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Archive for the ‘Feet on the ground’ Category

Make an umbrella or build a boat?

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The monsoon rains in most parts of India arrived late and in many places has been pouring so much that it has led to large scale flooding – initially it was parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra, now in UP and in Bihar.

But more than the rains unleashed by the late monsoon this year, civil society in the country has been bearing one assault after another from none other than the ruling establishment for a few years now. The Govt. of India  has decided that its energy is best used to curtail and restrict the activities of organizations, individuals and communities however legal and/or humanitarian they might have been; that there should be those with full rights and those who shall remain at the mercy of the mob; that there is no need to heed to laws, constitutional norms, or legal precedent; that any right or freedom is subject to the person’s perceived patriotism (perceived because, a mob does not ask questions before unleashing violence).

The Govt of India laid siege on Kashmir, through a revised List of Business on the last day of the parliamentary session, de-operationalized Article 370 and 35A, converted a state with a special status in the Indian Constitution into two union territories, and all this without even a charade of consulting the people of that land. Sitting MPs, MLAs, former Chief Ministers, political leaders of all hues have been illegally detained for almost two months now. And the Supreme Court, in its supreme wisdom, has pushed aside Habeas Corpus petitions with a we don’t have the time to hear them ! An undeclared emergency has been imposed in Kashmir. People raising their voice in support of Kashmir in other parts of the country, barring a few exceptions, are threatened by ideologues while the police and the administration either look away or stand with those issuing the threats!

So as we celebrate the 150th birthday of MK Gandhi the apostle of peace mkg_drawingit is quite logical that we step forward to understand and embrace non violent protests in the form of a satyagraha. And given that it is now 2019, a cyber satyagraha is that much more appropriate.

Since the night of Aug 4th/5th communication for millions of people in the Kashmir valley has been cut off. 58 days Kashmiris have been cut off from the internet, from each other and the rest of the world. As part of the cyber-satyagraha, I shall be cutting myself off from the internet and all telephone (mobile and landline connections) from 10 AM to 10 PM on Oct 2nd 2019. I shall be joining others at different events in Bengaluru to express my dissent and to hear from those being oppressed by our govt. in our name. I shall also be writing about my experience after completing my satyagraha.

If you also feel what is happening in Kashmir is not correct, raise your voice !

बोल के लब आज़ाद है तेरे
Speak, for your lips are still free
ಮಾತಾಡು, ನಿನ್ನ ತುಟಿಗಳನ್ನಾರೂ ಸೆರೆ ಹಾಕಿಲ್ಲಾ

Written by Dwiji

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019 at 04:01

On planning. executing. responding.

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The idea of removing large value currency due to large scale counterfeiting is a good thing. I also agree that it is important to make it a surprise move. The logistics of the currency exchange in a country with a population and geography as India is a big challenge that almost no one has dared to undertake in the recent past. So irrespective of the merits of the exercise, kudos to the powers that are for taking on a challenge that most would have shied away from.

The first impact of any news among people living on the edge is almost always the same – panic. This is true not just in rural India, it is true even for the most urban communities of the most developed countries (think reactions to news of terrorist attacks, storms, hurricanes, etc.). And when the currency exchange bomb was dropped, the response was no different. People were scampering from pillar to post to convert the few 500 and 1000 rupee notes they have to the new/fresh currency. And they still are, even after a week.

Most day to day needs would cost around 100 to 200 rupees (thankfully!!). So what does one do with the new 2000 rupee notes when nobody is ready to part with the few smaller denomination currencies they have? So now they are scampering around for new currencies of the large denominations AND for smaller denomination older currencies.

A few simple questions about the implementation of the currency exchange policy. Not whether the currency exchange is warranted; Not Whether it will achieve its objectives. Just on Planning. Execution. Responding. :

  1. When you are rolling back 500 and 1000 rupee notes, would you not want to make sure that the smaller value new currency reaches the people first rather than the larger value one?
  2. When you are planning a roll back of the 500 and 1000 rupee notes, could a whole load of 100 rupee notes not have been printed and dispatched to currency exchange centers to service the obviously expected rush for legal currency to transact business with?
  3. What is the number of people estimated to land at a currency exchange center in an hour? Had sufficient currency reached these centers even a few days after the announcement? Were there sufficient people working at these centers to service the rush? Could some other personnel not have been pulled in to do assist in this work?
  4. How are you any different when the people who were already being crushed under the wheels of ‘development’ get crushed further ? (access and ability to use cash is what defines the poor !!)
  5. Could you not have chosen a better time than the planting period for the rabi crop? Ok, you missed it. But when you created exceptions for transport agencies (and later on added) utility companies and other amenities but EVEN in that list you do not include agri input vendors, who are your advisors? what news are you reading? Who does your heart blead for??

