तुमचं नाव मतदार यादीतून गायब करणाऱ्यांची झोप कशी उडवाल?

voter deleted२०१४च्या निवडणुकीचे एक महत्वाचे वैशिष्ठ्य म्हणजे वगळलेली नावे. एकट्या महाराष्ट्रातच म्हणे ७४ लाख नावं वगळली असल्याचे निवडणूक आयोगानेच प्रसिद्ध केले आहे. त्यामुळे कुऱ्हाड पडली ती आमच्याच जातीवर, किंवा आमच्याच पक्षाच्या मतदारांवर, अशा चर्चा, गावगप्पाना उत् आला आहे. महाराष्ट्रापुरतं मतदान संपल आहे, आणि फेर मतदान किंवा ओळखपत्र असूनही मतदान करु न शकलेल्यांसाठी ‘पुरवणी’ मतदान वगैरे पर्याय सुचवले जाताहेत. काही जणांनी तर. मतदार याद्यांची गरजच नाही, एक ठराविक नागरिकत्वाचा पुरावा दाखवणाऱ्या सगळ्यांनाच मतदान करु दिलं पाहिजे, असाही विचार मांडला.

या सगळ्या क्रांतिकारक कल्पना ज्यांना सुचतात, मांडव्याश्या वाटतात, ते त्यांचा पाठपुरावा करतीलच. पण सामान्य नागरिक काय करु शकतो? ज्याला खरच मतदान करायची इच्छा आहे, तो या व्यवस्थेकडून कसं काय काम करून घेवू शकतो? हा मतदार आता जागरूक होतो आहे, हे वेगवेगळया सामाजिक आंदोलनांना मिळालेल्या अभूपूर्व प्रतिसादातून दिसत आहेच. पण लोकशाहीतला सगळ्यात महत्वाचा हक्क जर त्याला बजावता आलाच नाही, तर ती या लोकशाहीची चेष्टाच होईल.

त्यामुळे, आजच्या कायद्याच्या चौकटीत बघायचं, तर खालील गोष्टी स्पष्ट आहेत:
(१) आत्ताच्या निवडणुकीसाठी जी अधिकृत यादी आहे, तिच्यात नाव असेल तरच मतदान करता येईल
(२) आधीच्या निवडणुकीच्या यादीत असलेल्या नावाचा उपयोग नाही
(३) या याद्या बऱ्याच आधी पक्क्या होतात. त्यामुळे निवडणुकीच्या दिवशी मतदान केंद्रावर भांडून काही उपयोग नाही. उदाहरणार्थ या लोकसभा निवडणुकीची यादी ३१ जानेवारीला प्रसिद्ध झाली.
(४) त्यामुळे निवडणुकीच्या ३-४ महिने आधीच आपले नाव तपासून, ते गाळले गेले असेल तर काही धडपड करता येईल. जसा उशीर होईल, तशी आपली धडपड, त्रागा निष्फळ बनत जाईल.

पण मग आता काय करायचं? हातावर हात धरून बसून राहायचं? सरकारी यंत्रणेची बेफिकिरी, मुजोरी, आळस किंवा चक्क सत्ताधाऱ्यांशी हातमिळवणी, हे सहन करायचं? की ‘इधर्को ये ऐसैच चल्ताय’ म्हणून पुन्हा राग गिळून आपल्या रोजच्या आयुष्याला सुरवात करायची? या मस्तवाल यंत्रणेला ताळ्यावर कसं आणायचं?

सरकारी माणूस जर सगळ्यात कुठल्या गोष्टीला घाबरत असेल, तर ‘तुम्ही काय काम केलं ते प्रत्यक्ष दाखवा’ या प्रकाराला. त्यामुळे त्यांनी आपलं नाव का वगळल, कसं वगळलं, काय प्रक्रिया केली, वगैरे प्रश्नाना त्याच्याकडे उत्तरं नसतात. आणि माहिती अधिकार कायद्याच्या अंतर्गत प्रश्न विचारले, की उत्तरं तर द्यावीच लागतात. ती पण ३० दिवसात. नाहीतर अधिकाऱ्याला रोज २५० रुपये दंड होवू शकतो. आणि अशा एखाद्या अर्जाची पत्रास ही यंत्रणा बाळगत नाही. पण हजारो अर्ज आले तर? वन वगळलेल्या ७४ लाख लोकांनी अर्ज केले तर? १२०० अर्धशिक्षित भूमिहीन आदिवासींनी अर्ज करून जव्हार तालुक्यात काय केलं ते एकदा वाचा, हव तर प्रत्यक्ष जावून पहा. आणि मग ठरवा – आपण ‘बिचारे’ ‘एकटे’ आहोत, की आपण या लोकशाहीचे मालक आहोत ते.

