Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ensure right to education to Chakma children: NCPCR to Mizoram

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has asked the Mizoram government to ensure that schools in all Chakma inhabited villages are established in accordance with the RTE Act 2009, writes PARITOSH CHAKMA

Merinews, 17 Feb, 2011

ACTING ON a complaint filed by an NGO, Mizoram Chakma Development Forum (MCDF), the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has recently directed the Mizoram Chief Secretary to investigate the alleged denial of access to elementary education to the Chakma tribal children in Mizoram due to lack of schools. 

In its petition to the Commission, MCDF alleged that over 72 per cent of Chakma inhabited villages in Mizoram still do not have Middle School, and over 96 per cent do not have High School. The failure of the state government to set up Middle and High Schools tantamounts to denial of education to the Chakma children and the absence of schools has led to high dropout rate amongst the Chakma children, the petition added.

The Forum further pointed out that in September 2009, the Mizoram government had admitted that there were over 15,000 children out of schools in the state and majority of them belonged to Chakma and Bru minority communities.

Taking cognizance of the MCDF’s petition, the NCPCR directed the Mizoram Chief Secretary, inter alia, investigate the denial of access to elementary education to the Chakma tribal children in Mizoram due to lack of schools in clear violation of section 6 of Right to Education Act 2009 which requires the local authority to establish the school in areas or neighbourhood limits where there is no such school as prescribed in the Act; and (2) ensure that schools in all Chakma inhabited villages are established in accordance with the RTE Act 2009.

But the Mizoram government failed to submit a report within 30 days as per the Commission’s directive. This prompted the Child Rights Commission to issue a reminder to the Chief Secretary on 10 February 2011 asking him to send a report within 20 days.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Six border villages served eviction notice in Mizoram

The Deputy Commissioner of Lunglei in Mizoram has issued notice to residents of six villages fallen outside the India-Bangladesh border fence to leave their homes by February 25 or face action, writes PARITOSH CHAKMA

Merinews, 16 Feb, 2011

The Deputy Commissioner of Lunglei district in Mizoram, Ms M Zohmingthangi has allegedly served eviction notice to Chakma residents of six villages in the district to leave their homes before February 25, 2011 or face action. These six villages namely Saisen, Bandiasora, Nekuksora, Debasora, Malsury and Tablabagh, situated near the India-Bangladesh border, have fallen outside the border fence being constructed by Ministry of Home Affairs.

At least two reputed Mizo dailies Vanglaini on February 15, 2011 and The Zozam Times on February 14, 2011 reported that earlier the Lunglei DC had issued notice to leave the villages by February 15 but the villagers refused to leave. While issuing the eviction notice, the Lunglei DC has contented that since the villagers have got fencing compensation, they must vacate their lands and homes.

However, no alternative arrangement has been made for their resettlement. The fencing affected villagers have been demanding rehabilitation inside the fence.

On February 15, 2011, a New Delhi based human rights group, Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) intervened on behalf of the victims. In its letter sent to Shri GK Pillai, Home Secretary, Government of India, the ACHR stated that, “The threat issued by the Deputy Commissioner of Lunglei is totally uncalled for and unacceptable and is in total contravention of the existing policies of both the Mizoram government and the Ministry of Home Affairs with regard to the fencing victims. ”

The rights group pointed out that earlier on July 17, 2008, Mr Romawia, Deputy Secretary to the Government of Mizoram, Home Department, had stated that: “It may be mentioned that those families placed on the other side of the Fencing Line may not be called ‘displaced’ since the Fencing Line is not the boundary of Indo-Bangla Border... It is also informed to the villagers that their shifting from outside to the inner side of the fencing will depends upon the will of the villagers. There is no compulsion to have their residence shifted to the inner side of the Fencing Line.”

As a result of the threat, the villagers of these six villages and other villages along the India-Bangla border areas have been left completely terrified and uncertain about their safety, security and future, ACHR’s letter to Mr Pillai added, and demanded all human rights and fundamental freedoms of the villagers who have fallen outside the India-Bangladesh border fence must be protected, and appropriate action be taken against the Lunglei DC for threatening the innocent villagers.

Earlier on September 27, 2010, Mizoram Home Minister R Lalzirliana informed the State Assembly that over 35,000 people from 45 villages are required to be relocated inside the fence due to the India-Bangladesh border fencing in Mizoram.

