Empowering Women in Urban Slums to Fight Corruption in Service Delivery in Bangalore, India

Empowering Women in Urban Slums to Fight Corruption in Service Delivery in Bangalore, India

IMPLEMENTING PARTNER: Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR)
YEARS: 2009-2010
THEMES: Public Saftey Nets

Corruption in a variety of government administered safety net programs has prompted the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), an Indian Public Charitable Trust, headquartered in Delhi, to take action. CFAR is working on a range of issues such as advocating for the rights of the urban poor, strengthening implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, and HIV/AIDS. CFAR is active in 37 slum settlements across 7 cities of Delhi, Jaipur, Pune, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar and Bangalore. A key intervention of CFAR in Karnataka, is ‘Monitoring of Government Food Schemes and Schemes for Vulnerable Women through Community Participation and Action to Create Transparent Governance’, supported by PTF. The project aims at empowering women to advocate for corruption-free service delivery, giving power to communities to hold the government accountable in five slums in Bangalore City.

Corruption Problem Addressed
Corruption is pervasive in India’s welfare and social safety net programs and has deprived citizens, especially the poor and most vulnerable, of their rights and entitlements frequently and across the country. Building on its prior work with communities in four slum settlements in Bangalore City, CFAR held group discussions with community member to identify roots, effects and symptoms of corruption targeting the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme.

During the deliberations, one of the participants concluded, “We do not even know when the shopkeeper opens his shop [Fair Price Shop (FPS) – mandated to distribute food entitlements to eligible families under the PDS scheme]. Moreover the quality of food grains that we get is not good at all. We have filed complaints several times but to date have not received any response.” This sentiment was echoed by other citizens, “When we ask the personnel why such a small quantity is being given, she says this is what the government has allotted.”

CFAR confirmed these observations conducting a pilot baseline survey. Out of a sample size of 302 households, only 135 respondents had a ration card. The analysis of the 135 card holders revealed that 127 were BPL (Below Poverty Line) card holders, however only 63 card holders were distributed rations. Further research revealed a number of malpractices in the distribution of rations and improper functioning of ration shops and the non-functioning of vigilance committees.

Similarly, and with respect to the ICDS program, the survey showed that although there were 60 children that had been enlisted with the Department of Women and Child Development, there was no actual Anganwadi center for children to visit. Furthermore, the existent ICDS centers served the improper quality and quantity of food to children. Development committees were not functioning and there was a lack of basic amenities at the Centers.

Actions Taken by CFAR
The first phase of the project focused on the identification and prioritization of corruption problems to be tackled. This effort included strengthening and scaling up women-led forums across 5 slum settlements in Bangalore. CFAR concentrated on establishing and strengthening women-led community collectives. These women’s collectives consist of members who have decided to come together under a common banner, Daksha Samuha, to claim their rights and entitlements. After being trained in filing RTI applications, the women were divided into two groups: Community Advocates who actively participate and initiate action, and Community Volunteers, who converge during large scale events, such as public hearings, consultations, demonstrations, etc.

CFAR facilitated conducting five public hearings

CFAR facilitated conducting five public hearings

Thanks to the reputation CFAR has built over the years, and though informal in nature, these women’s forums have become a sought space for the community to seek justice and address grievances. Some of the forum members also participate in government-mandated grass-roots bodies, such as AnganwadiDevelopment Committees under the ICDS scheme and in vigilance committees under the PDS.

CFAR focused on capacity building and community empowerment and established a variety of advocacy tools through which the communities’ voices could be heard and government authorities targeted: The RTI-trained community advocates filed petitions, held public hearings, requested and conducted social audits, advocated with government agencies, and networked with other campaigns and movements. Emphasis was placed on evidence-based advocacy using visual documentation and case studies to show the horrific and often times appalling state of public service delivery.

Over the course of the project, three public hearings were held on issues affecting basic amenities in the ICDS, and four consultations (two on the Food Security Act, one with FPS owners, and a fourth to declare and publicize two model ration shops). For the consultation with FPS owners, the ground work was laid through establishing a relationship with the Karnataka Food and Civil Supplies (KFCS) officials, and the President of FPS owners’ association.

Sample of an RTI Application

Sample of an RTI Application

Impact and Results Achieved
Results of the first phase include:

  • 47 RTI applications submitted.
  • 28 trained members of the Daksha Samuha (community group), including in-depth knowledge on the usage of the RTI Act, entitlements under various ration card formats, and social benefits.
  • Training on conducting negotiations with the government and other stakeholder, including engaging with the media.
  • Filing of new applications for BPL ration cards for approximately 1,000 people (out of 1,030 who did not have ration cards) which resulted in 371 newly issued BPL cards.
  • Three public hearings covering 550 people or 67% of the 820 households on issues of basic amenities, PDS and Right to Housing.
  • Based on the complaints filed by the Daksha Samuha, the KFCS took back twice inedible grain allotted to FPS shops. Furthermore, one ration shop was seized.
  • Following a public hearing, two new bore wells and two additional water tanks were installed to ensure proper water supply for the 242 residents. Additionally, all households were given an electricity connection, the main road was paved and proper drainage lines were laid. A sweeper was assigned to clean the area three times a week

Based on the feedback received from the community, corruption in the area appears to be declining. Some 362 BPL cards were issued without any bribes being paid. Similarly, other beneficiaries, such as widows (275), senior citizens (170) and disabled persons (7) are receiving pensions, and 400 senior citizens now avail of the mid-day meals without paying bribes.

More significantly, a culture of fighting corruption has been created amongst the forum members and is not limited to PDS and ICDS. The Daksha Samuha now works with government maternity hospitals. The women trained by CFAR no longer depend on the CSO, but show the courage to fight independently and organize the community to achieve additional results.

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Benchmarking and Curbing Corruption in Local Service Delivery in Brahmapur City, India

IMPLEMENTING PARTNER: Youth for Social Development (YSD)
YEARS: 2008 – 2009 (Phase I); 2009 – 2011 (Phase II)
GRANT AMOUNT: $15,000 USD (Phase I); $31,870 USD (Phase II)
THEMES: Social Saftey Nets

Petty corruption permeates basic service delivery in the city of Brahmapur in Odisha State, India. Youth for Social Development (YSD), a local CSO, decided to survey different corruption issues at the local level in order to map magnitude, prevalence and possible entry points for civil society to hold the government to account and demand corruption-free service delivery. During phase one, YSD implemented the ‘Urban Corruption Survey in Brahmapur City’ -project and successfully raised citizen awareness. Phase two of the project concentrated on mobilizing the community and building capacity.

The second phase was named ‘Enabling Citizen Monitoring of Public Services, Preventing Bribery to Foster Effective Service Delivery in Brahmapur City of Odisha’. Throughout both phases of this ‘Citizens against Corruption’ (CAC) project, YSD advocated on behalf of the poor and supported citizen monitors and communities to constructively engage with local officials. Based on the results of phases one and two, an extension of the project (phase three) was recommended and a new grant signed in 2011.