अर्जाचा नमुना सोबत जोडला आहेच. आपल्यासाठी योग्य तेवढे बदल करून घ्या, आठवणीनी १० रुपयाचे कोर्ट फी स्टँप लावा, सही करा, आणि नेवून द्या आपल्या जिल्ह्यातील/ तालुक्यातील निवडणूक शाखेकडे. अर्जाची पोच नक्की घ्या – आणि निवांत झोपा. कारण आता तुमचं नाव वगळणार्या सगळ्यांची झोप उडालेली असेल.

 अर्जाचा नमुना

इन्कमटॅक्सचे टॉप टेन थकबाकीदार

आपल्या देश केवळ अडीच-तीन टक्के लोकं आयकर भरतात, असं उद्वेगाने सांगणारे लोकं आपल्याला नक्की भेटले असतील. त्यामुळे या बिचाऱ्यांना बाकी ९७% लोकांचा भार उचलावा लागतो, असा सोपा निष्कर्षही आपण अनेक जण काढत असू.

पण माहिती अधिकाराचा वापर करून दिल्लीच्या सुभाषचंद्र अग्रवाल यांनी मिळवलेली ही थकबाकीदार लोकांची यादी बघा- यात प्रत्येक श्रेणीतले (व्यक्ती, भागीदारी, कंपनी, ट्रस्ट,……..) फक्त टॉप टेन थकबाकीदार आहेत. पण यांची नावं, आणि विशेषत: थकलेल्या कराची रक्कम वाचून मन गुंग होवून जाते. आणि हे आकडे ३-४ वर्षापूर्वी जो कर वसूल व्हायला पाहिजे होता त्यांचे आहेत.

या यादीची काही ठळक वैशिष्ठ्ये:

  • २०१० आणि २०११ ची एकूण थकबाकी – फक्त टॉप टेन लोकांची – ३2,३५२ करोडच्या वर.
  • एकूण गोळा झालेल्या कराच्या साधारण ९% कर या लोकांकडे थकलेला आहे.
  • सरकारी/ निमसरकारी संस्था आणि महामंडळांचीही मोठी थकबाकी.
  • कृषी उत्पन्न बाजार समित्या आणि जिल्हा सहकारी बँका यांचे लक्षणीय प्रमाण.
  • सर्वात मोठी थकबाकी – जीवन बिमा निगम (Life Insurance Corporation) ७,०२७ कोटी!

आता प्रश्न असा, की हे सर्व मोठे मासे कर बुडवत असताना सरकार काय करतंय? यात राजकारणी नाव एकच दिसतंय – झारखंड खाण घोटाळ्यातले मधू कोडा. पण मग या सगळ्यांमागे  अशी कोणती शक्ती आहे, की ज्यामुळे आयकर अधिकारी यांच्याकडून वसुली करु शकत नाहीत?

ही यादी मिळवायला सुद्धा अग्रवालांना बरीच धावपळ करावी लागली आहे. पण कर प्रणाली/ कर व्यवस्थापन/ एकूण राज्य कारभार सुधारावा असं वाटत असेल, तर आपल्यालाही प्रश्न विचारात राहावे लागणार. लोकशाही म्हणजे लोकप्रतिनिधी किंवा सरकारी यंत्रणेबाबत अंध विश्वास नव्हे. ‘सजग’ नागरिकांचा दबावच नागरिकांच्या नावाने कारभार चालवणाऱ्या सगळ्यांना योग्य रस्त्याने जायला भाग पडू शकतो.

Top ten income tax demands outstanding in each category

 

I, too, have a dream (Part 3) – A big step to make it a reality

On 27 August 2013 , the Information Commission conducted the final hearing of our appeal. Being an experienced administrator, the Commissioner saw through the arguments of the Deputy Collector’s staff immediately. Mr. Shailesh Gandhi’s presence also helped us retain our confidence in these completely novel circumstances.