Taking on a challenge: brave

Not preparing adequately : unwise, foolhardy.

Not taking the plight of small traders, farmers, labourers :  callous.

Responding to cries of the middle class : playing to the gallery.

Written by Dwiji

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016 at 07:35

Immature millet grains – why remove when processing?

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The primary motivation to eat cereal grains such as paddy rice, millet rices, or wheat is the nutrition we can derive from these. The largest component, in terms of weight composition of the grain are the carbohydrates in each of these grains. The other nutritional components we can derive from these grains are fibre, minerals and essential fatty acids – to varying degrees depending on the nutritional content of individual grains. In a recent post, I had mentioned about how we can use the carbohydrate to fibre ratio as a fairly good indicator to identify a grain that suits one’s dietary needs.

Note the immature grains in this foxtail millet sample. They are the thin ones distributed throughout, some with a greenish color.

Note the immature grains in this foxtail millet sample. They are the thin ones distributed throughout, some with a greenish color.

When a grain is very light, it is not filled with enough carbohydrates in its endosperm – the hard part of the grain. These grains typically do not get dehusked properly during the hulling process. And even when they do, the millet rice kernel tend to shatter resulting in an increase in the grits among the millet rice kernels. These immature grains would also not taste good when eaten primarily due to the ill-formed starch component in the endosperm or the heart of the grain. So the cooking quality deteriorates dramatically even if we are able to process them to rice or rawa form.

The maturity of the oils – the fatty acids in the bran layer in such grains is also very low. This means that the oils go rancid very quickly in such immature grains even if

one is able to get the husk off without damaging the millet rice kernel. And once the oil on a few grains go rancid, it gives the entire package a foul odour and the rancidity spreads to the other mature grains too.

To summarize, removing the immature millet grains from the better formed ones during processing for the millet rice, improves  (i) the taste (ii) the cooking quality (iii) shelf life and (iv) the cleanliness of the product. Once separated, the light grains can be used for cattle feed as it is rich in cellulosic material.

Written by Dwiji

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 at 22:47

Yet another weather event of the year !

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Unseasonal rains and hail storms in Feb-Mar hit North India. The wheat and other rabi crops were almost there, ready to be harvested in a few weeks when the storms hit. Thousands of farmers across the subcontinent lost anywhere from 30 to 70% of their crop.

During the regular monsoon, many places in the subcontinent went dry for weeks on end. It was drought conditions in atleast 300 districts moving some of the state governments to push farmers to go for contingency crops. Luckily, there were some rains in the later part of the season. Though it was too late to take up any planting then, those who had planted were able to breathe a little easier.

In the last two weeks, successive low pressure regions in the Bay of Bengal have caused incessant rains in Tamil Nadu, south interior Karnataka, Rayalseema and Andhra. The ground nut crops, that had survived the dry stretch and revived by the late rains, were ready for harvest. The pigeon pea (tuvar) crops were flowering. A good rain at this stage would make harvest ground nut easier and would also be very beneficial for all those crops in the flowering stage (like Sorghum, Pegion Pea, etc.). But as the rains have continued day after day, what was initially greeted as good news by farmers has become the harbinger of misery. There are reports of ground nuts starting to sprout in their pods and of pigeon pea flowers starting to wither and fall due to the excessive moisture.

