“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” These words by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh find a deep resonance in our lives, irrespective of the phase.
One such initiative, based on effective dissemination of information, is the Citizen Information and Support Center (CISC), operating in Nuh block, Haryana, under the aegis of Sehgal Foundation’s good rural governance work. This initiative provides rural citizens with training on various rights and entitlements.
Sabir Mohammed, coordinator, CISC, joined the foundation in 2014. He talks passionately about his work, not because it is what he does, but because he finds deep satisfaction in it. “I receive, on an average, 60-65 calls per day, on a wide variety of subjects, the most common being related to pensions. Besides this, there is a steady flow of people, who visit the office seeking help filling up forms or asking for in-depth information. At the end of the day, when we leave for home, we are physically and mentally tired, but genuinely satisfied on having made a significant impact on someone’s life.”
“A never-say-die attitude is all you need to get your work done”, says Niyaz Mohammad, age 65, a resident of village Kairaka, Nuh district, Haryana. Though Niyaz has reached an age when many people retire from work, his circumstances haven’t allowed him to do that. He lives in the Baiyah mohalla (neighborhood) named after people who migrated from Bai village in Nuh district, many years ago, to settle in Kairaka.
Niyaz has five children. Two unmarried sons relocated to a nearby state for labor work, and two of his three daughters are married. Income sources for his family include seasonal labor, his old age pension, and a meagre amount that his kids send him for sustenance. Like many others in the village, Niyaz had a below poverty line (BPL) card that enabled his household to receive subsidized food grains through the public distribution system (PDS) under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) enacted by the Indian government in 2013.
The list of entitled households under the scheme is reviewed at periodic intervals. With multiple stakeholders at play, corruption and false reporting are common. Niyaz became a victim of false reporting in the survey conducted in 2011 that led to the cancellation of his BPL card. He was not aware of this until he went to the ration shop to get his share of food grains. Since that time, Niyaz has tried everything he can think of to get his BPL status reinstated.
He finally learned about the Citizen Information and Support Center (CISC), operating in Nuh block. Niyaz called the CISC with great hope, and he wasn’t let down. The CISC helped him lodge a complaint at the CM Window, a simple and user-friendly one-stop complaint site for citizens’ grievance redressal. These sites are located in all district headquarters of the state. CISC staff was with Niyaz at each step of his fight to redress his grievance. When he received a call from the CM Window office, asking if his problem was addressed appropriately, the administration at the ADC office was activated, and the process of issuing a new BPL card was initiated.
Sabir says that though they are many success stories, tracking them, though, is a challenge. “We usually rely on feedbacks received from visitors who come to the office, repeat callers or actual on-site evaluation carried by us.”
He talks about another success story:”Fajruddin had wedded his daughters into families settled in Rajasthan. However, as he began hearing episodes of ill-treatment and dowry, the distressed father didn’t leave a stone unturned in order to seek justice; unfortunately, to no avail. He then heard about CISC and approached us; we helped his daughter file an application which was then sent to the Mahila (women) Protection Officer, after which the girl’s in-laws and husband were summoned, questioned and reprimanded. Since then, his daughter is not facing any problem. It is stories like these, which encourage us to propagate the cause of generating awareness.”
Sonkh in Nuh block, Nuh, Haryana, is a village with a population of about 3000. Here, a large number of poor live without basic services. Farida lives in this village and earns her livelihood by working in a brick kiln. Being poor, she is entitled to a free gas connection under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. Despite filling-up the form and attaching relevant documents, she could not avail the connection even after three months of follow-up.
The same was the case with some of her fellow-workers.
On one occasion, Farida attended a community meeting being organized by Kusum, a field team member of the Sehgal Foundation. She, along with eight women, asked Kusum for help. Kusum checked the list of gas connections in Sonkh village, found the names of Farida and the other women on the gas connection list, and contact the gas connection agency. However, the gas agency continued to refuse to give them a gas connection. Kusum guided Farida to call the toll free help line number of Sehgal Foundation.
The facilitator at the toll free help line number guided Farida to file a complaint at the CM Window. Within a week, officials from the district administration started following-up on the complaint and soon after the gas connection was provided. Other cocnerned fellow-workers received their respective gas connections too. All these women now save a lot of time and energy, which was, otherwise, spent collecting firewood for cooking purposes.
Awareness is an integral part of good governance, a role which every citizen is entitled to. Good rural governance provides individual citizens and the leaders of village-level institutions with knowledge, skills, and confidence to become informed active self-advocates for the development of their communities.
Till date more than 13,000, 22,500 callers have used the CISC help line, a figure which is witnessing a steady climb.
As the quote goes: an aware citizen is an empowered citizen. Indeed! Anyone can reach the toll free number at : 180030003182 .