Finally, Mr. Gaikwad, Information Commissioner, pronounced his ruling. He asked the administration to compensate each applicant who came to Mumbai Rs. 2,000 each. Also, he issued show cause notice to the information officer for levying fine under 2 different sections of RTI Act – in each of the 1,272 cases. He ordered that all the information sought must be given to every applicant before 31 st October – and promised further stern action if this was not done.

But the most useful part of the order is that – he ordered all the district administrators to publish information about claims under the FRA , and action taken thereon. This has to be collected for last 3 years, published on their websites and on notice boards ad district and subdivisional levels. It has also to be kept updated every month. So, though the issue started with some 6000 tribals in a single tehsil, the resultant benefit has flown to all the tribals in the whole state of Maharashtra!

In the final analysis, we believe, we were able to make these points :
1. It has proved that RTI is actually useful – the urban volunteers always doubt this.
2. It has proved that ‘powerless’, ‘uneducated’ tribals can bring the govt machinery to its knees if they have knowledge of correct laws and training and patience to use them.
3. It has proved that for a revolutions guns are not necessary. Pen is more potent than a gun
4. It has proved that one can make the system work even without agitation, political support, sloganeering – just information is sufficient.
5. it has created a model for tribals elsewhere to replicate
6. It has created and proven strength of the concept of ‘Mass RTI’ – the bad things that happen to govt people get manifold; and it becomes impractical to use threats or violance against the person who dares to question the system. So, similar method can actually be used by urban people – for potholed roads, water suppy in new colonies, cleanliness, railway FOBs, etc

Here, allow me to conclude the first part of our fight to realize our dream. We still have a long way to go – to get information, to get compensation, to pressurize authorities to process our claim, and to finally become owners of our land. But this fight has given us additional dreams – we want to help jungle dwelling people everywhere to claim the land looted from them by the British – and Indian – rulers. We want to help our people gain the self-esteem that comes from a successful fight against a system which looks like a giant. May be, we think, our urban friends too start fighting the system to fight the injustice that they face. And maybe they will understand our dream and try to adjust their living style to leave our rivers, jungles and living styles alone.

Martin Luther King (Jr)
Martin Luther King (Jr)

On 28th August 1963, a great man in America dared to dream. 50 years after that, almost to the date, we are doing the same. And this dream we are seeing with our eyes wide open. We know it’s not easy – but we know it’s not an impossible pipe dream. We know we are not alone, that there are many who are awakening to dreams of their own. Keep watching this space for stories about dreams, fights, disappointments, and small victories. And start having a dream of your own too!

 

Click here to read the decision (in Marathi)Jawhar-CIC-Order-of-Tribal-s-Forest-Rights

Click here to read an excellent media report about this news http://www.moneylife.in/article/rti-battle-of-jawhar-tribals-get-a-fillip-with-a-favourable-cic-order/34248.html

I, too, have a dream (Part 2) – The fight to achieve the dream

The fight to achieve the dream

 

First, we started learning the steps to lay claim over our forest land. We learned that a meeting of all the villagers (gramsabha) hears our claim, may visit the plot, make enquiries with neighbors and elders, and then approves it. Then, a copy of the resolution, along with land map and other papers moves up the ladder in various government departments. But, the most important part is that, those on the ladders of power can not reject claim or pass only part of it. They can just see that all the procedure is completed and all the papers are in order. So, equipped with this new knowledge, we started approaching the authorities to submit our claims.

That was when we faced our first hurdle, and a big shock. We were told that all our villages had already conducted the meetings to consider the claims under FRA – and rejected all the claims made! No one in our villages had ever heard of any Gram Sabha, so it was clear the smart babus had just painted the process on a piece of paper. We felt defeated, cheated and frustrated. We felt that this was just what happened every time about any government scheme. Just as we were on the verge of forgetting about any attempts to get our land, our urban friends in the Vayam said we can fight the system and make it work again. After some thought, we decided to use the Right to Information Act. We made several applications, seeking copies of attendance sheets and minutes of the Gramsabhas. That gave us the first taste of victory. The authorities ordered the Gramsabhas to be conducted again, and deputed a couple of our volunteers to attend these, and see that they were conducted properly.