In the North, almost zero precipitation in some 150+ districts have rendered the soil too hard to take up any sowing activity. The wheat crop is what feeds the millions in these parts and with no possibility of  sowing, we are not just staring at a bleak and hard winter, but into a dry, hot and hungry summer ahead too. The Gangetic plains do get a good amount of precipitation in the winter months in the form of dew. Once wheat, mustard and other crops take root, this dew is sufficient to meet their water needs. So when most people are cursing the winter fog for causing delays and cancellations of trains and flights, farmers are keeping their fingers crossed, counting their blessings in anticipation of a good harvest. But the dew does not provide sufficient moisture for sprouting seeds or help in putting down roots for almost all commonly cultivated crops. If any of you have any ideas on what can be cultivated in such conditions, do share it in the comments or send me an email.

Written by Dwiji

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015 at 10:54

Report on Action 2009

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More than a thousand representatives from movements and struggles from across the country converged to Jan Mantar for a two day dharna. Objections and concerns about the amendments being introduced to the Land Acquistion Act (1894) and the draft Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill were presented by the movements from more than 15 states. Eminent citizen and activists like Kuldip Nayyar, Jst. Rajender Sachar, among others shared their concerns about the government’s (in)actions and intentions in trying to table these bills without any public debate or consultation.

The primary demands of the dharna were:

  • Abolish the Land Acquisition Act of British Legacy

  • Issue a White paper on Land Acquisition, Displacement and Rehabilitation for the last 60 years

  • Shelve the two Bills and hold a national consultation on the NAC approved draft along with the displaced people and the people’s organizations and

  • Institute a Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee for the discussion on the two Acts

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill was introduced by the UPA government in the last session of their previous term; however, while it was passed in the Lok Sabha, it could not go through a vote in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill endorses the view that ‘private’ purpose, implying corporate and private commercial interests, is synonymous with ‘public’ purpose. The Bill in its current form negates the process of consultation that began with the National Advisory Council (NAC) and people’s movements, where a comprehensive Development Policy was drafted, keeping in mind concerns of the people.

Speakers underlined that the interlinked nature of the two subjects, land acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement was the basis on which the comprehensive Development Policy was drafted in a people centric manner following the consultations at the National Advisory Council. Voices from across the country opposed the plan to (re)introduce these two bills as regressive steps.

A people’s parliament, जन संसद, was organized on the second day of the dharna. People from different places presented their arguments on the idea of comprehensive development, land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement. Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar presided over a session of the Jan Sansad and expressed his continued support to people’s struggles for justice. Speaking from experiences of the havoc wrecked by various projects undertaken in the name of development, the shameless non compliance of current norms for land acquisition and rehabilitation was laid out in stark detail. The dharna ended with a crescendo of slogan decrying the government’s anti people action and a symbolic throwing of the draft bills in water.

Written by Dwiji

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 at 15:33

Pollution stings … and stinks !!

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Inertia is inevitable. But when pushed beyond a certain limit the overcoming of inertia is also inevitable. Bringing as many members of the community to overcome their inertia at the earliest is one of the challenges that movements and organizations face in mobilizing communities. Typically the poor and marginalized sections of a community are affected much harder and much earlier by adverse conditions. And many a time they would have given up the fight against the injustice long before the better off in the community begin to feel the pain.

Industrialization of Gujarat has been on for more than a few decades now. While the much talked about entreprenuerial talents of Gujaratis is one factor driving the industrialization, but the state administration’s ‘industry first’ policy is like in no other state in India. Incentives in tax breaks, cheap land and water, regulatory mechanisms designed to promote industry, and lax enforcement of laws have ensured unhampered industrial growth. The cost borne by the local communities because of these policies is evident across the countryside. I remember, back in 1999 when driving the family’s Maruti van from B’lore to Gujarat, south Gujarat was the region with colorful rivers and streams. It was sad to see that even in 2008 the water bodies were magenta, red, indigo, grey, yellow and many other colors. While there’s spectral diversity, they all shared one feature – there were one or more industrial estates not too far from the water body.

A pipeline carrying industrial effluents out to the sea

A pipeline carrying industrial effluents out to the sea

Effluents from one such industrial park flows out in a pipe to be discharged into the Arabian Sea. The fishing community saw a change in the quality and slowly the quantity of their catches. Fishing communities are typically somewhere near the lowest rungs of the caste as well as the economic order, and those in Southern Gujarat are no exception. They were not able to mobilize other sections of the society and at the end of the day decided to fish a little further out in the sea. The beaches soon became stinking toxic yards and the occassional leak here and there started bothering people living close to the pipeline. They were too few and could not muster enough resources to change the situation. After a few years now, the govt. has started laying another pipeline to deal with the expanding industries and their wastes. The new pipeline is being laid right behind a colony of holiday houses of very influential Mumbai based professionals from families with notable ancestries. They are up in arms now and want to do something about the greyzone in the waters at the end of the pipeline, which can apparently even be spotted when flying above the region in commercial flights.