Corruption Problem Addressed
Modern governments play a significant role in the provision of basic services, including supplying drinking water, primary education, health care, social safety nets, maintaining roads and many other services. These services are essential in providing infrastructure for economic growth and helping citizens lead better and healthier lives. Problems arise if services are not provided corruption-free and ordinary people, especially the poor, are hard pressed to pay speed money in order to gain access to services controlled by a few public officials. Refusal to pay often leads to delayed decision-making or outright denial of services, posing a clear violation of citizens’ rights to entitlements as stipulated by the law.

A study by Transparency International India found that 62% of all Indians have had first hand experiences paying bribes or “using a contact” to successfully receive services that should be provided corruption-free. Citizens are increasingly vocal about the absence of transparency and accountability in public service delivery and are looking for ways and means to hold governments and officials accountable for their actions (or inactions).

YSD decided to map the magnitude and prevalence of corruption in six basic services provided by government agencies in the city of Brahmapur to establish a baseline and help communities target their ensuing anti-corruption efforts. Key findings of the survey were:

  • 82% of the citizens were required to pay bribes
  • The Brahmapur Development Authority (BDA) and Land Record and Administration Services offices were rated among the most corrupt agencies
  • Common citizens pay up to $1,28 million USD in bribes per year (estimate)
  • The two most important reasons for citizens to engage in bribery are a) fear of harassment and b) delay in service delivery
  • The top two procedural reasons propelling citizens to succumb to bribery demands are a) unavailability of information and b) non-transparent application procedures

Actions Taken by YSD
YSD conducted a comprehensive survey of 2008 households (4.5% of the total population) during the first phase of the project. The areas surveyed included (1) provision of drinking water, (2) municipal services, (3) public health care, (4) public distribution system (PDS), (5) BDA services and (6) Land Record and Administration Services. Completing the study, YSD arranged for focus group discussion with public officials, academics, the community and civil society organizations.

To present its findings, YSD – in partnership with the district administration – then organised a report release workshop, inviting senior officials of selected service agencies and the vigilance department. Three major daily newspapers, including the national media ‘The Hindu’, as well as various local media outlets reported.

YSD facilitated communities to start deliberating on how to best engage with authorities and other stakeholders to demand corruption-free services

YSD facilitated communities to start deliberating on how to best engage with authorities and other stakeholders to demand corruption-free services

Following the survey, YSD engaged in the following activities to raise awareness, mobilize the community and enable constructive engagement between authorities and citizens to improve service delivery in phase two. YSD –

  • conducted 24 awareness and sensitization camps
  • mobilized 8 slum communities
  • trained 32 citizen monitors, introducing anti-corruption tools, such as filing RTIs and social audits
  • engaged with public officials through 2 trainings and 3 public hearings
  • facilitated the formation of a CAC coalition
  • produced IEC materials (10,000 leaflets, 1000 pamphlets, 2 toolkits, 1 hand books, 3 reports and 6 newsletters)

To make use of the outputs created and to facilitate constructive engagement between the various stakeholders toward achieving results in the fight against corruption, YSD facilitated CAC and citizen monitors meetings with public officials from various departments, PDS fair price shop owners and a few elected representatives.

Obstacles and challenges encountered

YSD experienced opposition from elite groups with vested interests. While this observation can be interpreted as an indicator for tackling the right issues, it nonetheless made YSD’s work challenging to the degree that YSD staff was threatened by officials and a few corrupt ration shop owners. It also serves as an indicator why communities might come under duress, fearing to get involved in rights education and/or championing the fight against corruption.

In addition, there was some difficulty in identifying anti-corruption champions within the upper echelons of local government, inviting and involving senior officials to participate meaningfully in the proposed activities. Junior level staff however pushed the agenda to the upper level.

Impact and Results Achieved
The survey results, citizen monitoring observations as well as social audit reports produced, are not just used in the activities conducted by YSD but served as important indicators and benchmarks for activities undertaken by other CSOs, media and government agencies alike. A short video on PDS, a toolkit on the use of RTI and a citizen handbook on RTI applications are continuously used to raise community awareness on governance issues not only in Brahmapur but also in other communities,  for example in Gajapati and Ganjam.

Other measurable results include the filing of a total 161 RTI applications, 3 social audits, 3 public hearings and a community score card (CSC) survey conducted in communities to assess the provision of PDS and Water services. As a result of the various interventions facilitated by YSD and follow-up discussions with stakeholders, YSD has observed the following impact:

  • 28% decrease in bribery (baseline vs. end-of-project survey)
  • Participation in citizen monitoring increased
  • 12 vigilance committees active in the project area to monitor PDS shop operations

    Four slums have been provided with access to public water in a corruption-free manner after waiting for a long period prior to the project intervention

    Four slums have been provided with access to public water in a corruption-free manner after waiting for a long period prior to the project intervention

  • Increased discourse among civil society and public officials on corruption at public agencies
  • Citizens groups are empowered to effectively monitor service delivery
  • Proactive information disclosure by six public agencies has improved
  • Service delivery norms and procedures were  disclosed and disseminated by three authorities
  • Office orders were issued to mandatorily display and update information on citizen information boards  by three government agencies
  • 30 beneficiaries’ cards were transferred to another shop due to a corrupt shop owner
  • 4 slums have been provided with access to public water in a corruption-free manner
  • 4 communities were provided with rationed items in a corruption-free manner
  • 2 PDS shop owners were required to provide full quota of kerosene in two slums in Brahmapur city
  • 1 PDS shop owner was suspended due to complaints from the beneficiaries.
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Empowering Communities to Demand Accountability of Safety Net Entitlements in Odisha State, India

IMPLEMENTING PARTNER: People’s Rural Education Movement (PREM)
YEARS: 2009-2010
THEMES: Social Saftey Nets

Reports indicate that amounts of up to 75% of all funds allocated to social safety net programs are embezzled by corrupt government officials in India every year. The ‘People’s Rural Education Movement’ (PREM), a local CSO in Odisha State, India, decided to implement a Citizens Against Corruption (CAC) project in 12 Gram Pachayats (GPs) of Nuagad Block in the Gajapati District. The project’s name was ’Reduction of corruption in NREGA, FRA and PDS in Nuagad Block’.

The project succeeded in preparing the ground for citizen monitors and community based organizations (CBOs) to further hold government officials to account. It also realized significant progress in fighting corruption in the three targeted social safety net schemes. A second phase of the project is currently underway.

Corruption Problem Addressed
A high level of corruption in public service delivery often correlates with equally high levels of mass poverty, illiteracy and under-development in other areas. Institutionalized corruption and the inability of politicians to curb corruption is a serious challenge holding India back in its efforts to eradicate poverty. It is precisely low-income households that are affected most severely by corruption, mismanagement and misuse of public resources that should otherwise guarantee local service delivery, spurring economic growth and greater equity.