Mizoram RTI watchdog summons officials for refusing information

By Paritosh Chakma

Merinews, 16 Feb, 2011

THE MIZORAM State Information Commission on February 9, 2011 issued summon notices to three State Public Information Officers (SPIOs) under Section 19(3) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 to appear before it for refusing to provide information under the RTI Act.

The applicant, Paritosh Chakma had filed three separate RTI applications between July and October, 2010 seeking information about the appointment and dismissal of SSA teachers. He had also sought the list of beneficiaries, who have been provided flood relief in a village under Mamit district. But as per Chakma's contention, he was not provided the information even after filing of first appeal. The applicant was thus forced to approach the Mizoram State Information Commission.

The three officials,  who were summoned by the Mizoram Information Commission to explain their position are the SPIO, District Project Coordinator, SSA Mamit district; the SPIO, Office of the State Project Director, Mizoram SSA Mission, Aizawl; and the SPIO/SDO (Sadar), Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Mamit district. While the first two officials have been asked to appear before the MSIC in Aizawl on February 23, 2011, the other official has been asked to appear on February 24, 2011.

In its letter No.SA.22/2011-MSIC dated Aizawl, the February 9, 2011, the Mizoram State Information Commission has directed the three officials “to present the case and justify your position before the Mizoram State Information Commissioner, New Secretariat Complex, Aizawl” and “bring all relevant documents/connected papers, etc for examination.” 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CBI investigating multi-crore fencing scam in Mizoram

The CBI has launched probe into multi crore India-Bangladesh border fencing scam involving several senior Congress leaders in Chakma District Council in Mizoram, writes PARITOSH CHAKMA

AWAY FROM the media glare, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is quietly investigating alleged fraud in payment of land compensation to those affected by Indo-Bangla border fencing involving more than Rs 5 crore in Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) in Lawngtlai district of Mizoram.

The premier investigating agency is investigating the involvement of several senior Congress political leaders and officials of the CADC and the National Projects Construction Corporation Ltd after a complaint was filed by Laxmi Bikash Chakma, President, Bharatiya Janata Party, CADC.

On February 8, 2011, a two-member team of the CBI arrived at Kamala Nagar, headquarters of CADC and started the investigation. So far, the CBI has reportedly questioned the CADC Chief Executive Member, Kali Kumar Tongchangya and Executive Member in-charge of Revenue department,  Buddha Lila Chakma at the CADC rest house at Kamala Nagar.

Earlier, on August 30, 2010, the Governor of Mizoram had provided sanction to the CBI “for registration of a case under section 120B/420/468/471 IPC and Section 13(2) R/w 13(i)(c)& (d) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and all attempts, conspiracies, abetment relating to the alleged fraud in payment of land compensation to those affected by Indo-Bangla Border Fencing involving more than Rs 503,96,680 by National Projects Construction Corporation Ltd. and Chakma Autonomous District Council, Mizoram, during the year 2008-2009, to carry out investigation of the same and prosecute the offenders for the aforesaid offences or any other offence/offences made out of the same transactions in the court of competent jurisdiction.”

It is worth mentioning that this is the first ever CBI probe in the Chakma Autonomous District Council ever since the Council was created in 1972.

The CBI in this particular case has a wide ranging mandate to probe “all attempts, conspiracies, abetment relating to the alleged fraud” and to “prosecute the offenders”.

Sources informed that the CBI has already found clinching evidence against certain accused. However, it is to be seen whether the CBI will be able to bring the culprits to justice, many of whom are senior political leaders of the ruling Congress party in the Chakma Autonomous District Council.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What ails Mizoram SSA Mission?

In Mizoram, SSA faces serious problems. Since the appointments are highly politicized, the performance of the SSA teachers can't be evaluated objectively under the present set up, writes Paritosh Chakma

DESPITE ALL the hullabaloo, there are surely some serious problems in the functioning of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programme in Mizoram. On February 1, 2011, Mizoram’s Education Minister Lalsawta stated that “unsuitable and unqualified” SSA teachers will be identified and dismissed from March 2011 onwards.

The Education Minister said that the term of the present SSA teachers had already expired in December 2010 and the state government extended their engagement up to February 2011. The government will conduct screening of the existing teachers on the basis of their performance and only suitable candidates will be retained, he added. 

However, when the selection process itself is flawed, we can’t expect the most eligible candidates as teachers under the existing set up.