A new phase of the struggle has started. It is to be seen whether the mobilization gains enough momentum to be able to get the govt. to accept that something needs to be done. I am not sure if it will … infact I won’t be surprised if a few months down the line, the pipeline(s) are re-routed through the backyards of someone less powerful.

Written by Dwiji

Saturday, November 8th, 2008 at 05:37

Posted in Feet on the ground, Uncategorized

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Meeting the Indian Fukuoka

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Touring the farm with Bhaskarbhai

Touring the farm with Bhaskarbhai

Soon after I started reading about alternative farming, I came across online conversations and discussions talking about Bhaskar Save’s efforts in Umergam. After reading his open letter to Dr. Swaminathan, of the Indian Green Revolution fame, laying out the reasons for the current crisis amongst farmers, visiting his farm and meeting him became a ‘must-meet’ stop. While planning the Maharashtra-Gujarat leg our travels, we were planning to meet two octagenarians – Datyeji, a noted alterative energy, construction and water resources expert, and Bhaskarbhai. A couple of weeks before we could reach Mumbai, Datyeji passed away. Meeting Bhaskarbhai in this round of travels became all the more important for us even if the meeting would be a short one. Thanks to Bharat Mansatta, of Earth Care Books, and our good friend Sreedevi, we visited Bhaskarbhai’s farm as we started our post Deepavali travels.

Umergam (a.k.a. Umbergam, Umargaon, and variants thereof) is a good five hours from Dadar. It is located in the southern most part of Gujarat and given the low taxes and other incentives for industry in Gujarat, it has seen a steady industrial growth for a few decades now. The area is very fertile – numerous rivers flow down from the hills on the east and into the Arabian Sea in the west. Being a coastal settlement, it is also a reasonable sized fishing township. The growth of factories and industries had been eating into the farming land and a few years ago threatened the fishing community as well when a port was proposed to be built to further ‘develop’ the area. A joint effort by both farmers, fisherfolk, and enivronmentalists resulted in the shelving of the project. I had known about the Anti-port struggle, but unfortunately was not able to plan meeting with Abhabhen and others into the itinerary.

Umbergam receives about the same amount of rainfall as Mumbai does, if not more. Bhaskarbhai’s farm, Kalpavriksh, is located a few kilometers out in the village of Deheri. Bhaskarbhai has been farming here for more than five decades now. He follows natural farming practices and reminded us a few times that it is more like do-nothing farming. Dominated by fruit trees and fed on their biomass, the farm is a beautiful example of how one can make a profit using natural farming techniques. Seeing the rows of carefully spaced composting biomass, water channels and different trees, I could clearly understand why the octagenarian Bhaskarbhai was referred to as India’s Fukuoka!

After the initial few years of watering and bringing in biomass, the fruit trees do require close to zero farming attention. It would take a small effort to maintain the water channels and pile the biomass at the right location every now and then. It was a great experience meeting Bhaskarbhai and hearing from him about how the farm grew to its present state. I wish we could have seen his method at a slightly younger stage … unfortunately, we could not visit Sanghavi Farms.

Written by Dwiji

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008 at 19:19

A report about the chapter visits

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Our experience

We had a great time with all the chapters we visited – thanks for hosting us! We had focused sessions with 7 chapters, plus extended freewheeling discussions wherever possible. We also met with folks from 2 other chapters and a few chapter-less and traveling AIDvasis. These engagements allowed us to revive old friendships and build new ones, while allowing us to get a pulse of the hosting chapters.

This was our first ‘tour’ and we weren’t sure how it would go. But from the first evening in Buffalo, the structured sessions and freewheeling discussions went smoothly. Almost everywhere, volunteers expected a talk, causing some confusion in the beginning of each session. But most seemed to enjoy the discussions, games and the focus on interaction.

