Jansunwai: Showcasing grass roots democracy

IN Media Practice | 01/01/1900

Parivartan`s campaign triggered a demand within the community for a platform through which collective action could be taken against this injustice. With the MKSS`s past experience of holding a jansunwai  having proved useful, it was decided to hold a similar gathering.

People participated in large numbers in the December jansunwai. The contract for each work was read out and people were asked to testify on the execution of each inDIVidual project. Most people, especially the women, spoke fearlessly. The meeting had a tremendous effect on the morale and perceptions of the people of Sundernagari and Seemapuri. For the first time felt greatly empowered; they saw that the government could be held accountable under full public scrutiny. Before the jansunwai, the public would hold the government officials like Executive Engineers (EXEN) and political representatives like MLAs in great awe but now they realised that it was the public who were the true masters.

At a practical level, Mohalla Samitis (Local Area Committees) with representatives from each street for each block in Sundernagari were formed. It was the job of the samitis to assess the requirements of their blocks and communicate this need to the government, so that public funds were not wasted. More importantly, the samitis were to monitor the execution of all civil works; they also had the authority to prevent a work from starting till its contract was made public. This had a constructive effect.  

" The re-laying of a road in F-1 block, Sundernagari, had begun in January 2003. But till the details of the contract were made public, the residents stopped the work from taking pace. Subsequently, the assistant engineer (AE) visited the area and read out the specific contract details. Residents were informed that 58 drums of bitumen, two truckloads of red sand and two truckloads of stone were supposed to have been used in this project. Equipped with this information, the public made sure that this amount of material was used. Resultantly, the quality of road that was made was far better than those made previously in Sundernagari.
" A new street was being laid in E-57 block. The residents of the area saw that ordinary sand was being used instead of the stipulated coarse sand. They also knew that the cement, which should have been mixed with sand in a certain proportion, was not being followed by the contractor. The people immediately stopped the work and the contractor and the junior engineer (JE) were summoned. Both of them apologized and offered to replace the material but the residents wanted more stern action. About 30 people went and met the executive engineer (EXEN) and demanded that the JE be suspended immediately. Ultimately the residents offered to pardon the JE if he was transferred out of this area; if copies of the contract were made available to the public and, finally, if the work would take place under public supervision. The EXEN immediately agreed. The entire material was replaced; the work took place under community supervision but unfortunately the EXEN refused to transfer the JE.

Block Administration:
Initially, MCD engineers in the local DIVision placed a number of obstacles in providing information sought under the Right to Information Act. It took nearly four months of perseverance by Parivartan workers to access data. Till a few days before the hearing, Parivartan even tried to obtain comments from MCD engineers on the deficiencies found in projects but even that proved impossible.

However after the jansunwai, there was a marked difference in the attitude of officials towards the public. Now they were far more responsive and respectful in their dealings with the public; they also made an effort to act on a reported grievance. Wherever required the EXEN visited the effected site; and when the public stopped a work and demanded to have a copy of the contract, he would send his officials who would then publicly read out the contract. Officials also appeared to be scared of the consequences of the shoddy work executed by them, as they knew that a detailed report of the social audit had already been presented to the government. They knew that the Central Bureau of Investigation too, was making initial enquiries.

Delhi Administration:
After the jansunwai a number of MLAs met the Chief Minister (CM) of Delhi and requested her to prevent another one from taking place. They told her that such gatherings would adversely affect their electoral prospects. They also, incorrectly, informed her that local residents did not attend the jansunwai but that people from other states had been brought in trucks. They also said that people who spoke at the gathering belonged to political parties who sat in the opposition.

Later, to set the record straight Parivartan workers met the CM who reacted very positively. She promised an enquiry into any inconsistencies and assured the NGO that she would study the recommendations made by Parivartan for systemic changes and implement whichever were possible. Since then the following four recommendations have been accepted by the MCD and orders have been issued for their implementation. Parivartan has been trying to obtain copies of these orders which stated that:

1. A board giving basic information was to be displayed at the site of every work.
2. A list of all works completed in the last one month was to be displayed on the notice boards of all DIVision offices.
3. Details of all ongoing works in an area were to be pasted on the walls of the MCD stores located in that area.
4. Files containing old contracts were to be placed in MCD stores which the public could inspect at any time.

Local Politicians:
Even as Parivartan was holding street corner meetings the local MLA had started holding parallel meetings during which the NGO was strongly criticized. He publicly alleged that Parivartan had demanded Rs 3 lakh from him and because he could not meet this demand, they were tarnishing his image. This was a blatant lie. Not only had Parivartan never met the MLA till then, it had never criticized him or his party in any public meeting. Slowly, these allegations started taking the shape of threats. Some people informed Parivartan that there were plans to get its workers kidnapped or to get them hauled up by the police on some false charges. However, nothing happened.  Pressures not to associate themselves with Parivartan were also brought about on local people who were supporting the NGO.
It was two days before the jansunwai that Parivartan workers had their first meeting with the local MLA when they went to invite him to attend the meeting. He immediately started shouting saying that Parivartan was an organization of touts that extorted money from various officials. Questioning the source of funds of Parivartan, the MLA threatened he would not allow the jansunwai to take place.  Parivartan`s workers politely told him that holding a jansunwai was their democratic right. They also said that if he had any questions about the working of Parivartan or it`s funding, it was open to any kind of public scrutiny at any time. Ultimately he agreed to attend.

At the jansunwai , the MLA came with about 40 of his supporters who tried to disrupt the meeting. But support was so overwhelming that when the MLA`s followers tried to disrupt the meeting a third time, the entire public was up on its feet. Before anything could happen the MLA left with all his supporters.

Two months later, Parivartan received a call from the MLA`s office saying that he wished to have dinner with its workers. Ultimately, ten people reached the MLA`s office at 6.00 p.m. He started by saying that Parivartan had spoiled his political career. Since elections were taking place shortly, he asked that Parivartan to leave his area for the next six months. If he won the elections he said he would implement whatever steps the NGO suggested. In response, Parivartan workers said that they had never criticized him or his party. The people had only one demand: that a copy of the contract of works should be made public and distributed in the community before any new civil work began. If he agreed to this demand, Parivartan worker said that they would go to the public themselves praising the MLA. However, he refused.

According to the MLA about Rs 2.5 crore worth of works was lying pending in Sundernagari as no contractor was willing to do the job. The contractors said that wherever they went people wouldn`t let the work begin till they were given a copy of the contract. The MLA said the contractors weren`t willing to make the contract public till the work was over, as this would affect their profit margins. He agreed that contractors were corrupt but he said if all the works were stopped by the people the entire money would lapse; and that would be a greater loss to the community. However, this was not acceptable to Parivartan or the locals.

For the next one month the people of Sundernagari stopped almost every work till its details were made available. Ultimately, in the last week of March, the MLA`s brother came to the Parivartan office. He said that the contracts would be made available to the public but only through the MLA`s workers not by people associated with Parivartan to which the NGO had no objections.

Before the jansunwai took place held, some contractors physically threatened Parivartan workers. Interestingly, one contractor actually revealed details on camera. He confessed how he had swindled money from various projects. He gave specific information on the amounts of bribes paid by him to officials. He said that his motive of confessing was to get unscrupulous officials, who forced honest contractors to become corrupt, sent behind bars.

Parivartan, E-109, Pandav Nagar, Delhi-92. Ph: 91-11-55254077. E-mail: parivartan@parivartan.com

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