Bhubaneswar: In a carnival like atmosphere, hundreds of people comprising representations from Civil Society, Panchayati Raj Institutions and former administrators congregated at the Hotel New Marrion and discussed how close handholding support from the Civil Society Organizations have not only immensely helped thousands of poor and illiterate tribal people in gaining access to information on the benefits of the various Public Schemes and Services of the government, but has also helped them in getting enlisted in the same and obtaining the various benefits they are entitled to.
Shri Surjya Narayan Patro, Hon’ble Minister, Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare inaugurated the half day workshop organized by two leading civil society organizations Spread (Koraput) and Disha (Sundargarh) on the successes, issues and challenges faced by people in getting their rightful entitlements like subsidized ration under the PDS, the supplementary nutrition from the ICDS, the free school lunch from MDM, the 100 days of waged work from MGNREGS, the maternity benefit assistances etc. form the government schemes and services.
Kickstarting the discussion Shri Bidyut Mohanty, Secretary, Spread made a brief presentation on how the two organizations (Spread and Disha) have helped prepare people to participate in Gram Sabha with pre-agreed lists of demands and how the Citizen Support Centres run by them have helped people in gaining easy access to various application forms and availing handholding support in filling up the application forms and drafting and lodging their grievances. Mr. Mohanty appealed to the Hon’ble minister to apprise the house on the status of the State Rule formation in the context of the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
Responding to Mr. Mohanty, the Hon’ble Minister promised that the State would soon formulate the State NFSA Rules. He appealed to organizations like Spread and Disha to help the government in identifying all those deserving households who have been left uncovered by the safety net of PDS for enabling his ministry to ensure that such households get immediately covered. The Minister also promised that in close collaboration with the State Food Commission, his Minsitry would ensure that all the undeserving creamy-layer households who have been erroneously got enlisted in the pDS would be removed soon.
Laying stress on timely action, Ms Sashiprava Bindhani, State Information Commissioner stated that service delivery as also grievance redressal need to be time-bound and that Civil Society Organizations can help the government in ensuring timely service delivery to people. She also stressed upon the need for steps by the various departments of the government to improve suo motu (proactive) information disclosure so that citizens wouldn’t have to run from pillar to post for accessing information.
Mr Rajkiohor Mishra, former Advisor to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court on Right to Food appealed to the Minister to take extra care to reach the hitherto unreached Primitive Vulnerable Tribal Groups (who are on the verge of extinction) with the food and nutrition benefits as also to take appropriate policy decisions to include edible oil and pulses in the PDS food supplies for ensuring adequate nutrition to the poor and marginalized.
Former State Information Commissioner Shri Jagadananda urged upon the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to develop suo motu templates on what and how the service delivery departments could use to proactively share various relevant information in the public domain. He also stressed upon the need for importance of developing well-documented evidences on the various exclusion and inclusion errors so that the government when shared with these evidences would have to take appropriate policy level remedial action. He also invited the CSOs to make extensive use of the various toll free grievance telephone numbers and build evidences as to when are the grievance call lines are being responsive and identify what measures can be taken to improve the efficacy of the toll free grievance numbers.
State Food Commissioner Shri Rangalal Jamuda (retd IAS) appreciated the efforts by the CSOs in helping people to apply for NFSA coverage. He was of the view that such facilitative support from the CSOs assumes much more importance in the context of those who have been left out and those who want to apply for inclusion. Given that such people are mostly illiterate and the filling up the stipulated application form is quite an esoteric and cumbersome process, the left-out households are in utmost need of close hand-holding support from the CSOs for filling up the cumbersome application forms, Shri Jamuda observed. In the context of Forest Rights Act land claims, he advised the CSOs to stay engaged with the government administration and ensure that not just land titles are doled out in vague, but proper demarcation details (such land boundaries, neighbours etc.) are also clearly mentioned in the land deeds being distributed by the government.
Former senior administrator and retired IAS, Shri Aurobinda Behera called upon the CSOs like Disha and Spread to not just help people in lodging grievances, but also help the government in analyzing
those grievances as to what kinds of grievances are emerging and why, what could be the structural barriers that pose hindrances faced by people, and suggest systemic remedial measures for eliminating the grievances. Shri Behera also stated that people living at ‘the last mile’ can not be reached by the government alone; CSOs on account of their proximity to people living in remote pockets, need to help the government in reaching the LAST MILE.