Though all the games and exercises were fun, we’d like to specifically mention how much we enjoyed the role-play on group dynamics at Duke and Clemson. The volunteers took on their roles with zest and displayed their interpersonal skills as well as their guile and ingenuity. For us, this game illustrated the challenges faced in situations where information is withheld and the skill required to conduct successful negotiations.

We have a lot to learn and hope that you will continue to provide us feedback. There was an almost universal desire for more personal anecdotes and stories. We consciously chose to underplay personal aspects because our experience is not that extensive. Further, it seems to us that we do a lot of storytelling (which is important) in AID, but not as much analysis of the issue before jumping into the funding mode. We have felt the need and are trying to develop analytical frameworks to discuss each of the topics we presented. Personal experiences have played a very strong, though implicit, role in this process. Following the feedback, we see the need to communicate the personal aspects a little more in future sessions.

Lastly, we keenly felt the lack of time. Maybe it was bad planning on our part or just the breadth of the subject matter, but we never managed to wrap up the sessions satisfactorily. We plan to coordinate more such sessions in the future and will have to improve our time-management skills. Also we’ll call them ‘workshops’ so that people are inclined to budget more time 🙂

Our observations

Each chapter has characteristics of its own, but the common challenge that they all seem to face is ‘volunteering pressure’. Raising enough funds to support projects seems to be a primary component of this pressure. Drawing from our experiences, we shared our ideas on fund ownership, joint projects, using the common pool funds etc. to mitigate this pressure. The loss of organizational learning due to volunteer turnover was another shared concern. It is a challenge that we do not have proven answers to. Balancing the need for a chapter identity and vision with the interests of individual volunteers is a related challenge. Taking a second look at chapter activities with a focus on team building would be useful. Some of the activities we suggested include volunteering within the local community as a group and discussion and reading groups relevant to the work we support.

Volunteering pressure affects issue- and learning-centered interactions the most. Individuals appeared to be improving their understanding through their own initiative. But most chapters did not seem to be in a position to develop joint learning plans. We look forward to contribute our bit towards such efforts through sustained engagement with interested volunteers and chapters.

The enthusiasm and interest of the volunteers we met was heartening. We hope this can be channeled in better ways in the future so that AID will be a more effective organization, both for the communities it supports in India and the volunteer base it has generated both in India and the US.

Written by Dwiji

Sunday, October 26th, 2008 at 03:46

Planning focussed discussions with AID chapters

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For the past 5 months, we have been traveling in India visiting and working with grassroots organizations. We have discovered a lot about these groups and about ourselves. During our trip to Canada and the US in September-October (for personal reasons), we would like to visit AID chapters and reconnect with volunteers.

Proposed topics for discussion(s) (in no particular order)

Our motivation is to discuss issues we have reflected on over the past few months. Some of them have come up during the course of Sudha’s fellowship (Community Health Learning Program) at Community Health Cell, Bangalore. Others have become apparent during visits.

Rather than a brief overview of all these topics, we would prefer to have an in-depth discussion on one or two of them.

  1. Scale and scope of work: What do we mean when we talk about an intervention at the district level? At the block level? At the state level? What is the magnitude of the task being undertaken and how can we gain a realistic understanding of the scale of the interventions we support?

  2. Appropriate technology: While there are many technological solutions that are not just appropriate at the margins but also in the mainstream, why have they not been adopted? Instead, why do we still see resource-hungry solutions such as diesel generators? Societal acceptance is an important component in the ‘appropriate’ aspects of technological solutions – has this not been sufficiently addressed? Are there other parts of the picture that we are missing?

  3. Rural livelihoods: There seem to be very few self-sufficient models of income generation. A lot of schemes seem to be dependent on distant, urban markets. Is it possible to come up with sustainable, local producer-consumer links? How do livelihoods connect to NREGA and other government schemes?

  4. Sustainable agriculture & food security: There are many roads leading to sustainable agriculture – environmental, livelihood-related, spiritual, etc. What are the potentials for scalability for each of these approaches? Is food security for the producers a natural outcome of such programs? What is the role of the consumer? Fair wages for laborers is one of the central tenets of progressive thought, what is the equivalent for the marginal farmer?

