - provided the local governments are adequately empowered.
VS Ramadevi (former Governor of Karnataka) was the chief guest at the convention. In her address to the EWRs she traced the history of the 73rd/74th amendments and narrated how serious challenges to this progressive step arose even from the national-level (male) political leaders. Dr. JP too reminded the EWRs that their empowerment is only a means for the delivery of better governance and administration in the villages, towns and cities of AP. The April 3rd Convention was preceded by and is being followed by series of training programs, capacity-building workshops and field level activities involving the EWRs, Lok Satta and SSF.
advances must reach farmers'
THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently formed a Study Committee to investigate the causative factors behind the agri sector crisis in AP, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Punjab and study the spate of suicides by farmers in the past few years. Venkaiah Naidu (former Party President and ex-Union Rural Development Minister) is the chairperson of this Committee, with Yashwant Sinha (former Union Finance Minister), Yeduriappa (Leader of Opposition in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly) and Sudheendra Kulkarni (who served as Director of Communications & Research to former PM Vajpayee) as members. They visited AP on April 13th and 14th to learn the views of representatives of farmers associations, experts and Lok Satta leaders.
The Lok Satta delegation emphasized the need to coordinate agricultural research with the needs of the ordinary farmers. Balanced usage of pesticides and fertilizers, improving yields by better varieties, addressing the zinc deficiency in soils, watershed development, etc. were the other main points discussed during the meeting. Lok Satta also pointed out that agricultural extension machinery has virtually collapsed due to the indifferent attitude of successive governments. As a result, farmers are no longer being guided on the proper usage of pesticides, fertilizers and water management and this has led to increased investments without appropriate increase in returns. The delegation recommended that banks provide loans to farmers for post-harvest storage and management so that they are not compelled to sell at prices dictated by traders. Strengthening the institutional rural credit mechanism, promoting agro-based industries so that value-addition can be provided to farm produce and the removal of restrictions on inter-state trading were also emphasized upon.
Dr. JP led the Lok Satta delegation, with DVVS Varma (State Campaign Coordinator), B Ankaiah (General Secretary), MBNVV Prasad (Treasurer), G. Janakiramaraju (Coordination Committee Member), Vijayender Reddy and Dr. Prabhakar Reddy as members. BJP leaders B. Dattatreya and Seshagiri Rao also participated in the meeting.
EVENTS, NEWS & UPDATES
6,510-crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) launched
On April 12th, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoH&FW) unveiled the most comprehensive and largest national rural health programme till date. Key features of this NRHM include: (a) Decentralization of health care to the village and district level with the creation of district health funds (b) Training of over 400,000 health volunteers (the Mission terms them 'Accredited Social Health Activists'), as a vast majority of the routine health complaints can be successfully treated by such trained paramedics (c) Primary Healthcare Centers to become the first referral units (d) The Phase I of this Mission covers 18 of the most backward states in the northern and northeastern India.; phase II of NRHM will begin in 2006 and will cover the rest of India.
NRHM is one major step towards providing accessible primary health care to every Indian, especially the rural and poor. Following the Prime Minister's invitation, Lok Satta is now a member of the Steering Group and is assisting in the oversight and implementation of this Mission.
F LA S H N E W S!
(May 12, 2005. 'VOTEINDIA News Service') As this newsletter is getting ready, reports have started coming in that both houses of the Parliament have passed a comprehensive Right to Information Bill. It promises to usher in a new era of governance by creating the architecture for simple, easy and inexpensive access to information by all citizens. Significantly, civil servants face stringent penalties in case of delay or failure in providing the requested information. Further, it imposes obligations on governmental agencies to disclose information suo motu (i.e. on their own accord). This comprehensive law covers all governments at the local, state and union levels.
In his address to the Lok Sabha, the Prime Minister lauded the leading contributions made by the NAC in achieving this milestone. The NAC members contributed towards making the right to information a reality - both at the drafting stage in the NAC and during the hearings before the Parliamentary Standing Committee (chaired by Rajya Sabha MP Natchiappan).
The National Advisory Council (NAC) will be meeting on the June 4th in New Delhi. It will deliberate on judicial reforms in India. The creation of National Judicial Council and an All India Judicial Service along with the establishment of local courts for speedy delivery of justice will be discussed.
National Core Group of VOTEINDIA will be meeting on the June 5th in Hyderabad to discuss the progress and future of the Communication Campaign of the National Campaign for Political Reforms.
The Lok Satta Coordination Committee meeting will be held in Hyderabad on the June 11, 12 to evaluate and plan the VOTEINDIA campaign in Andhra Pradesh.
in our indirect taxation structure are highly complicated, unfriendly
to the citizens and create room for corruption. Some studies even
estimate that basic procedural reforms in the indirect taxation
setup, alone, could improve the growth rate of our economy by nearly
one percent. VOTEINDIA has taken up a national initiative towards
improving transparency and bringing in citizen friendly reforms
in indirect taxation, in collaboration with the Central Vigilance
Commission (CVC) and the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC).
Public hearing will be held with the CVC, CBEC and the Industry,
with VOTEINDIA partners as moderators. The first workshop will be
held in Hyderabad on the June 15, 16. Senior officials of the Union
Finance Ministry will also be involved. Lok Satta Maharashtra Chapter
will hold the second workshop in Mumbai, about a week later. Other
major cities will follow suit.