First, appointments are made on the basis of the recommendations by the Village Education Committee (VEC) headed by the concerned Village Council President (VCP, who belongs to a particular political party). The other members of the VEC comprise of members of Village Council, teachers and representatives from NGOs. In practice, the VCP is all in all, and he has the power to appoint or dismiss any SSA teacher.

Therefore, more often than not, selections are done on the basis of political affiliations of the candidates.

Second, since the appointments are political, the candidates, who are appointed do not care about their duties as long as they enjoy the support of the ruling party leaders, in particular the VCP at village level or the local MLA. As a result, several SSA teachers have sub contracted their jobs to less qualified persons at meager salary.

Third, the SSA teachers are contract employees of the state government and they can be terminated any time without serving any notice or giving any reason for such termination. This clause has been often misused in Mizoram by the ruling party through summary dismissals of SSA teachers whose relatives are supporters of the parties in the opposition.

It is not only the village level political leaders, who misuse their powers and authority. Even the officials at the District Project Coordinator’s office are responsible for appointment/transfer of numerous teachers without the consultation or consent of the concerned Village Education Committee. Several teachers have not even shown their faces in the schools where they had been appointed (not to talk about attending classes regularly) but interestingly, continue to draw their salaries! How does the Office of District Project Coordinator extend the contract of such teachers who do not even perform their duties?

Another interesting feature in Mizoram SSA is that some teachers who have been appointed in village schools have been declared “attached” to the Office of the District Project Coordinator at the district headquarters and work there. In the meantime, the vacancies created by such “attached” teachers have either remained vacant or filled with Education Volunteers, who are not even full fledged teachers.

Since it is the report of the Chairman of the VEC which is the main piece of evidence in favour or against the SSA teachers in question, the existing mechanism to evaluate the SSA teachers is not enough. In such prevailing circumstances, how is the performance of the SSA teachers going to be evaluated objectively? We will never know as the Mizoram SSA Mission works in total secrecy. As pointed out by this writer elsewhere, SSA officials have refused to provide information even under the RTI Act in a number of cases.

The intentions of the Education Minister Lalsawta may be noble, but he must address the real problems at the ground instead of making cosmetic promises. Come March 2011, the people will see whether the Minister indeed walks the talk.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mizoram: Officials not honouring RTI Act

By Paritosh Chakma, 2 Feb, 2011

IN MIZORAM, as the officials refused to provide information under the RTI Act, accessing information has become a costly affair for common people as they need to go for appeals. This writer has not received information in 9 RTI applications. Appeals have been made before the concerned Appellate Authorities in three cases but all ended in absence of any response. 

The cases where information has been denied are as follows: 

1. On  July 12, 2010, I filed an RTI application with the SPIO, Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Mamit district via speed post seeking year-wise amount of flood relief released by the government of Mizoram to Silsury village in Mamit district during 2000-2010 and list of beneficiaries. But the SPIO,  V L Remliana, Sub Divisional Officer (Sadar) failed to provide any information. On 23 November 2010, I filed first appeal before the Deputy Commissioner, Mamit, but have not received any information as of date. On 31 January 2011, the second appeal was filed before the State Information Commission.

2. On October 1, 2010, I filed an RTI application with SPIO, District Project Coordinator, Mamit by speed post seeking the appointment letter of a SSA teacher and the performance reports submitted by the concerned Village Education Committee with regard to the SSA teacher. On 23 November 2010, the first appeal was sent via speed post but I have not been provided any information as of date. On 31 January 2011, I filed the second appeal before the SIC. 

3. On  August 12, 2010, I filed an RTI application by speed post with the SPIO, SSA Mizoram, Aizawl regarding alleged arbitrary and illegal dismissal of a SSA teacher but received no information. I made the first appeal on 23 November 2010 but I have not been provided any information. On 29 January 2011, I filed the second appeal before the SIC. 

4. On August 16, 2010, I filed RTI application by speed post with the SPIO, SSA Mizoram, Aziawl regarding alleged arbitrary and illegal dismissal of another different SSA teacher. No information has been provided. 

5. On August 12, 2010, I filed an application with Border Management, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi regarding border fencing compensation in Mizoram. The application was forwarded to Deputy Commissioners of Lunglei, Mamit and Lawngtlai vide letter F. No. 11013/39/2010-BM.III dated New Delhi the 19th August 2010. But so far information has been provided only by Lunglei DC office. 