In next few days, a lot of villages in our vicinity completed the Gramsabha, and many tribals submitted claims for agricultural plots. But, may be, allotting land to us hurt some vested interests. May be just responding to a simple application did not go well with entrenched egos too. So our applications just sat in government offices, gathering dust, for almost a year.

Once again, we decided to use the RTI. We realized there were more than 6000 tribals whose FRA claims were awaiting outcome, for reasons undisclosed. Now, we thought, if one is suffering from injustice, one has to put up a fight himself, right? So, we got a draft application from an urban friend, and appealed all the tribals to fill in the personal details and submit all applications on a single day!

RTI application queueIt was a site worth seeing when more than 600 people actually made it to the office of the Deputy Collector at Jawhar. Many had travelled 40-50 kilometers, spending a days wages. Most had foregone the wages they could have earned that day. All of them lined up to ask for a most improbable thing – not food, not job, but information – as a means to further their fight for land. Like a true satyagrahi, they were completely non-violent, polite and ready to make a sacrifice. Our urban friends told us they hardly know any other case where the applicant sacrificed 2 days earning just to make an application under the RTI

For next 10-15 days, the applications kept on showering on the authorities. At the final count, some 1,278 people made applications to get information about fate of their claims under FRA act. They asked for information about the documents required to go with the claim forms, documents actually attached, and daily progress of their applications. If at all the administration chose to give correct reply, they will have to admit that all correct documents accompanied each application, and that they have done nothing after getting the application. This may make the babus liable for action under the Human Rights Act, Consumer Protection Act, Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act, to name a few!

The RTI Act requires that each application is replied within 30 days. So, when 30 days got over, the applicant started making appeals to higher authorities. The authorities called us for hearing in batches of 10 – and tried to bully us! The officer asked us who was paying us for making applications, who was instigating us to fight against government, who was going to bear the travelling and other expenses, etc. He also asked us to choose – he can either give land or information. At the end of hearing, our trained volunteers asked for proceedings of this, including the threats! Of course, the officer rejected this demand too.

(Click for final part)

I, too, have a dream (Part 1)

I, too, have a dream

FACELESS TRIBAL YOUTHActually, I am from among those faceless masses who are not supposed to have dreams. I also have a name. But it is not important. It can not give me a face. By whatever name you call me, I just remain a forest dwelling, tribal landless labour, inarticulate, uneducated, and underfed. We just have votes, and those who want them do come to us to throw us some crumbs. But I, too, have a dream – a dream when I am just left alone – to cultivate the land of my forefathers, to drink water from the same springs, to roam the same jungles. May be the readers will be surprised to read that my dreams do not include SUVs, penthouse, and a top end cell phone. And may be it’s because I am more interested in my own happiness than my neighbors’ envy.

So, to cut a long story short, I have a dream. And this tiny piece of land that gives me a coarse staple once a year has a very important place in it. Its totally rain cultivated, on a hill slope, and full of stones and boulders – but its MINE – it has been in the family for generations together. And for me and my brethren, it’s as important as my mother. But just owning that tiny piece looked like a pipedream just a couple of years ago. Today, I can dream openly about it, and say that soon I will have my name as owner of that land. This here is a story of how we brought this issue from the realm of impossibility to that of achievability.

The story starts when the gora sahibs were ruling India. They had a very clear idea, that the forests in India are a source of timber and such other commercial product, They felt no need to consider any ownership rights of the natives, least of all the aborigines. So, sitting in Delhi, they came out with a list of all forest lands all over the country – and grabbed the land without offering any compensation. Our forefathers had always lived off jungle – by farming tiny plots, by foraging and by hunting small animals not as trophies but as necessary part of food. All these activities were banned to us. They were exclusively reserved for the gora sahibs either as commerce or as pleasure.  Our illiterate forefathers just could not think of a means to fight the menace, and learned to live with it. We remained busy trying to grow coarse food from tough, unrelenting land, and then saving the crop from forest guards, and then moving in and out of lock ups because in the law books, it was a crime to till the ‘forest’ land. We were poor to start with, but this actually made us destitute.

