Sunday, July 31, 2011

Melghat, its people and the Forest Rights Act

In the heart of Vidharbha as one goes towards the North of Amravati, a mesmerizing sight captivates the eye. Beauty reflects in the eye of the beholder, that of gushing rivers and dense, lush green forest, of narrow roads and steep terrain. The woods are filled with the cackling of birds and insects crawling on the muddy earth. The wild animals tread the land and it is their home. Melghat is undoubtedly a Nature lover’s paradise, his place to be.

As much as this is true, an ugly reality grimaces the face of those dwelling in this region. Beyond the beauty lie the troubles of a race that walks in the darkness of illiteracy, one that is exploited on a daily basis, one which cannot bask in the glory of democracy and one who just wants to keep its own land. The parliament keeps making several laws and the judiciary keeps implementing them, but it’s only when you tread with your own feet to these forsaken lands that you get an insight of the truth.

A conversation with the Sarpanch of Makhla which is a revenue village revealed that the Government is willingly to offer Rs.10 Lakh per family, but it is insufficient to survive and on a whole the resettlement is difficult. The Forest officials do not come to the village when the Gram Sabha is convened and always delay it. Further, they do not go into the intricacies of the claim, but deal with the issue superficially. A girl called Savitri stated that she and her family will be happy with the 10 Lakhs but had no clue of where they would be resettled and when. She also had no idea when the fund would be provided or to be more accurate would it be provided. Chandan Raju Yevle, President of Joint Forest Management Committee of Ghatang village disclosed that the Forest Department and the Committee together were doing a good job in the Ghatang region. He did agree to the fact that the act was not being properly implemented and many people were deprived of their rights. He also mentioned that few months back some men in the Bhawai village had a fight with the officials regarding their right of ownership over the forest land and were imprisoned. Moving further to Bhawai, people there were not willing to share their problems and became aggressive. They stated that nothing was wrong in their village and that no person from any other village had the right to comment on the issues related to their village. The Tribal Welfare Department which is obliged to make the Tribal people aware of their rights has not done any work so far.

For the villagers to attain their rights they need to solve at least the issues which they can deal with. The educated need to provide a better leadership and need to voice the people’s opinion in the Panchayat. Melghat should fight this issue as a whole and not as separate villages in order to bring about the desired change. NGO’s need to intervene on a larger basis to spread awareness, literacy and education among the people. There is an immediate and immense need to end the communication gap or at least some steps should be taken in the same direction. The power equation is still unbalanced due to the loopholes in the act. The act still needs to be modified and simplified for the advantage of the villagers.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Public Interest Litigation

Till 1960’s and 70’s, the concept of litigation in India was in a rudimentary form. Moreover, the pursuit of litigation was completely restricted to private interests. There were minuscule efforts to address wider issues which affected a particular class or general public at large. There seemed to be a missing link between the rights conferred by the Constitution of India and a vast majority of illiterate and poor sections of society. Prior to 1980’s, only a particular individual or a class who were affected by a particular issue could file a case and seek grievance. A person who was not particularly affected by the issue could not file a case as a substitute for the victim even if the matter was of a larger public interest. The drawbacks of the absence of such litigation were particularly felt during the Emergency in 1975-1977 when the fundamental rights of people were violated. It was then that Indian middle class became aware of the importance of rule of law.

The Post-emergency Supreme Court tackled the problem of access to justice through radical changes and alterations in the judicial processes and introduced in their work a broad public interest perspective. The efforts of Justice P. N. Bhagwati and Justice Krishna Iyer were instrumental in bringing about a lawsuit which would make it a provision for any citizen or consumer group or social action group to seek legal remedies for any issue concerned with general public interest or a section of public. Public Interest Litigation also known as PIL refers to writ petitions by people who are not necessarily affected by the grievance mentioned. The Judiciary assumed an activist role. The Supreme Court incorporated ‘epistolary jurisdiction’ where it accepted postcards concerning infringements of fundamental rights as writ petitions. The PIL has worked to the benefit of public in large interest. PIL helped to throw light on the neglected sections of society and enact laws to uphold their rights. Issues covered by PIL range from prisoner’s condition, bonded labour, environmental matters, situations of institutionalized ill persons to social acceptance of homosexuality.