The prevalence of corruption in Nuagad Block, is reflected in the statistics on various welfare schemes such as the ‘National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’ (NREGA), the ‘Forest Rights Act’ (FRA) and the ‘Public Distribution System’ (PDS). A study by the ‘National Institute of Rural Development’ (NIRD), Hyderabad, and the ‘Centre for Environment and Food Security’ (CEFS), New Delhi, on corruption in the implementation of NREGA in Odisha, found that 75% of the total of all allocated funds were misappropriated by corrupt government officials and middlemen in the financial year 2007/2008. Perpetrators are commonly identified as local level officials who act in collusion with middlemen, contractors, bank officials and Block level employees.

Key factors preventing effective mechanisms to counteract continued mismanagement and embezzlement of public funds are:

  • Lack of awareness about a) entitlements and b) the tools to fight corruption within the affected communities
  • Lack of communication materials and targeted government outreach provided in local languages
  • Poor (or limited) empowerment of institutions at the local level of government
  • Lack of proper sensitization of government officials to issues and challenges facing citizens at the grass roots level

Actions Taken by PREM
PREM geared its project interventions toward raising awareness, mobilizing the community, building capacity and engaging constructively with different stakeholders involved in local service delivery schemes. The aim was to rally the community and local officials around the mutual aim to advocate for and eventually guarantee corruption-free services. PREM worked with community based organizations (CBOs), citizen monitors, village committees, block level government officials and elected PRI representatives. In addition, PREM established and fostered links with local media and the Tribal and Dalit Peoples network. In collaboration with community volunteers, PREM introduced various peer learning tools, including teaching citizens how to use Right-to-Information (RTI) Act tools and introduced the concept of public hearings and social audits. Specifically, PREM:

  •  held – in collaboration with community level activists – regular village meetings to build capacity, improve planning and problem-solving skills of interested community members
  • organized orientation meetings with PRI members and joint workshops of community members, PRI and government officials – building capacity and introducing the overall strategy for project implementation
  • organized Block level media workshop to highlight corruption issues and sensitize the media to be part of constructively engaging officials
  • set up a muster roll watch conducted by local government activists at an NREGA work site
  • selected 2-3 social watch monitors from each village and conducted capacity building on RTI tools
  • established two RTI clinics to help community members file RTI inquiries on different issues
  • collected information material on FRA, NREGA, RTI, food security and other government provisions in local languages from government bodies and other CSOs to disseminate this information among the community
  • painted walls with information about RTI, FRA, NREGA and other entitlements in every  village or town
  • telecast a documentary film on NREGA and RTI
  • facilitated the FRA land verification process with local government activists and in collaboration with the revenue department
  • built capacity to guarantee participation and assert direct democracy mechanisms as set out in PESA with the aim to properly exert oversight over village management
  • introduced social audit and public hearing concepts

Obstacles and Challenges encountered
Most of the tribal villages are hard to access as they are situated in hilly terrain. Some areas are deemed insecure as they are home to various Naxalite groups, considered terrorist groups by the Indian government. This serves as a legitimate concern as well as sometimes excuse for government personnel to not visit villages and provide government services. Strikes called for by these Maoist groups restrict movement further, both for government officials as well as the PREM project team. Another challenge, and directly connected to the politics in the affected area, are corrupt officials threatening to brand project staff as Maoist when community activists engaged in anti corruption campaigns.

Impact and Results Achieved
First results of this CAC project include successful information mainstreaming of entitlements under the PDS within the communities and a significant rise in the communities’ awareness of the need and possibility to raise their voice against corruption.

Mr. Nahasan Majhi, a GP level activist whose knowledge about RTI tools gained through the project have led to unintended but hugely beneficial outcomes in other areas than targeted by the initial project.

Mr. Nahasan Majhi, a GP level activist whose knowledge about RTI tools gained through the project have led to unintended but hugely beneficial outcomes in other areas than targeted by the initial project.

  • All BPL card holders now receive the correct PDS entitlements every month with right quantity in all the GPs observed. While quality issues on rice grains persist, the kerosene ration has been distributed correctly.
  • Corrupt practices in the verification stage of FRA claim have been reduced by the engagement and monitoring exercised through project staff, CBOs and social watch monitors.
  • The average working days allotted through the NREGA implementation has increased from 31 days to 52 days. Wage payment delays have been reduced from 30 days to 15 days.
  • The fight against corruption is not limited to  NREGA, FRA and PDS; Communities started raising their voice against other forms of corruption, e.g. the case of Punjab National Bank where a community member with the support of the local government and the use of  RTI tools filed an application seeking information regarding his loan, which in turn helped revealing huge discrepancies on loan amounts for more than 200 loan applicants. This incident led to the detention of the bank manager.
  • Gradual growth and empowerment of the CBOs ‘Palli Vikas’ and ‘Margdarsini’ taking on ownership of this CAC project to ensure the sustainability of project impact over the long term.
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Empowering the Youth to Demand Corruption-Free Service Delivery in India

IMPLEMENTING PARTNER: Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM)
YEARS: 2009-2010
THEMES: Public Saftey Nets

Corruption and poor service delivery in the distribution of social safety net entitlements under the Public Distribution System (PDS) in the Mysore District of Karnataka State, has prompted the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) to increase citizen awareness, empower youth groups and launch a fully fledged Right-to-Information (RTI) campaign to enable communities to demand responsiveness and better service delivery from the Fair Price Shops (FPS) responsible for the PDS entitlement distribution. SVYM has successfully implemented the “Community Movement against Corruption” project and is currently building on that success conducting a second phase with the objective to further institutionalize citizen oversight, particularly Citizen Vigilance Committees ensuring financial, technical, social and institutional sustainability of the results achieved thus far.

Corruption Problem Addressed
SVYM conducted a baseline survey that identified irregularities and documented the extent of corruption experienced. These issues included the quality and quantity of food grains distributed under the PDS scheme, the maintenance of records, insufficient supply and overpricing, faulty measuring devices, hoarding grains and black marketing. Eligible citizens did not receive ration cards while ineligible persons received Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards. Vigilance committees and community oversight to demand better service delivery were not well functioning.

FPS owners routinely denied citizens their mandated rations, keenly aware that beneficiaries would not approach the oversight authorities due to a lack of awareness and information about their rights. Not all FPSs displayed correct information, including stock positions and prices on the display boards. 41% of households said there was sufficient information displayed while 42.4% said it was incomplete. Roughly 16% reported that there was either no display board or no information written on it. About 5% had no knowledge about the necessity for a display board at all. At the same time it was found that if individual beneficiaries demanded the full entitlement, FPS owners tended to issue the allotted rations without demur.

Actions Taken by SVYM
At the outset of the project SVYM conducted an extensive baseline survey, which helped to pinpoint particular issues and weaknesses in the PDS distribution scheme. Upon analysis of the survey, SVYM organized recurring multi-stakeholder meetings bringing together government officials, FPS owners, CSOs, CBOs and community members in order to foster constructive engagement between the different parties.

SVYM engaged in a variety of activities geared toward awareness raising and capacity building that included tools and strategies such as street plays and video showings, the use of various media outlets, street painting and even door-to-door campaigning. Overall SVYM trained some 1075 students in 17 schools and empowered 80 youth groups to as well as 60 NGO representatives to use the Right to Information (RTI) Act as a tool to demand information. The trainings often included government officials.  SVYM furthermore laid the groundwork to install and empower citizen vigilance committees, a task to be implemented during the second phase of the project. To achieve sustainability, SVYM has paid special attention toward fostering young leaders with the intention to groom youths to take the fight against corruption forward in the future.