6. On July 16, 2010, I filed an RTI application with the Ministry of Minority Affairs, New Delhi seeking information about the scholarship provided to the minority students in Mizoram. On 21 July 2010, the application was forwarded to Smt. L Tonchhang, Principal Secretary, Education and Human Resource Development department, Govt of Mizoram, Aizawl vide letter no. 18/2/2010-RTI/PP(PPR) dated New Delhi the 21 July 2010. No information has been provided till date. 

7. On September 22, 2010, I filed an RTI application with social welfare department, government of Mizoram seeking the reasons as to why old age pension has not been provided to two senior citizens who belong to BPL family. The application was sent by speed post but has received no reply.

8. On September 22, 2010, I filed an RTI application by speed post with the District Rural Development Agency, Mamit district seeking information as to why a beneficiary of IAY was not given IAY grant although his name appeared in the DRDA order dated 15th March 2009. But no information has been provided till date.

9. On September 22, 2010, I filed an RTI application with Office of Child Development Project Officer, West Phaileng, Mamit seeking information about appointment of Angwanwadi workers in Silsury village. The letter was sent by Speed Post but no information has been provided till date.

It is needless to say that Mizoram government has failed to put up the particulars and contact details of the Appellate Authorities in each department’s website. Even the website of Mizoram State Information Commission, is not functioning and hence redundant.

Further, in the Mizoram RTI Rules, 2006 the applicant must pay fee of appeal by way of court fee stamp. The fee is also quite high: Rs 40/- for first appeal and Rs 50/- for second appeal. In short, accessing information through the RTI Act has become a costly affair for common people as they need to go for appeals. 

In August 2010, Aizawl-based anti-corruption watchdog People’s Right to Information and Development Implementing Society of Mizoram (PRISM) came down heavily on Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, who had stated that appointing a State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) was a waste of public money as the people of Mizoram did not fully use the RTI Act.

Contrary to the Chief Minister’s claim, what is emerging is the fact that the RTI officials in Mizoram are denying information to the applicants without the fear of the law. The public servants appointed as RTI officials have no right to deny information when the applicant has paid the statutory fee of Rs 10/- to the government in the first place. It is time Chief Minister of Mizoram and State Information Commission took strong notice of the rampant practice of not honouring the RTI Act and ensure that appropriate punishment is meted out to the erring RTI officials as provided in section 20 of the RTI Act. 

Under the Right to Information Act, 2005, information must be provided “as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within thirty days of the receipt of the request.” (Sub section 1 of section 7). But in Mizoram state, accessing information is increasingly becoming a tedious and expensive process as officials of various departments have been refusing to provide information.

If any application is rejected, the State Public Information Officer must communicate to the applicant providing the reasons for such rejection under sub section 8 of section 7. Denial of information is punishable offence under section 20 of the RTI Act. Yet, the SPIOs are less concerned. Even appeal before the Appellate Authority yielded little.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A misunderstanding?

By Paritosh Chakma

A friend of mine is ill. Yesterday, he consulted a doctor in West Delhi. Today, I have just returned from the same doctor’s clinic and I am sharing a curious incident that happened with me.

I entered into the clinic with the x-ray and blood test reports in my hand at around 6 pm. It is a small clinic and I went straight to the front desk, and repeated what I always say when I go to see a doctor in my broken Hindi: "Doctor saab se milnaa hain’’, quickly adding "Ye reports dekhaanaa hain’’ showing him the medical reports (I wish to meet the doctor to show him these reports).

He asked me to sit down on the sofa and wait. I began reading the newspapers kept there on the rack.

I read. I waited. There were a few patients who had been waiting before I entered.

As I was still reading the pages, the last patient was called in. I thought it was my turn next. But another old lady came and was allowed to see the doctor ahead of me. Me thought it was ok since she was a senior citizen.

Meantime I continued reading again. I waited endlessly but patiently.

I finished reading the Mail Today and The Hindustan Times!!

However, I saw that the assistant at the front desk allowed another patient to see the doctor, but not me. (There was the third who has come by then.)

This time I went to him and protested. Below was the conversation between him and me.

Me: Hello! Why are you not allowing me to see the doctor?
He: So you also want to consult the doctor?
Me: Why the hell I am waiting for so long?
He: I thought you wanted to ‘meet’ him
Me: What?

Then my phone began to ring. It was my sister.

He: Sorry sir, I did not understand you well. I thought….
Me: Is it? - Tik hain, cholo jaane do (Its ok, let it go), I said and entered the doctor’s room.

After seeing the doctor, I began to think. I am still thinking: Was it really only a misunderstanding?

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