Villagers throng the Panchayat Bhavan at Neori in Ranchi on Sunday to submit their complaints at the public hearing. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Thousands of cases of outright graft, miscarriage of justice or simply miscommunication emerged at the first ever rural public hearing conducted by Transparency International India (TII) on Sunday at Neori in Kanke block, 12km from the capital.
Transparency International, headquartered at Berlin, Germany, operates out of 70 national chapters and has an office on Kanke Road in Ranchi. Its public hearings enable people to submit their complaints, which the NGO then sorts out and submits before relevant government departments.
So far confined to city public hearings, the NGO chose a rural venue for the first time. The move was hugely rewarding as more than 3,000 people from Kanke block turned up, with over 2,500 applications that they submitted with supporting documents, filling two large cartons.
Grouses were related to the public distribution system (PDS), BPL or lal cards, ration cards, schemes such as Indira Awas Yojana, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, old age and widow pensions.
“This is the first time that we held a public hearing in any village. We are surprised at the large number of grievances. But it is only fair to point out that nearly 40 per cent of them may get rejected after scrutiny as they might not be related to corruption,” said TII director Rama Nath Jha, who came from New Delhi to attend the hearing.
But it was obvious that people like Balmuni Devi, an elderly widow from Chandwe village near Neori, came with high hopes that they would at last get heard.
“I am not getting my widow’s pension even though my husband died over six years ago. Women who became widows after me are getting pension. Why is this?” asked the 65-year-old Devi.
Echoing her were Meena Devi (60) and Saira Nissa (62), also widows from Chandwe. “We have come for our rights,” they said in unison.
Shiv Charan Baraik, a daily construction labourer in Neori, said he did not get subsidised food grain despite having a ration card.
“I have not received food grain under PDS for the past 10 months. Whenever I visit the PDS shop I am told my name has been struck off from the BPL list. I have made rounds of panchayat offices but in vain,” said Baraik.
Labourer Md Habib-ul Ansari added that his name was also arbitrarily struck off from the BPL list four years ago.
“I am running around offices for four years to get my name back on the list. This (public hearing) is my last hope,” he said.
Instances of mismanagement related to the Centre’s flagship MGNREGS also came to the public hearing.
“Under MGNREGS, the administration got wells dug for beneficiaries in their lands. But, people are complaining that they didn’t get the entire money,” said Sudesh Oraon, the panchayat samiti chief or pramukh of Kanke block.
People painstakingly filled in applications with their grievances from 10am to 3pm and placed them in the TII cartons.
“Their task is over. Now, it is our job. We will go through each application, screen relevant ones and sort them according to the issues. We will hold more public hearings in Ranchi and Hazaribagh in the near future,” Jha said.
Do public hearings work better than individual petitions?