Impact and Results Achieved
The results achieved include:

  • 300 new BPL cardholders from within the project area, out of a total of 536 newly distributed cards.
  • Critically augmented awareness levels regarding beneficiaries’ rights and responsibilities toward entitlements from FPS owners by the community.
  • Government officials maintain closer contact with the public and have become more responsive. FPS owners have agreed to work with SVYM and the community.
  • Youth groups have actively started demanding their full entitlements from FPS owners.
  • The number of RTI applications has increased, as has use of SVYM’s RTI Facilitation Center.

Government officials have started attending all meetings organized by SVYM and interact regularly with communities, showing an increased rate of responsiveness and accountability. Another result was the increased focus exhibited by the Food Inspector who now pays special attention to PDS and visits FPSs in the villages and tribal hamlets regularly, along with SVYM team members, taking necessary action if needed.

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Empowering Citizens to Demand Corruption-Free Access to Livelihood Entitlements in Karnataka, India

YEARS: 2009-2010
THEMES: Social Saftey Nets

Paraspara Trust (PT), a local CSO in Karnataka, India, has successfully implemented the project: “Addressing Corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS) by Citizen Groups – a pilot project in Bangalore”. The project empowered citizens to ensure corruption-free service delivery of social safety net entitlements as set forth by the law. The project was a success; the incentives for citizens to follow the project objectives and methodology should be self-perpetuating in the long run. However the challenge of sustainability remains.

Corruption Problem Addressed
Corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS), a social safety net entitlement program, is a major issue in India. Corruption permeates seemingly all government departments in Karnataka, including the Department for Food and Civil Supplies. The complex system of intermediaries and contractors active in purchase, distribution, and stocking of commodities gives way to often harmful discretionary decision-making by officials and makes oversight and control difficult.

A maximum of corrupt activities takes place in the issuance of BPL/APL (Below Poverty Line/Above Poverty Line) cards to eligible families, where the victims are the urban poor and the most vulnerable. PT conducted a survey in 30 urban slum communities covering 5,000 families to identify BPL eligible families. The survey identified about 750 eligible families (15%), who either did not have BPL or APL ration cards or reported having to pay middlemen to bribe the concerned officials to obtain the entitlement cards. Based on these findings, PT identified a variety of corruption problems, mainly pertaining to the issuance and management of the distribution of BPL/APL cards.

As a consequence and in the absence of BPL cards, eligible poor families purchase rations from the open market and pay more than INR 25/kg for rice and INR 40/litre for kerosene (the primary fuel for cooking). As most family members are daily wage earners in unorganized (non-unionized) sectors, like construction and garments, or are domestic servants, these prices are unaffordable to them. Their livelihood is threatened and their guaranteed rights are violated. Ironically, the government is trying to reduce the issuance of BPL cards, since there are so many bogus cards. This compounds the difficulty of getting a BPL card.

Actions Taken by PT
Baseline survey: With the support of independent volunteers and PDS Monitoring Committee (PDSMC) members, Paraspara Trust conducted a survey regarding access to PDS in 30 urban slum communities of Bengaluru. 5,000 families from these 30 slum communities were included in the survey.  The survey showed three types of information: details of eligible families, shop owners’ information, and views of interviewers. It revealed that 15% of eligible families (750 out of 5,000) did not have BPL/APL cards, and that shop owners possessed bogus BPL cards at about 10-20% of the total entitlement claims made at their shops. Shop Owners misused these cards to sell commodities in the black market for higher prices.

Focus Group Discussions: PT shared the survey information with the community through 30 focus group discussions. It highlighted the survey findings and explained the problems faced by eligible families. These discussions brought in more information and PT realized that most community members had paid more than INR 500 for their entitlement cards (instead of the stipulated INR 67) and even though had not yet received their cards. One fair price shop had 30 additional bogus BPL cards apart from the 150 legitimate cards allotted to it. In another case, two brothers had a shop license each, but were maintaining only one shop. Eligible families, PDSMC members and PT volunteers communicated the results of the focus group discussions to the Department of Food and Civil Supplies, making four visits to the Department.

Orientation of PDSMC members: PT organized four orientation sessions for PDSMC members to empower them to work towards corruption-free PDS outlets in the community. The results of the survey and the importance of model fair price shops to prevent corruption in PDS were discussed also. 120 PDSMC members participated in these sessions and planned PDSMC-level action plans to prevent corruption in the future, issuing new cards to eligible families. The plans also included provisions for the availability of corruption-free commodities in the fair price shop.

Key Actors: The main actors to exert transparency, and hold service providers accountable are the PDSMC members. They are community volunteers who have stepped forward to fight corruption and devote time and energy to monitor the PDS scheme. PT provided these volunteers with information and training to plan and act locally. At the next higher level, representatives from the PDSMCs try to coordinate efforts with the government officials, other NGOs, and the general public in the Dhanya Hakku Vedike (DHV or Food Rights Forum).

Eligible family members were also identified as key participants. They participated in awareness raising activities to act integer and not pay bribes, thereby preventing and acting against corruption bottom-up. As the ultimate beneficiaries, their role and involvement is vital. Finally, officials from the Department of Food and Civil Supplies play a key role, as they are the ‘receiving end’. In addition to the stakeholders above, PT set out to work directly with the fair price shop owners and their association to better understand the causes of corruption and to elicit their support in cleansing the system. PT and the Right to Food Campaign provide necessary inputs to the program by way of training, information, and facilitation of efforts at grassroots and official levels.

Challenges: The immediate challenge in the program was to deal with informal community leaders who exploit people as middle man. They are the nexus between the officials and eligible families. It proved equally challenging to orient and sensitize government officials and engage them constructively to fight corruption as there are a number of officials who directly benefit from the corrupt practices. Another tough challenge has been the identification of bogus ration cards that are hidden from plain view. Trying to identify fake cards, PDSMC members and PT staff were threatened by middle man and fair price shop owners. Finally, there is a challenge preventing political interference in the system as the huge profits tempt politicians to use their powers to influence and meddle with the service delivery to appropriate funds for cronies or themselves.

Impact and Results Achieved
Notwithstanding the difficult environment, PT obtained excellent results and worked vigorously to overcome the challenges posed:

  • The conducted survey and its results served as a welcome and much needed tool for advocacy.
  • Bribe payments to community leaders and middlemen were reduced by 75%.
  • PT enabled the processing of 240 pending applications of BPL cards to eligible families.
  • 120 PDSMC members work in the community.
  • Officials agreed to check the bogus cards and to engage with the communities.
  • The two brothers agreed to open separate outlets as required by their licenses.
  • PDSMC and DHV members have been sensitized, educated and empowered.
  • PT increased the effective participation of citizens in the Right to Food Campaign

The sustainability of the program relies on the PDSMC and DHV volunteers to check on corruption in their communities and allow citizens to benefit from the laws that are in place, however not enforced and monitored sufficiently by the government agencies responsible. While there is no direct monetary cost involved in running these groups, volunteers have the incentive to come together and act as they themselves benefit from the correct administering of the PDS scheme. The absence of PT will not deter them from continuing their activities they have learned in the short period of one year.  Given the prominence and focus on the issue of corruption at both local but also the national level, the groups promoted through this project will continue to evolve as a movement, perhaps not even limited to the PDS scheme alone.

