Republic day message from AID volunteers

The Nuvem Gram Panchayat in South Goa had become a stronghold of vested interests. The “Panchayat” was secretive, opposed participation by women and was unresponsive to people’s concerns. The “Panchayat” was leveraged by a nexus of land dealers and politicians to perpetrate illegal and haphazard construction.

In November 2016, RTI on Wheels rolled into action. With their guidance, a local Active Citizens Group led by Ms. Sameera Mendoza used RTI (Right to Information) to expose nefarious activities and restore the Panchayat to the people for common good!

Such is the power of RTI on Wheels, an initiative led by the indomitable Ms. Pankti Jog (pictured below) and supported by AID since its infancy in 2007. To date, RTI on Wheels has traversed over 7,000,000 kms, visited over 50,200 villages in 12 states and helped about 1 million people!

On the 68th Republic day of India, your support for the initiatives like RTI on Wheels will help realize the dream of our Republic that was imbibed in the constitution on January 26, 1950.

— AID Volunteers

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Villagers Protect Panchayat Autonomy through RTI

Nuvem Grampanchayat could regain its autonomy with wise use of RTI by residents. This villages falls in Salcette block of South Goa district in Goa State, has a population of around 10,000 and just 30 km away from capital city Panaji. Village has very famous old church called Igreja Mãe dos Pobres (Mother of the Poor Church) and feast of this church is celebrated. With two colleges and sports activity spot Nuvem is now known as small town. Education ration over here is also high as compared to other rural parts of the state.

Education has empowered villages, especially women and they are actively taking interest in the Village Panchayat affairs. Many of them are in Local Village level Development committee, and are always keen to bring out innovative programmes and opportunities in Education, skill development and sports for villagers and residents from other localities also are largely benefited by the same.
However, “Women participation” in Panchayat activities was not received well by people with vested interest. Politicians and people from construction industries, land dealing started looking at them as “enemies”.

Mrs. Sameera Cardoz was one of the very active village residents, who started seeking information from Panchayat and government offices regarding development planning, implementation strategy, budget and expenses. She received partial information, and she came to know that there is a nexus between land dealers, (agents), and politicians, and they are using administration and Panchayat for their benefit, to promote illegal and haphazard construction at the cost of work related to local real issues like transportation, bridge, roads, etc.

When she demanded for the Gramsabha details, she observed that, most of the time the names of people who could not attend the gramsabha is also added, and new resolutions are inserted after the Gramsabha meeting. She represented to Panchayat department, but reply she got was to “Please approach appropriate court for justice”.

Panchayat and Gramsabha autonomy was compromised by such interference from the external agents/people. Also people, who were getting impacted by Active Citizen’s Group led by Sameera Cardoz, started influencing Panchayat to pass resolutions to ban their entries into Church, and right of using burial ground attached with Church. Unfortunately Church too was under the pressure of these powerful people.

During GOA RTI CAMPAIGN held in November 2016 in Goa, Samira Cardoz and her friends and other active citizens invited RTI on Wheels and organized special orientation programme near Salcette. Many active members from her village attended the orientation camp. They came to know the proper way of drafting RTI application and also techniques of using information into policy advocacy.

Mrs. Cardoz and her friends, made detailed representation to the Director Panchayat regarding illegal influence by external bodies on Panchayat and Gramsabha, at the same time used Mass RTI applications to questions the basis on which such resolution violating basic human rights of citizens were passed. People also sought information regarding who was present in the gramsabha, and their role in guiding the Gramsabha for legalities, powers and duties.

During Goa RTI Campaign, we also conducted training programmes with officials of key department like Police, Panchayat, BDOs etc. This case study was shared as example during the training highlighting major violation of Panchayati Raj Act, and autonomy of Gramsabha.
RTI on Wheels also conducted awareness drive giving information regarding their rights to seek certified copies and file notings of every decision taken by government related to local developmental issues.

Once these mal-practices are exposed, there was huge difference & Panchayat members started actually understanding their powers and duties. This resulted in a strong Panchayat body with meaningful participation in the decision making. False signature procedure has been stopped. Panchayat and Gramsabha could gain their autonomy. They could stop implementation of the illegal/false resolutions passed earlier like sale of common land, prohibition of “active group” from entering the premises of the church, and burial ground etc. However Sameer Cardoz and her group are not focusing on advocating with government to cancel these false resolutions and punish the guilty, so that such mal-practices are prevented in future.

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