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Putting people first

A state level convention organised at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) yesterday, threw light on various aspects of community accountability and participatory grievance redressal systems

What do you do when you are denied basic social services? How do you address such problems? What is the role of grievance redressal systems and community monitoring committees? To answer these questions, and much more, a group of eminent social activists had come together at a state level convention organised at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences(TISS) in Deonar yesterday. More than 200 participants including delegates from various Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other local bodies attended the event. During a panel discussion, social activist Medha Patkar highlighted the importance of community participation, "Government should take decisions by first consulting community members, who will be directly affected by these decisions.


Discussion: (From left) Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Medha Patkar, Dr Abhay
Shukla and Sowmya Kidambi addressing the media.
Pics/ Sayed Sameer Abedi


There is no need for any foreign institution to take part in the decision making process. A community monitoring committee at various wards should be in place. Such committees should participate at all levels -- planning, implementation as well as monitoring of various projects," said Patkar.

Participation
To ensure that a community monitoring committee is effective, the committee members should have representatives from various organisations. "A community monitoring committee will have members of NGOs, local bodies, civil society, corporators, etcetera. Only then can it function effectively," said Dr Abhay Shukla, one of the panellists, who is also a member of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) Advisory Group for Community Action. Speakers emphasised the importance of a decentralised system to ensure that problems are addressed and solved quickly. Sowmya Kidambi, Director of Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency, said, "The decentralised system ensures that solution to a problem is delivered quickly. This system of grievance mechanism should be time bound." The panelists also pushed for a participatory grievance redressal system and stated that, 'it is extremely important for people and grassroots organisations to directly participate in the grievance redressal process, and also hold the grievance redressal mechanism accountable in a direct, lively and real manner, not justĀ  as an abstract principle. The grievance redressal mechanism should be 'socialised' instead of only being individual centric'.


Making a point: Social activist, Medha Patkar interacts with the audience
at a convention organised at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences


Decentralised
Activist Aruna Roy also emphasised for a decentralised structure of the grievance redressal system. Said Roy, "The government redressal bill is seriously compromised. There are serious loopholes, which need to be addressed. There is a need for a single window facilitation centre. In case 20 people have a collective problem, then they themselves can form a committee and approach the authorities concerned to sought out the issue." On monitoring bodies, Roy said, "Until now monitoring bodies existed at various levels but they existed only on paper or remained inactive. This was mainly due to the lack of political will. Hence, now is the need for a citizen based monitoring committee." Kidambi elaborated on the importance of public hearing, "where a facilitated dialogue should be organised between the complainant and the concerned public functionary, which would allow both the parties to present their versions." Calling for greater transparency and accountability, she said, "all government organisations should update information on a public domain. First, information must be made available to people, only then can they act on it." Another point raised by the panel was the lack of compensation to complainants in the government's grievance redressal bill. Said Nikhil Dey, a social activist, "Compensations are important to encourage complainants to pursue their complaints. A penalty is not a substitute for it. A penalty is more of a punishment for an official. The complainant will get nothing out of it." The panel members concluded that the work of the grievance redressal cell too should be evaluated from time to time.

Other highlights
The convention at the TISS was a two-day event. On November 22, various sessions were held to discuss challenges in the health sector. During one of the sessions yesterday, Soheb Lokhandwala who works for Movement for Peace and Justice, Maharashtra, a NGO, spoke on food security issues as well as ineffectiveness of the Public Distribution Systems (PDS) in cities. "It is not just in villages, malnutrition is a problem in urban areas also." He further added, "People living in the cities should use Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to ask for their rights. This is a strong weapon, which is at their disposal."

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