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Measurable Results Reducing Corruption in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in Odisha, India

IMPLEMENTING PARTNERS: Visionaries of Creative Action for Liberation and Progress (VICALP)
YEARS: 2009
THEMES: Social Saftey Net

Corruption in India is rampant and especially harmful where the effects of embezzlement, extortion and bribery affect the poorest. Following a report that 75% of the funds budgeted for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) had been shifted into officials’ pockets, VICALP, a local CSO, set out to affect change. VICALP implemented the “Reducing the opportunities for corruption in NREGA in 12 Panchayats of Mohana block of Gajapati district, Odisha” project, using capacity building exercises to empower communities and capacitate citizens to monitor how social safety net provisions were implemented by the authorities. Prompting authorities to be more transparent and accountable in accordance with the rules and regulations that should govern the delivery of social services were an effective way to achieve better service delivery and ensure citizens’ rights to the entitlements as stipulated in NREGA.

Corruption Problem Addressed
NREGA and the Right to Information Act (RTI) are the two most progressive pieces of legislation in the history of India. If implemented in letter and spirit, these historic acts have the potential to transform rural India. While the RTI Act provides provisions for citizens to demand information from authorities, NREGA assures that a certain amount of workdays is given to the unemployed, paying basic wages and complying with the minimum standards of a decent workplace. Odisha is the poorest state in India with a very high percentage of the rural population living in abject poverty and with chronic hunger.

In 2007, the government of Odisha claimed that 154,118 families eligible to receive benefits under NREGA completed 100 days of employment and received respective payment. The Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS) conducted a survey on NREGA implementation in 100 villages in the 6 poorest districts in Odisha in the same year. According to CFES, families in Odisha were given an average of 57 days of paid. Furthermore, not more than 5 days of actual employment time had been allotted to each family in average. There was not a single instance of 100 day employment in any of the 100 surveyed villages. The study revealed that 75% of the NREGA funds earmarked for Odisha were pocketed by officials during 2006/2007. With its findings, CFES approached the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court charged the Government of Odisha with a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry. This is clear evidence of deep rooted corruption in NREGA in Odisha State.

Actions Taken by VICALP
To initiate the project, VICALP conducted a sample survey in 50 villages and found that corruption in NREGA was even worse than the findings of the CEFS survey indicated. Even for job card applications, people had to bribe officials and many workers never received wages. VICALP targeted 49 villages and indirectly involved 200 villages from 12 Panchayats. Major activities included:

  • Promotion of community based organizations (CBOs) in the target villages;
  • Formation of 12 anti-corruption “Social Watch Committees” (SWCs) in 12 Panchayats;
  • Intensive training of 84 Social Watch Volunteers (SWVs) on NREGA and RTI-use;
  • Panchayat level orientation training for 1031 community leaders;
  • 156 bi-monthly meetings by SWCs to review and monitor NREGA corruption, developing Panchayat level target plans by people’s committees;
  • Instructions an assistance using the RTI to expose corruption;
  • Establishing constructive engagement and a working relationship with government officials to reduce opportunities for corruption to take place;
  • Ensuring peoples participation in Gram Sabha meetings;
  • Conducting social audits in 12 target panchayats;
  • Asserting people’s rights through lobbying and advocacy;

Implementing these activities, VICALP had to overcome a variety of challenges:

  1. Corrupt officials and members of the Panchayat Raj Institution (PRI) used strong-arm tactics (threats, physical attacks, false charges, and urging villagers not to allow VICALP workers and social watch volunteers to enter the villages) to block project implementation.
  2. Uncooperative government officials created hurdles – at least in the beginning of the project.
  3. Communal violence proved to be an obstacle for inter-community action for several months.

Despite these obstacles, the program facilitators, social watch volunteers, and campaign leaders made extra efforts to achieve the project’s goals. A mass gathering involving all the department heads and PRI members was organized at the block headquarters. This gathering proved to be a turning point in soliciting constructive engagement with government officials and PRI members. Department heads and PRI leaders were forced to take a public stand on the issue and concluded to be paying special attention henceforth. The anti-corruption campaign received a notable boost. VICALP frequently discussed project progress with the District Collector also, keeping the issues and constructive collaboration with authorities on the top of the agenda. As the District Collector started to pay attention to the grievances of anti-corruption campaign leaders, RTI requests received responses and some of the corrupt officials were punished. The campaign gained momentum.

Impact and Results Achieved
An internal evaluation by VICALP and an external evaluation by PRIYA (New Delhi) assessed the impact of the project: VICALP has established a strong base in 200 villages through village level CBOs. The Social Watch Volunteers have helped the anti-corruption campaign to spread. This has provided opportunities for community solidarity and has strengthened community organizations to fight corruption.

Constructive engagement not only enhanced community confidence but also made citizens more skilful and effective as negotiators and leaders. This community empowerment will ultimately promote the sustainability of the project. The entire process is completely owned by communities. VICALP and the communities also noted that here are sincere and responsible government officers who are looking for opportunities to help fight injustice and corruption. The campaign tried to actively involve these officials to reduce the opportunities for corruption.

The following are some of the impacts of VICALP’s anti-corruption campaign:

  • 100% of job card holders have accounts and passbooks in their name.
  • 110 cases of irregularities were identified and discussed.
  • RTI requests were filed for 55 of these cases, 25 out of them were solved by the block grievance cell, 20 cases are at the second level, 2 cases have been forwarded to the Odisha RTI commission, and 9 others were resolved before the response to the RTI request.
  • A Junior Engineer of the block was fined 15,000 rupees.
  • A Junior Engineer returned money which he had taken as a bribe.
  • A village level worker was suspended for corruption.
  • 74 new NREGA projects were sanctioned.
  • The number of NREGA work days increased.
  • NREGA average wages increased from 35 to 90 rupees per day.
  • Gram Sabha meetings in 11 Panchayats had the participation of 60-70% of the villagers.

These findings document the results that a relatively small intervention can make: Fostering civil society to hold the government accountable to the promises made.

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Using Rural Call Centres and Social Watch Groups to Control Corruption in India

YEARS: 2009-2011
THEMES: Social Saftey Nets

Poor service delivery in the government administered National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) have led a local CSO, SAMBANDH, to increase citizen awareness and participation in the Odisha District of Orissa, India. SAMBANDH conducted surveys, mobilized the community and facilitated the formation of Social Watch Groups (SWG) to increase transparency and elicit authorities to exert greater responsiveness. Through its actions, SA has successfully implemented the “Monitoring Corruption using Rural Call Centres and Social Watch Groups in India” project.

