03Jul2014

Citizen’s Learn about their Rights through Legal Literacy Camps

The Policy, Governance and Advocacy Center at Sehgal Foundation is running a Good Governance Now (GGN) initiative. The program operates in Mewat, Haryana and encourages citizen-led rural governance. Legal literacy refers to primary level awareness of laws that provide for citizens. When citizens are legally literate, they can ensure their rights and challenge injustices. Vikas Jha, a Group Leader, said “The GGN program strengthens the ability of villagers to claim their rights and entitlements provided by the government. Through learning and doing, community members take ownership of their own development.”

Three legal literacy camps were organized back in June 2011 by the GGN initiative. The camps increased awareness on the government’s six primary programs for citizens. Camp participants were encouraged to take action to improve the functioning of these programs. Volunteers set up information booths, which also served as grievance counseling booths. Several complaints were registered on the inadequate functioning of government. The Governance Guides (Sehgal Foundation’s master trainers) counseled the villagers and came up with action steps to take. Citizens were encouraged to file Right to Information (RTI) applications. RTI applications entitle citizens to the provision of requested government information in a timely manner.

This year, Sehgal Foundation and Jindal Global Law School (JGLS) have organized 5 more legal literacy camps. Two have already been held in Firozepur Jhirkha and Nuh blocks of district Mewat, Haryana. The camps worked to address villagers’ concerns on food programs, social security and employment. 3000 villagers participated in the two camps.

The first camp was held in Firozepur Jhirkha, Mewat. The Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Mr Hoshiar Singh Siwach, spoke to over 1000 attendees. He said, “Awareness is the key through which villagers can claim their entitlements. Citizens of Mewat should make sure that their children go to school. Education is the foundation for awareness.”

The event theme encouraged communnity activism. Rajuddin is an activist that emphasizes using the Right to Information act to bring about community change. Rajuddin encouraged members of the community to raise their problems with government departments. Sometimes the government is unaware of program inefficiencies or delays on the community level. Once they are aware of the problem, they can work to address it.

The camp had many booths offering information on government schemes. The primary schemes discussed were: Public Distribution System (PDS); Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS); Right to Education, Mid Day Meals (MDM); Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA); Right to Information (RTI), and National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). The booths collected complaints from citizens regarding the scheme problems. Close to 60 complaints were filed with the relevant government departments and officials.

The second camp was held in Nuh, Mewat. Close to 2000 villagers attended. The Sub Divisional Magistrate (SMD), Mr. Tirlok Chand, spoke to the crowd. He discussed the importance of education and its role in improving the lives of community members.

This camp had 9 stalls set up. Each stall discussed a different government program and received 310 complaints about the government programs from attendees. A petition was also conducted to reduce the fee for filing RTI applications from Rs. 50 to Rs. 10.

Good Governance Now trainees talked to the crowd about their training experience. They discussed how they had formed a village level monitoring committee with help from the Sarpanch (village council leader). The committee ensured that the government’s Mid Day Meals program ran properly in schools and Aganwadis (day care centers). The Additional Deputy Commissioner authorized a committee to check in on the program.

Camp attendees filed a large number of complaints about a dysfunctional Anganwadi Center in Uletha village. The SMD visited the center on October 4th to assess the situation. He learned that the center had not been running for the past eight years. The SMD immediately ordered a worker from a neighboring village to take control of the center. The villagers also complained that the local school principal had a high level of absences from the school. The SMD found that the attendance registers were falsely marked. He filed scanned copies of the register with the Education Directorate of Chandigarh. The Education Directorate would take action on the principal.

The SMD’s actions lifted villagers’ spirits. Villagers learned to raise their community problems with authorities. Authorities could then take action for the improvement of community programs.

Villagers in Mewat are learning to take issues of rural governance into their own hands. They are fighting for a better future. Sehgal Foundation will hold three more camps this year. The camps will help to increase community participation in rural governance in villages across Mewat.

For more information, please contact:
Email: communications@smsfoundation.org