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HT: Movement against corruption gaining momentum

Hindustan Times, March 3, 1997

CHAMIALA (Tehri Garhwal), March 3 (From Amitabh Shukla) A movement at the village and block level against corruption, pilferage of funds and the right to information is slowly picking momentum in the villages in and around Chamiala in Tehri Garhwal district of Uttar Pradesh.

Supported by common villagers, the movement called Chetna Andolan (Awareness movement) demands transparency in fund allocation for the villages under different rural development schemes of the Government.

Brainchild of Mr Trepan Singh Chanhan, a social activist who was earlier associated with the ‘Chipko Andolan’, led by Mr Sundar Lal Bahuguna and then with other causes related to environment in Tehri district, the genesis of ‘Chetna Andolan’ dates back to 1995 when the youth gathered to debate and discuss their experience of development.

They started raising questions in their respective Gram Sabhas, demanding full details of development related expenditure mainly in schemes like Jawahar Rozgar Yojna (JRY) and Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS) and consequently found large-scale pilferage of funds.

In his village Kepars, Mr Chauhan led the people in exposing fraud and irregularity in administration of development funds. Similarly in Dhansani village, another youth Mr Jhoom Singh Jhakedi mobilised people and succeeded in forcing the sarpanch of the village to return to the gram sabha embezzled amounts to the tune of Rs two lakh.

The activists mobilised not only women but all sections of the society in Bhilangana block. They also organised a number of khula manch (people’s hearings) in which the villagers raised uncomfortable questions demanding transparency and other irregularities.

The khula manch, organised last week, laid emphasis on the need for struggle for information, for the right to know how development is being administered and demanded transparency and accountability in administration. Women from distant villages, some 20 km away from Inter College, Lata village, carrying placards denouncing corruption and demanding transparency, assembled and expressed their views and voiced their demands. The speakers, mainly common villagers repeatedly stressed the need and legitimacy of social adult of development.

Ms Aruna Roy of the National Campaign for People’s Right of Information said that the real need today is for accountable administration. ”The common people have to know their rights and force the bureaucracy to change its lackadaisical approach and corrupt practices,” she said.

Similiarly Mr Sundar Lal Bahuguna, leader of the Chipko Movement who is now leading a campaign against the Tehri dam, supported the demands of the ‘Chetna Andolan’ and linked it to the rights of those affected by the construction of the Tehri dam. Mr Bahuguna sat throughout the deliberations and also broke his ‘maun vrat’ (silent fast) to air his views and support the cause of Chena Andolan. Speaking to the newspersons, Mr Chauhan said that the funds which are meant for the people should be used only for them and there should be total transparency and involvement of the people in the disbursement of developmental funds.

He narrated his experience of the struggle against corrupt officials and the harassment, including slapping of false cases against the activists by the officials in collusion with the vested interests. He also spoke about the expansion of the movement to the far-flung villages and the election of 35 gram sabha heads supported by the Chetna Andolan in the Bhilangana block of Tehri Garhwal district.

Interestingly, no bureaucrat or Government official turned up for the ‘khula manch’ despite repeated pleas and invitation from the activists.