Delhi must host the Games, but why should Dolly have to live in filth?

Dolly does not like her new home – a makeshift tent near the Trilokpuri drain in East Delhi. The stench from the drain – hardly five feet away from where she lives – turns her stomach. Mosquitoes buzz, bite and thrive here.  Mosquito bites dot her body. The five-year-old has not bathed for three days because her mother says that the limited water they get has to be used for other purposes.

Dolly used to live in the Yamuna catchment area with her parents, both farmers. Earlier this month, when the water level in the river crossed the rose above the danger-mark, more than three hundred families were relocated by the Delhi authorities to the tents erected along the U.P. Link road.

Five days back, cops asked them to shift to tents near the open sewer drain.

“They said that we should not go anywhere near the Yamuna till the Commonwealth Games are over,” says 25-year-old Santosh.

A native of Ghazipur district in Uttar Pradesh, Santosh has no work to do till the Games. He kills time chatting with fellow farmers and playing cards. “Thank God they are providing us with food twice a day.”

However, there is no fixed time when the food – cooked rice and a vegetable – is distributed in the tents. Asha, 8, gets her first meal at 12 noon. “Without giving her food, I cannot expect her to do any household work,” says Parvati, Asha’s mother.

Her son, Anuj, 5, has been down with fever since the past two days. “There is dirty water all over. There are goats, buffaloes and even stray dogs outside out tents. How do you expect our children to stay healthy here?” asks the mother.

Jai Prakash, 18, informs that once they were given rotten food. “When I complained, they said that eat this first, and then a doctor will attend to you.”

Tents are spread over a km stretch. Delhi Jal Board tankers are stationed at both ends of the stretch.

“Lack of potable water is the biggest problem we face here. These tankers are empty by noon time. After that if someone needs water, he has to ask for it from the neighboring tent,” says Jai Prakash, adding that the government could have shifted them to a better site.

He does not know if post-Games the government will allow him and other families to go back to the Yamuna catchment area. “It is government’s will. We really cannot say.”

This appeared on September 29, 2010


Nandan Nilekani on the RTI and the UID project

The RTI Act and the Aadhaar Project have a similar vision at their heart: that the government must be accountable to the people it governs.

While the RTI brings more accountability to governance by enabling better access to information, the UIDAI hopes to do this through the Unique Identification number – the Aadhaar it will issue to individuals across India. The number will allow individuals to clearly establish their identity to any agency in the country. This will be critical in combating the anonymity that impedes access for many of the poor to public benefits and services….


Why the fuss?

“I see nothing that is happening in the Commonwealth Games that does not happen in our society. All that is happening is that we are seeing it together at one institution at one time in a very high profile place. Otherwise this how cities are run…buildings are made.”– P. Sainath, on CWG 2010

Living in filth!

More than three hundred people have been dumped on the bank of Trilokpuri drain. All the families, who were engaged in farming in the Yamuna catchment area have been  asked by the government to temporarily live in the makeshift tents till the time Commonwealth Games 2010 are over.

Wajahat Habibullah’s interview carried by Mint (dated Sep 27, 2010)

The Right to Information (RTI) Act—that empowers citizens to demand information from the government and obliges officials to provide it—completes five years on 12 October. Chief information commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah, who presides over the implementation of the Act, leaves office on Wednesday.

Read the interview on

President’s tours: Economy travels or economy of truth?

President Pratibha Patil visited eight countries in less than Rs 2 lakh. Don’t believe it?  If the response to an RTI application is anything to go by, Patil has managed the unbelievable.

The details of the president’s travel expenses were provided in response to the application filed by Chetan Kothari, a resident of Mumbai, who sought details of the expenditure on the presidents’ visits over the past five years.

As per the 130-page reply, Patil visited eight countries during four foreign trips between July 2007 and April 2009. The cost of these visits adds up to Rs 1,95,251. The expenses were incurred under the budget head “tour expenses”.

According to the reply, the expenses of the president’s domestic tours are borne by the Ministry of Defence, while the Ministry of External Affairs bears the expenses of foreign visits.

“There is some discrepancy in the data. They have not given me the break-up of the expenditure. Secondly, the document says that she visited Brazil, Mexico and Chile at the expenditure of just Rs 12,878. How is that possible?” asks Kothari.

The president flies on a special plane, which is why the disclosed amount does not even cover fuel costs. Spain, Poland, Bhutan, Vietnam also figured among the countries visited by the president.

Details of foreign trips made by former president APJ Abdul Kalam were also made available. Kalam made six foreign trips between July 1, 2004 and April 28, 2007 at a cost of Rs 14 lakh.

“I will lodge a complaint against the public information officer of the Rashtrapati Bhavan for providing wrong information,” says Kothari, who plans to approach the Central Information Commission (CIC) soon.

Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, deputy secretary in president’s secretariat, however, told Governance Now: “The information provided was not updated at the time. The applicant can get the updated information now if he wants. In any case, the ministry of external affairs deals with the president’s foreign trips.”

When Governance Now relayed this response to Kothari, he said there were gaping holes in it. “They (the president’s secretariat) should have mentioned in their reply if the information was not updated at the time. Secondly, if they did not have the information, it was their job to forward the application to the ministry of external affairs. Why do I have to approach them again? As per the law, I can file an appeal before the CIC, and that is what I will do.”

This appeared on January 10, 2010

Concern is growing, nothing else is

When Mohammad Israel found himself drifting into the role of an imaam, no one among his family and friends told him that he was choosing a path of chronic economic insecurity.

Twenty years after becoming the imaam of Hakeem Baqaa mosque in Old Delhi’s Chawri bazaar area, the 38-year-old father of two is feeling the heat.
As an imaam, he gets Rs 5,000 in monthly stipend from the Waqf Board (which used to be Rs 2,800 a month till June 2009). Add to this Rs 3,000 which he makes by supplying packing material in Chawri Bazaar.

Besides his sons, studying in classes one and four, he has his wife and two younger brothers to take care of.

Grocery that would cost him Rs 500 six months ago now costs around Rs 800. A five-litre pack of edible oil is now Rs 130 dearer.

“Hisaab simple hai,” he says. “Parliament main baith ke toh kuchh bhi bol do. Unhe kyaa pata ghar kaisa chalta hai.

“Savings are out of question. I don’t know what I will do in emergency,” says he.

“Sharad Pawar said that the price of sugar went up because the sugarcane crop was less. But how was that possible? There was no drought in Uttar Pradesh or any other state where they grow sugarcane. It is nothing but black marketing.”

His anger for the government rises every time he meets the grocery shopkeeper who tells him that all this is controlled by politicians.

What puzzles him no end is why the prices of all essential commodities are going up at once. “Thousands of migrants are living in Delhi. If the prices continue to rise, these people will go back to their home states. But what about people like us who belong to Delhi? Where will we go?” wonders he.

It was only after his marriage nine years ago that Israel started selling plastic packing material. He thought the profit, along with his salary as imaam, would be enough to feed a family of six.

The idea of changing his occupation occurred to him. But that’s easier said than done, because as an imaam, he can
do only jobs which allow him to lead the prayers five times a day.

After some head-scratching, he comes up with an idea that might make things easy. “One of my brothers is pursuing graduation and the other is in class 12. If the situation continues, then I will ask one of them to stop studying and get some job.”

This appeared on April 24, 2010

Mohammad Israel