Thursday, April 24, 2008

Getting nothing done

4th April 2008

After the drama of yesterday, there had been a lot of speculation about what had motivated this shift in the DM's approach – after all, he had been the one to take the lead in setting up the enquiry committee in December. Some things became apparent after perusing Friday's Hindustan Hindi. The pradhans of Mishrikh and Pisawa had submitted a letter to the Sitapur City Magistrate alleging that the enquiry committee set up last December was unconstitutional and was completely under the control of 'dalali' organizations – basically groups that exploit both the government and the workers by taking a cut of wages. Now all the comments in the DDO's office began making sense...

Of course, this started a new round of phone calls and exchange of information. At the same time, the news reached Richa that the CDO had gone on leave! It was known that he would be going on leave for training (including a field trip to the US) later in the month. But it began to look like the CDO would not be appearing in Sitapur dt. for a while.

We reached Vikas Bhavan as planned at 11 am and found the DM in the CDO's office. His neck brace was off and he looked a lot more vigorous. A number of officials stood around busily taking notes. Richa started off about the letter and he immediately replied that it would be signed. When Richa asked when it would be done, he just repeated that it would be done. Then he mentioned that there had been opposition to the report from some officers and they had threatened to go on strike! Richa and Sharmaji talked about the fact that the committee was chaired by a Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), that it had given opportunities to the BDOs to make their statements etc. The DM sent us on our way promising to get the letter signed. Richa said that we would be back by evening.

We then went to the offices of Hindustan Hindi to lodge a protest about their article. Any person unfamiliar with the issue would get a very incomplete and biased picture from this article, especially considering the extensive and favourable coverage of the December dharna by the Hindustan. The bureau chief justified the coverage saying that the paper has to cover all news and that he had a high opinion of Hindustan's readers – they would be able to connect the dots. Well, they are his readers – I guess it's his prerogative to have such expectations from them. I wouldn't have such expectations from myself!

When we returned at 4 pm to Vikas Bhavan, we learnt that a special messenger had been sent to Lucknow to get the CDO's signature on the letter – wow! There were conflicting replies on when he had been sent – some said in the morning itself, others said at 3 pm. The DDO came by and threw out a few remarks – the letter has been sent, let's see if he will sign it etc. etc.

All in all, after 2 days and four rounds of Vikas Bhavan, we still didn't have the letter in hand. The bureaucrats have indeed mastered the art of never saying no and yet getting nothing done!

While returning home, Richa received a call from an SKMS member – this lady and others from her village had received daily wages of only Rs. 40 for a pond repair job. They had filed a complaint and protested and the DM had ordered an enquiry. A magistrate was supposed to visit their village the next day to take statements and that morning a constable from a nearby police station had come by and made threatening statements. This led to another round of phone calls, with Surbala planning to go to that village the next day. Richa also called the constable who visited the village and shouted at him. In such situations, only experience will tell you what to do and how much force to use, I guess. This also seems to be a big dilemma for activists and organizations – if the villagers, out of fear of the police, back down from the complaint, should their partners in cities or other villages pressure them to continue the fight, fight on in their absence or step back from this particular battle???

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