  5. Caste and gender dynamics: A lot of the interventions we support are with marginalized communities – women and/or Dalits or Adivasis. When we talk about the discrimination that these groups face, we usually externalize it. But how do the disadvantages these groups face relate to our lives and the visible and invisible privileges we have received? And what, if anything, can we do about it?

  6. ‘Insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and group dynamics: How does the presence of privileged ‘outsiders’ impact the functioning and direction of a grassroots organization? What are the challenges faced when working to create and maintain a non-hierarchical organization? And why is this important?

We are also open to discuss issues either of us have talked about on our blogs at http://slip-n-slide.blogspot.com and https://dwiddly.wordpress.com


Sudha: I am also interested in learning about the current state of AID-US, especially the ways in which volunteers are able to sustain their interest and commitment. I found that I was not very effective in motivating other volunteers and would like to see if my skills have improved in that area! Also, the above issues require sustained discussions for building understanding and perspective – I would like to add my voice and perspectives and learn from the ensuing discussions.

Dwiji: AID plays a very crucial role in shaping an individual who wants to volunteer into one who asks uncomfortable questions of themselves and of society at large. Sawaal (question) is the wellspring from which the tenets of Sangharsh, Sewa and Nirman draw their energy. The processes that nuture this environment are not very straight forward and are often buried under other layers of volunteering. I would like to share my experiences and perspectives that might be of interest to AID volunteers and look forward to learning from the discussions that follow.


Sudha: I have been an AID volunteer since 2001 and, until early 2007, have been active at the chapter and inter-chapter level. I also served on the AID Executive Board for a term. The volunteering experience with AID has dramatically changed the direction of my life – I have gained new perspectives and, more importantly, the confidence to join in the struggle for rights, equality and dignity for marginalized communities in India. I also joined the ever-increasing ranks of AID couples after marrying Dwiji in 2003!

Dwiji: I was first exposed to political ideas and social in-equities during the days in college theatre, but I was not perturbed enough I suppose. The riots of 2002, in Gujarat, had me really thinking about my silence in the socio-political sphere. I was in Minneapolis and I started taking part in discussions at the local AID chapter there. I volunteered with various teams within AID-US and actively participated in discussions and debates, on phone, in person and online.


It would be good to get a brief writeup of interests and experiences from volunteers in the hosting chapter. So far we had been exploring visiting chapters that are a bus journey (or two) away from Toronto or Minneapolis & St. Paul, the two places already on our itinerary. If there is interest and some support to cover travel expenses, we would be open to visit other chapters as well.

Written by Dwiji

Saturday, September 20th, 2008 at 03:31

Making RTI more expensive

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The Right to Information Act is one of the three very useful progressive laws that the UPA govt. enacted in 2005. Since its enactment almost every govt. department and office has been trying to beat the other in coming up with ways to defeat its purpose and spirit. There are many cases of RTI applications not being received, of applications that have been left unanswered even after a few months, of appelate authorities using discretionary powers that are debatable at best, etc. These are violations of the letter of the law and could possibly be weeded out with better oversight. There are other ways in which the spirit of the law is defeated without violating the letter of the law.

My father Ravindra nath Guru uses RTI extensively in his attempts to get the Bangalore city administration officials to enforce the building code in the city. He was showing me how the legal cell sends copies of communications informing the concerned Assisstant Engineer of developments in a building code violation case to all AEs in the city administration. While one can see the value of horizontal information sharing, it does not add up to anything of value for the organization when each and every communique flows across swamping the limited mind space of the officials. Added to this is the cost of each of these communications being sent by courier. All these expenses get added to the budget header relating to implementing the RTI act.

We already hear ‘should officials be doing their work or answering RTI applications?’. Soon we will have ‘evidence’ being presented on how RTI has made governance more expensive and the amount that could be ‘saved’ by watering down the act. As far as I can see, the only way one can counter it is by auditing the accounts to identify justified expenses and the wasteful ones. I really hope someone is doing something like this somewhere in the country. I have not heard of one, do send me pointers / contacts if you know of someone.

Written by Dwiji

Saturday, September 13th, 2008 at 07:55

Posted in Feet on the ground

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