Corruption Problem Addressed
SAMBANDH acquired substantial experience in social sector development in Odisha. Based on its experience, focus group discussions and a baseline survey, SAMBANDH identified serious deficiencies in the NREGS. For example, job cards were not being issued as required; government officials charged money for registration; payments were frequently delayed; and work was not done as planned. In addition, people were not involved in the planning process, and mandatory worksite facilities were not available.

The baseline survey revealed that two out of three of the NREGS participants reported that job card entries were not done regularly, and that no one received the officially authorized 100 days of work; 59% mentioned that muster roll entries were not done on the worksite; 62% that work was provided beyond the 5 Km limit; and 67% that they had not participated in the social audit process and other planning activities.  There was a lack of “collective voice”, a weak regional network, lack of support from relevant government officials, and lack of skills and knowledge among the service providers at the local level, all of which contributed to corrupt practices. SAMBANDH concluded that community members lacked information on NREGS. There was a lack of participation on the demand side and of accountability on the supply side.  No corrective action was taken because of the lack of a proper monitoring process, and equally if not more importantly, there was corruption across the board in managing the MGNREGS system.

Actions Taken by SAMBANDH
To overcome the identified corruption problems, SAMBANDH sought to work with all key stakeholders involved. Key activities included:

  • Formation and training of a Social Watch Group (SWG) at the block level to regularly monitor the implementation of the program and identify any corrupt activities. SWGs include 40 volunteer representatives of the media, local politicians, teachers, members of SHGs, and representatives of local NGOs and the community. They met each month to assess the implementation of local government schemes and services and discuss strategies to deal with the failures and abuses that are uncovered. These included holding public meetings and working with the local media to publicize the problems revealed and taking up specific issues with the relevant public officials in a constructive manner aimed at solving problems rather than punishing individuals.
  • Establishment of a Rural Call Centre (RCC) as a viable enterprise managed by a capable entrepreneur. The RCC has played a key role in enabling villagers to access information related to their entitlements under NREGS and other programs and more generally to enable citizens to get information on benefits and entitlements from different public agencies. The entrepreneur participated in the block level meetings and established a good rapport with different agencies to get information and help the community. The Centre manager assists visitors in obtaining the information they are seeking and to resolve their queries. By making data available the Centre assists social auditing under the RTI Act.
  • Selection and training of transparency workers from the villages. This was coordinated with members of the SWG.
  • Organization of media workshops, which provided the people with the opportunity to speak up.
  • Formation of a coalition of social development partners to discuss corruption and related issues at the regional level.
  • Production of IEC materials for community training and advocacy. Materials developed included a Social Watch Bulletin, brochures and posters explaining the work of the SWG and Rural Call Centres and thematic posters against corruption.

Impact and Results Achieved
Constructive community and media involvement from the very beginning contributed substantially to get the attention of all relevant stakeholders and to implement the project successfully. The major innovation was the formation of the SWG and the establishment of the viable RCC. The SWG met regularly, discussed relevant matters, and submitted issues to the concerned authorities for corrective action. Most importantly, the RCC proved to be a successful and sustainable business, while fulfilling all of its objectives with a view to fighting corruption and empowering citizens. More than 1000 people visited the RCC for different kinds of information.

Overall, the project’s activities have led to better implementation of NREGS in the project area, which has benefited the community members.  As a result, false entries in job cards have stopped, muster roll entries are now being made on the worksite itself, 65% are getting full wages for the number of days worked (compared to 35% before the project started), wages paid to men and women is equal, all those who applied for a job got it within the maximum of 15 days, 173 people were finally paid, minimum worksite facilities are available, and there is now participation of community people in the planning process.

The project was welcomed by most of the stakeholders, except for some of the “vested interest” groups, mainly government officials.  During implementation, the main challenges turned out to be poor government budget allocation and utilization; failure of resources to reach the service providers/users, hampered by poor expenditure tracking; weak incentives for effective service providers, leading to low motivation and casual indifference of the people – a serious  problem with collective “voice raising”; weak political buy-in among the different stakeholders, leading to a weak social accountability structure  and also weak regional networking.

Although government officials were initially reluctant, after their participation in the orientation session and a block-level meeting joined by the media, they started to take corrective action on the complaints lodged.  For example, junior engineers were suspended and transferred, and information on the budget allocation for a local road was shared with the community members. Finally, but importantly, various Oriya dailies printed news items on issues regarding the project and MGNREGS which put pressure on local politicians and officials to be responsive.

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Combating Corruption and Unethical Behavior in Clinical Drug Trials in Kerala, India

YEARS: 2009-2010
THEMES: Health

Inadequate rules and regulations and poor or no government enforcement of these rules within the sector of clinical drug trials in Kerala State, India, have led a local CSO, JANANEETHI, to start investigating the field and research structural flaws that violate human rights and result in poor delivery of public health services. Through its actions, JANANEETHI has successfully engaged authorities to take up the issue and create awareness among stakeholders. Closing loopholes, eliciting an ethics debate and prompting government agencies to enforce and oversee drug trials have rendered JANANEETHI’s intervention highly successful. A second phase of the project is underway.

Corruption Problem Addressed
India has become a global hub for clinical drug trials on human subjects, reportedly worth $400 million USD and growing by over 30% per year. Until the 1990s, most clinical research was carried out in academic medical centers and financed by the Government. Recently, commercial interests have started dominating the drug trial scene in which the financial bottom-line can override ethical and human rights concerns. A number of factors are responsible for the current increase in drug trials conducted in India. These include the low cost of experiments, almost 60% less than comparable trials in Europe or the US, and access to a large pool of illiterate and relatively less educated patients with a wide variety of diseases. Trials became easier after the 2005 amendment of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940 permitting concurrent trials. These factors and the absence of specific laws to protect patients have lead to widespread corruption in clinical drug trials.

Rampant corruption has been alleged from the highest policy level down to local institutions. The regulatory mechanism is steered from the drug controller’s office at the center with little involvement and control at the local levels. Bioequivalence trials offer participants large payments in violation of existing ethical guidelines inducing poor people to risk their lives. At present, sound and ethical clinical trials depends mostly on personal integrity and honesty of the investigator concerned.  While corruption is so widespread, there are no specific laws to prosecute illegal or unethical activities.

Actions Taken by JANANEETHI
During the first phase of the project, JANANEETHI focused on identifying the problems in drug trials and the underlying structural weaknesses in the regulatory system. It identified five participants of drug trials and recorded their experience. In continuation, the CSO identified the weaknesses in the regulatory mechanism through personal interviews conducted with members of a variety of institutions, including medical colleges; ethics review boards, hospitals, staff and doctors responsible for the trials and others working on ethical standards of drug trials. The research exposed serious shortcomings and loopholes.