The situation remained same, or may be got worse, when the brown sahibs replaced gora sahibs.

Somewhere in 2006, we started hearing about a new law called ‘Forest Rights Act’, and how it’s the magic wand which will make us rich, once and for all. My father had taught me to treat all talk about government schemes like the ghost fables the village elders like to recite to us on rainy nights. They make good entertainment, and may even excite us for some time, but to believe them was asking for trouble.

Some time after this, an urban volunteer started visiting my village and those around us. Some of us had met him earlier as a primary teacher. But now, he said, he wanted to help us achieve better life. Initially we had doubts, but soon a bunch of youngsters took to him, and started listening to his ideas. With help from some urban friends, he had started a voluntary organization called ‘Vayam’. We soon started hearing from him about those government schemes, and also how to get actual benefit from them. We also heard about the Right to Information Act, which can tell us about what was written in government files!

And then, we thought, can we actually get our lands under the FRA, with some help from Vayam?

(Next part )

Who’s afraid of the RTI Act?

Exposure is something everyone fears; façade, although damaging, provides a comfort

a comment on the theme of famous play “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf”

Well, who isn’t? Only, some of those who want to be saved from this Act are ‘more equal than others’. These people are at the pinnacle of some ‘pillar of democracy’. And while they are happy to throw search lights at all other lower forms of life, they are not comfortable if the spot light tries to find their private properties, their meetings, their allowances, etc.

The UPA spokespersons never tire of counting the RTI act as proof of its pro-people stance. No public meeting of the first family ever ends without admonishment to congressmen about using the RTI Act. Yet, the mighty and the powerful fall over each other to claim that the RTI Act is not applicable to them in its totality.

The ‘leaders of the society’ argue that RTI is fine for everyone else but their own position is too sacrosanct to allow peeping toms to disturb their peace. Actually, what they are saying is easy to understand. It is the residue of imperialistic mentality – that the common people can not presume to question the ruling class. And that the ruled should be thankful to the rulers for ruling them with an iron fist. But this does not sound politically correct. And therefore they have to go to absurd length to prove that the RTI Act does not apply to them. Or that it should not apply to them. In this article, I plan to make a small list of agencies who feel that RTI is not for them – and the fantastic reasoning they dare offer.

But before that, without going into legalese, let us see whom the law applies – as per the provisions of law.

Section 2(h) of the RTI Act defines Public Authority As

any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted—

a)      by or under the Constitution; (Supreme Court, Lok Sabha,….)

b)      by any other law made by Parliament; (LIC, Nationalised banks, NHRC, ….)

 c)      by any other law made by State Legislature; (State transport corp, Universities…, )

d)      by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any—

  1. 1.    body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (granted schools)
  2. 2.    non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;

Actually, this should be easy to understand, unless you are a lawyer with a brief to hold. But each and every word has been twisted and turned, to make them unrecognizable.  Now, let us see the authorities that have claimed full or partial and non-applicability of the RTI Act.

The most fantastic reasoning that I have come across is put forward by the Calcutta High Court. It says that it was not established by constitution or parliament, but was established by ‘her majesty, the Queen of England’, even before the constitution was written. Therefore, their lordships felt, the RTI Act of India is not applicable to them. The Central Information Commission has already dismissed the argument. (read here)

The second high placed office is the Prime Ministers National Relief Fund. They argued that as they are not funded by any government, they are not a public authority, and the RTI Act does not apply to them. The Central Information Commission had to remind them that they were a part of Prime Minister’s office, and serving IAS officer worked as PMNRF’s secretary. His salary is paid out of public funds by the PMO. The lavish space they use also belongs to government. And therefore, they have to give information about donations given at the time of tsunami disaster. It was after this order by Supreme Court that PMNRF accepted that it has collected 800 crores, but spent nothing. Now you know why they were avoiding public scrutiny.

In the next part, we will go thru more examples of VIPs trying to free themselves from clutches of RTI. Usually because they have something serious to hide. They are not the clerks and junior officers an RTI applicant usually meets and fights with. They are not who have to obey the law. They are the makers and keepers of legal system. So, they feel, that they are above what they have created. And unless we convey them that we the people of India want this law, and want it in full, they will just continue to take us for a ride.