The Judiciary thus became an ally of Indian citizens and groups which insist on better performance of Government institutions. PIL established a forum for the civil society to raise its grievances. It is an effort towards creating a public sphere where government’s malfunctioning can be debated; people can be exposed to wide phenomena and redressal of grievances can be provided which would benefit a larger public interest.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Great Wine Robbery

For when the wine is in, the wit is out.

- Thomas Becon

‘Rude food’, a popular column written by Mr. Vir Sanghvi in the Sunday Brunch had an interesting piece named ‘The great wine robbery’ which portrayed cheating in the name of up-selling in the restaurant business. Vir Sanghvi reveals the different innovative techniques of up-selling restaurants use to cheat their customer especially in case of wines. He unveils how restaurants fool their customers by making excuses about wine the customer must have originally ordered for. They later offer wines which they say are better and do not mention that the wine is expensive. They lure customers with daily specials whose price is double any main course on the menu. They uncork new bottles and keep on filling the glasses even when unasked for and offer expensive mineral water like Evian without knowledge. He also suggests what one should do when stuck in such situation.

According to the Writer, the so-called up-selling in the restaurant business is cheating. The writer therefore asks one to be aware and bold in such situations. Firstly, we should not waste our time asking waiters, managers or sommeliers to recommend wine because they are not interested in enhancing our meal experience but want to meet some sales target or push wines which no one is ordering. Secondly, one should not order unless one knows the price. One must therefore always ask without worrying about anything. Thirdly, when one is ripped off, one must always complain. If one does not want to create a scene, one can write to the hotel company or restaurant owner explaining the situation. If one gets a reply, one should not shy away to ask for compensation. If one is not heeded, one can write on websites, share it with friends and make it public.

The writer’s opinion is that up-selling in restaurant business is nasty. He emphasizes on ethics that should be followed while serving wine which is as simple as informing the customer about the price. He mentions ‘It’s never right to cheat guests’. In India, the writer says, there’s nobody you can complain to in case of rip-off. The writer encourages us to ask the price whenever any alternative is suggested. He mentions it’s better to be perceived as cheap than to be foolish. An inquisitive individual has less chances of being cheated than someone who stays quite and doubtful.

So you want to become a Freelancer?

I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world

- Henry R. Luce

Journalism from its advent was seen as the noble profession. In India, Journalism gained momentum during the colonial era. It was a tool which was used for mass awakening against tyranny of the British government. It was the voice of our national leaders and journalism owed loyalty to those struggling for freedom. However, a few years into freedom and time changed. Everything became commercialized. Journalism was no longer about revealing the truth; it was about TRP’s. So what happens to someone who wants to write a story they want to tell? They become Freelancers.

Freelance Journalism with all its beauty is still not a rose without thorns. There are certain set of skills one needs to possess and practice. Here are a few pre-requisites to be a Freelance Journalist:

· Eye- Freelance Journalist or not, one definitely needs to have an eye for story. Whenever one comes across a story, one need to gain an understanding of what the story is about, what’s intriguing about it, what different angles one can work on and what are the nuances.

· USP- Unique selling proposition, a very popular word in the advertising and marketing world. One will wonder what it has got to do with Journalism. Well, it is an indispensable part of Journalism. One may end up writing a marvelous piece but one must possess the skill of selling it. Only if you know to whom and how you should pitch your story, you will ever get it published.

· Networks- A strong network is always a feather in the cap. If you have a well- established network with journalists in country and abroad, it will always prove to be extremely useful. Whenever one hears any news and wants to do a story or confirm the reality, one can always use their contacts as relevant sources.

· Equipment- Without proper equipment one might feel challenged to do their job. It is always better to make sure that one has extra ink, paper, batteries and the rest so that one doesn’t run out of essential materials.

· Self-discipline- Well, if you think you already had enough to deal with, here is the big challenge. Self-discipline is an art difficult to master. It may take up your whole life. But if you have made a decision to become a freelancer it’s absolutely unavoidable. Once you get into the groove, you will rule time.

These suggestions may or may not work for some; in such case one always has a choice to craft his or her own rules.