JANANEETHI felt that the Government of India had aggressively encouraged foreign drug trials without establishing necessary protective measures and without guaranteeing inadequate effective regulatory mechanisms.  JANANEETHI also felt that the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), the principal regulatory agency, lacked capacity and/or the will to carry out its functions including the scientific review of trial protocols and monitoring the conduct of trials. Ethics committees were not adequately equipped or trained nor were they held accountable for their decisions. The confidentiality clause in the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines indemnified the researchers who violated ethical norms and good practices while not protecting the privacy of trial participants. Physicians received huge incentives and payments to recruit trial subjects. Often patients would not know they were being used as test cases. Simultaneously, necessary medical treatments and compensations were denied or withheld for a growing number of trial related injuries and deaths occurring among the test population.

JANANEETHI has published a handbook on ethical standards of clinical trials for capacity-building purposes and undertook awareness raising activities with the full range of stakeholders involved, including briefing media representatives aiming to launch a state wide campaign on appropriate practices and ethical standards for drug trials reaching out to the public through radio programs, television and other media.

The CSO also reinforced existent outreach to medical professionals and members of various ethics committees, awareness raising classes for medical students and other affected parties. Project activities furthermore included: advocacy through presentations to government officials, Members of Parliament, the State Legislative Assembly and heads of medical institutions; select monitoring of drug trial activities; and coalition building among concerned institutions.

All these activities will be reinforced and strengthened in a follow-up to the first project phase to ensure sustainable results and make use of the successfully created momentum.

Impact and Results Achieved
JANANEETHI has successfully carried out an extensive investigation and has brought to surface the serious shortcomings, malpractices and violations of guidelines in the fast growing business of clinical drug trials in India. Its research has also shown that while there were a few guidelines, no specific law existed to enforce them and punish violators.

JANANEETHI has been highly successful in elevating the issue of corruption in drug trials to the national level. As a result, JANANEETHI was contacted and has submitted a report to the Human Rights Commission which is investigating rights violations in drug trials. JANANEETHI also participated in the first ever national consultation on the regulation of clinical trials which was held in collaboration with representatives from ICMR, World Health Organization, CDSCO, international medical research organizations and members of a Parliamentary Committee. While there was initial resistance on behalf of the authorities at first, constant pursuance and endurance on behalf of JANANEETHI has prompted officials as well as doctors and other stakeholders to constructively engage with the project and start furthering its objectives of realizing safe and ethical drug-testing.

JANANEETHI has succeeded as a whistleblower in Kerala, publicly challenging and protesting corrupt practices in drug trials.  JANANEETHI was promised by the Health Secretary of Kerala that strict measures would be taken to respect ethical practices in drug trials.  The second phase is expected to create further results in awareness building through campaigning for sound ethical practices under international accepted norms in clinical drug trials.

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Controlling Corruption to Improve Health Services for the Poor in Odisha State, India

YEARS: 2009-2010
THEMES: Health

Corruption and a lack of transparency in government administered health services has led a local CSO, Ayauskam, to mobilize and educate citizens and citizen organizations to engage in coalition-building and hold health service providers to a higher standard of accountability across 10 Panchayats of Khariar block in Nuapada district, Odisha. The project has been successful; sustainability however depends on the continued constructive engagement between community organizations, citizen monitors and service providers, as well as the right balance of public pressure versus collaboration between the different stakeholders. Continued funding for Ayauskam to moderate and balance this important consensus-building process toward achieving sustainable results is a priority.

Corruption Problem Addressed
Ayauskam in collaboration with Vikash, another NGO in Odisha state, tackled corruption in 10 Gram Panchayats (local governments) in Khariar block, Nuapada district of Odisha State. The health sector was targeted as initial discussions with citizens revealed that they were not receiving basic health services despite significant government spending on health. A detailed survey in 64 villages was conducted and the findings were startling: It revealed rampant corruption in the health sector.

People in the survey area paid more than $11,000 USD annually in “corruption taxes” to government health service providers. For example, the effective hospital charge for delivering a child was around $55 USD when it was supposed to be free. Health service delivery became a business of exploitation rather than an entitlement as foreseen by the applicable law. Medicine was not available free of cost, doctors and the other health service providers were not available during their hours of duty, and payments to patients were delayed (e.g., for the program to encourage child delivery in hospitals). Hospital staff demonstrated condescending and inhumane behavior toward patients and their relatives and oversight authorities were complacent and not exerting the necessary control and accountability mechanisms.

Actions Taken by Ayauskam
The first step for Ayauskam was to increase media awareness about corruption. During a media consultation workshop, survey findings were discussed with reporters and journalists working in both print and electronic outlets. This generated a lot of enthusiasm. The then sensitized journalists subsequently covered stories on health right violations including service provider behavior, lack of provisions of free medicines and other symptoms of a non-functional service delivery scheme.

The next step was to establish and strengthen community based organizations (CBOs) through targeted training and village meetings. Every village formed a “Durnity Birodhy Manch” (DBM, Citizens against Corruption) forum to protest corruption issues at the village level. These formed a network at the Panchayat, at both block and district levels.

Capacity development programs were organized to train women change agents, members of Panchayati Raj Institutions, CBOs, youth clubs, government officials and service providers.

Campaigns against corruption were initiated in the villages. Social audits were conducted to discuss the problems of each village followed by public hearings with district level officials including the District Collector and the head of the district health department. Villages obtained information about services which enabled them to become more articulate. An impact monitoring tool was developed for community volunteers and self-help group members to monitor health service delivery and corrupt practices. Rallies and demonstrations were conducted to show the strength of the CBOs and the community.

Ayauskam and the communities had to overcome many challenges. Service providers and officials at the block and district levels initially reacted negatively: They influenced people to not cooperate with the project team and doctors tried to influence the leaders of political parties to subvert the effort. Their strategies included making threats to file criminal and false claims against DBM members and withholding vital information to carry out the vigilance needed. Without the relevant information, it was not possible to organize people and create results. In all cases, information was however provided after the applicants filed appeals according to the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

DBM members persisted, wrote letters, and conducted regular discussions with higher authorities and local politicians. This forced authorities and politicians to involve the people in the quest to improve health services. Gradually the situation improved. Increased awareness and greater participation of communities forced the service providers to take their questions and concerns seriously. DBM members started discussions with service providers. DBM made it clear that it was fighting against corruption and not against individuals. Cooperation between the community and service providers evolved as problems were shared and solved.

Many local groups helped support the DBM efforts. The involvement of Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI) members helped tremendously. Grassroots service providers started cooperating and participated in project activities. Cooperation between community organizers and local level health functionaries is improving. Social audits strengthened cooperation between the health care administration and the DBM forum at the local level. The training and capacity building provided for CBOs encouraged CBOs to support the efforts to demand better services. Self-help groups in every village have become active tackling corrupt practices observed.

Impact and Results Achieved
The administration now recognizes the strength of the community. It instructed the health department and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) to involve CBOs and the community in village health planning. The Gram Kalyan Samity (a village level institution created under the National Rural Health Mission [NRHM] for village health planning and monitoring) gained real power.

Not only within the target areas, but also other Gram Panchayats of Khariar block benefited from the project intervention. Village level service providers started attending the social audits and related programs.

The rallies conducted against corruption increased the people’s ability and propensity to demand their entitlements and hold authorities and service providers responsible.

The impact study shows that there has been a reduction of corrupt practices in government hospitals: 80 percent of participants surveyed are not paying fees for hospital delivery. Payment of the service tax to other service providers has been reduced by 50 percent. Expenditures on medical services during pregnancy and delivery have been reduced 82 percent. Village health committees have been formed, free medicines are available at the village level, and countersigning of checks for financial support to mothers after hospital delivery is done immediately. There is an effective distribution of the full quota of Take Home Rations under the ICDS, medicine lists are displayed at government hospitals, and malnourished children receive special care. Anti-natal and post-natal health services have improved also.

Every household is now able to save more than $55 USD per year due to the project intervention. People’s participation increased in the decision making process, implementation and monitoring of programs. The process is community-owned and can be sustained by village level leadership, CBOs, and the block level DBM.

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Organizing the Community to Provide Corruption-Free Safety Net Entitlements in Karnataka, India

YEARS: 2009-2010
THEMES: Social Saftey Nets

Citizens’ and communities’ inadequate knowledge about entitlements guaranteed through the government administered National Rural Employment Guarantee Act have prompted a local CBO, the Nava Jeevana Mahila Okkoota (NJMO), to engage with affected communities, raise awareness, provide education and help capacitate and organize the communities to form sustainable labor groups. The objective is to hold the government and service providers accountable while helping citizens benefit from the programs precisely designed to help India’s rural poor. NJMO has successfully established a model that has the potential to be self-perpetuating in the long run, forming labor groups that can transform into member-financed independent unions afterwards. The project has been successfully implemented and a second phase is currently underway.

Corruption Problem Addressed
In September 2005, the Indian Parliament passed a landmark statute called the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The aim of this legislation was to provide families in rural areas with 100 days of work and pay them no less than the minimum wage for the work completed. Besides providing employment in the off-season (when demand for agricultural labor is low), NREGA was intended to stop rural migration into towns and cities and thus help build a vibrant village economy, investing in soil-moisture-environment conservation works.

Unfortunately, most people in villages were unaware of the new law. Instead, it was elected representatives and officials as well as local contractors who seized the opportunity to indulge in huge levels of corruption and embezzle the earmarked NREGA funds. The funds constitute the one funding scheme under which villages receive most of their funds from. For example, a village with 1,000 families would be allocated about INR 20 million ($400,000 USD) per year, a large temptation for the corrupt.

Based on complaints made by people to officials, 80% of eligible workers’ families did not have job cards (necessary for claiming NREGA benefits) nor did they have bank accounts. At the same time, contractors and middlemen had cards faked for their own people to siphon money fraudulently from NREGA budgets. Corruption was also observed in Primary Health Centers (PHCs) and at various levels of government. Citizens, communities and even NGOs were not prepared to fight and correct this injustice.

Actions Taken by NJMO
After analyzing and understanding the situation at the grassroots level, NJMO planned to tackle the problem in cooperation with officials and elected representatives. Regrettably, less than 5% of them were willing to engage with NJMO to ensure that eligible beneficiaries would receive the promised entitlements. As a consequence, NJMO decided to tackle the corruption problem directly and set out to build confidence and trust among communities empowering them to challenge elected representatives and officials. NJMO calculated that if 700 out of 1,000 families in any one village could be mobilized to demand corruption-free service delivery, they would create the critical mass necessary to obtain work and get paid. Mobilizing the community would thus be beneficial to each single citizen and automatically reduce the opportunity to misappropriate funds.

To implement the revised strategy, NJMO organized community members to form labor groups that would have collective bargaining power. The first step was to arrange village-level meetings with the aim of creating awareness about NREGA entitlements. Out of these gatherings, NJMO advised forming neighborhood groups of 50 people each, with a designated team leader. A second step included community training on how to obtain job cards, opening bank accounts, and applying for work. The third step included educating the groups on wage rates, grievance redress mechanisms and the scope of responsibilities and involvement handled by gram panchayaths (village councils). Building on the Right-to-Information (RTI) complaints filed by the neighborhood groups over time, NJMO linked the groups to district, state and national forums and ensured that their grievances were heard and acted upon.

NJMO selected educated youth from each village and trained them in the basics of the projects implemented under the NREGA scheme (mainly road construction, canals, reservoirs, etc.), including mechanisms and tools on how to take measurements, how to calculate wages and other rates. In addition at least two women from each village were trained in the details of how to fill out job applications and ask for work. Awareness raising programs were undertaken, using easy-to-read pamphlets and pictorial posters, together with local songs.

Networking efforts with other state- and national-level networks formed another important aspect of the project intervention. Many intellectuals and development experts at the state and even national level were regularly briefed about the situation at the grassroots level and NJMO sought their advice and guidance to help take further action. NJMO also shared stories from the villages utilizing both print and electronic media outlets. One of their stories was published in The Hindu and caught the attention of the Supreme Court and High Court Judges. NJMO was able to attract state-level legislators and officials’ attention mainly through the extensive media coverage accompanying their work, securing famous activists’ support.

Challenges during the implementation included serious threats made by local politicians and contractors whose established routes of illegal income were challenged. Moreover, NJMO realized that communities would only subscribe to the project actions if implementation took place quickly and if results could be shown in the short terms.

Impact and Results Achieved
NJMO has achieved impressive results:

  • At the grassroots level, the CBO has organized more than 10,000 poor families in more than 100 villages.
  • These families have received around INR 50 million ($1 million USD) in wages last year alone.
  • In one occasion, NJMO demonstrated for 25 days in front of the district office and was able to get pending payments to the tune of INR 10 million ($200,000 USD). The effort attracted like minded people from 10 other districts and prompted them to start similar processes in their own districts.
  • Citizens receive an unemployment allowance (to be paid when work is demanded and not given), and compensation for late payments (payments not made within 15 days). Fines were levied on officials (for not resolving grievances within 15 days).
  •  Grievance Redress Mechanisms were set up at the district levels.
  • The poor were empowered and have started inquiring and at times even agitating successfully for other public services, like PDS entitlement, schools, housing and health programs. They have started demanding gram sabhas (village assemblies) to be convened regularly and that all decisions taken should be taken at these forums, giving citizens a possibility to participate and voice their concerns. Six villages conducted effective gram sabhas in response to this demand.
  • NJMO has also ensured that community voices are heard at state level by senior officers. As a result of sound networking, advocacy efforts and coalition building exercises, many important orders were passed, for example providing money for work tools and determining a fair wage rates.
  • Furthermore, NJMO in collaboration with the state administration worked on guidelines for social audits to be conducted regularly in the villages.
  • Due to NJMO’s advocacy efforts (and in collaboration with other coalitions advocating for better NREGA service delivery), more officials are being posted at the panchayath level to ensure corruption-free service delivery.

The established labor groups will be converted into unions with annual membership fees of INR 100. The unions will have service staff – one for every 1,000 families and will be paid for by beneficiaries. Similar structures have been designed at taluk, district and state level. The project thus has an excellent chance to be sustainable in the long run.

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