Day 11 – Raipur – Activists and NGOs


Shodh Yatra Day 11 – February 9, 2011  – Raipur

A Futile Attempt to meet Dr Binayak Sen

I could not pass by Raipur without trying to meet Dr Binayak Sen, the jailed medical doctor and a member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).  Though I did not know Dr Sen personally, I had met his senior colleague at JNU’s Centre for Community Health, Dr Bannerjee.  Dr Binayak Sen and his wife Ilina were deeply involved in the founding of the Shaheed Hospital of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha in Dalli Rajhara, which I had visited just two days ago.  For more on Dr Binayak Sen, click on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binayak_Sen#Career_as_a_doctor


I requested Manoj to contact Smt Ilena Sen, but she was away from Raipur. So we decided to make an application to the jail superintendent of the Raipur Central Jail. Since this would take a few days, I decided to visit him on my return to Raipur on Feb 14.  We reached the jail main gate by 10 am and waited for half an hour before I was called in.  It was my first ever experience of entering a jail premises and I was a bit apprehensive. I was ushered into the Jail Superintendent’s room, sitting behind a name plate saying Dr KK Gupta, IPS.  I relaxed. Having dealt with scores of civil servants of the  IAS, IFS, IPS cadres in different states, I knew that I will be dealing with a highly intelligent, well-trained and seasoned professional. I introduced myself (a repeat of what I had submitted in writing) and without letting him ask me the obvious question “Why do you want to see Dr Sen”, I explained that I was on Shodh Yatra and wanted to meet Dr Sen to express my solidarity with him and seek inspiration.

Dr Gupta responded kindly – describing his own interest in working for the down-trodden.  He named a particular civil servant [name withheld] as his inspiration, and when I told him that I knew him well, he became more friendly.  But, he said, that Dr Sen is allowed to meet friends and family only once in 15 days and even if I were allowed, it would mean he would not be able to meet Smt Ilina in that fortnight.  Learning that, I withdrew my request and said under no case would I like to deprive his family a chance to see him. By that time, tea had been served and Dr Gupta told me that today there was going to be a High Court hearing on the bail plea of Dr Binayak Sen, and in the event the Hon’ble High Court orders so, Dr Sen would be released, and I could then see him.  I thanked Dr Gupta for his courtesy and left, hoping that Dr Sen would be granted bail. Alas, the High Court did not accept the plea and his incarceration continues. See more on his trial at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_of_Binayak_Sen  An interview with BJP Rajya Sabha MP and eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani, click on the video link below.

http://ibnlive.in.com/news/binayak-sen-should-get-bharat-ratna-jethmalani/142764-3.html

Update:  Dr Binayak Sen was denied bail by the Chhattisgarh High Court on Feb 15, 2011 and an appeal was lodged against that decision in the Supreme Court.  On April 15, the Supreme Court granted him bail, as per the news item from the Times of India:

SC grants bail to Binayak Sen, says no case for sedition charge

Dhananjay Mahapatra & Supriya Sharma, TNN, Apr 15, 2011, 12.19pm IST

NEW DELHI/RAIPUR: The Supreme Court on Friday granted bail to civil rights activist Binayak Sen, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of sedition and for having links with Naxalites.

The apex court said that the evidence on record proves no sedition case against Sen. At the worst he could be termed active sympathizer of Naxals.

The court also observed that mere possession of Naxal literature does not make a person a Naxalite, guilty of sedition, as one who possesses Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography can not call himself a Gandhian.

Ekta Parishad and its founder PV Rajagopal

The other well-known activist of Chhattisgarh is PV Rajagopal, who established the Ekta Parishad. I have known Rajagopal ji for many years so I called his mobile number and he picked up the call.  He was in far away Arunachal Pradesh but he insisted that I visit their centre at the Prayog Ashram in Tilda Neora, about 50 kms from Raipur. So I drove to Tilda and when we got there, was met by about ten activists of the Ekta Parishad. (www.ekta-parishad.org

This un-registered (willingly so) organisation was the culmination of a decade of work by Rajagopal ji in the area and  was started in 1990. The Ekta Parishad  is Gandhian in its beliefs and is  non-violent and peaceful.  It reveres Gandhi, Vinoba and Jaya Prakash Narain. The Ekta Parishad has activists in the region of Chhatisgarh, MP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa, working on people’s rights over natural resources – “jal jangal, jameen” (water, land and forest).

In 2007, they carried out a march “Janadesh 2007” from Gwalior to Delhi, in which 25,000 people participated.  This culminated in a rally at the Boat Club in Delhi and a delegation was able to meet the Prime Minister, who established a committee with himself as Chairman, to look into these issues. Though one cannot assert the link, but the The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was partly in response to this. But the progress on the ground is less than satisfactory and many other rights remain unlegislated.

To draw attention to this a grand Satyagraha march Janadesh 2012 is being planned with 100,000 participants from across India. A preparatory meeting of 12,500 leading participants is going to be held on 6th, 7th and 8th of March 2011 in Ramleela Maidan of Delhi. They are organizing the structure of the in Dal Nayak who will lead 10 people and each of the 10 people will lead a group of 50. For building awareness  and establishing a support base, the Chhattisgarh team was working in 800 villages in 10 districts. They have started the idea of saving of a fistful of rice and One Rupee  per day in a Satyagraha  Danpatra.

I expressed my appreciation for their work and said that common people have to pressurize the Government to work for them. We need to relearn the Gandhian methods of non violence and mobilize the masses for civil disobedience. But I added that in our struggle against the capitalists we have started being suspect of capital itself. I emphasized that capital is necessary for development and we all should understand the power of the capital and learn to use it wisely for the purpose of development.

Meeting with NGOs

My BASIX colleagues in Raipur were kind enough to organize a meeting with selected NGOs.  I met the following:

Name Organisations Name
Dhirendra Mishra Agrocrats Society for Rural Development Raipur
Dr Rajnish Gupta Agrocrats Society for Rural Development Raipur
Rajnish Awasthi Chhatisgarh Agricon, Raipur
Manish Singh Janamitra, Raigarh
Devashish Sarkar Sparsh Foundation, Raipur
I K Parida Rashtriya Gramin Vikas Nidhi (RGVN), Guwahati, Raipur office

Initially there were self-introductions. Agrocrats worked with small and marginal farmers, to enhance their productivity and improve their price realization. Agricon was similar in its approach, but on speialised crops. Janamitra mainly worked to support rearing of lac (an organic resin sectreted by insects on a feed tree) in a cluster near Raigarh.  Sparsh Foundation focused on children with correctible birth deformities, like cleft lips, whose incidence I was told is about 2.5%, RGVN was a Guwahati based foundation which supported small NGOs in income generation activities.  I knew them well as I served on their Board for nearly ten years till mid 2005.

I began by explaining the broad purpose of the Shodh Yatra, I asked them for their views about what are key development problems facing the state? Productivity in agriculture was reducing and it was possible that in five years agriculture will collapse and farmers will land up being only wage labour for industry or services sector.  NREGA is having a negative impact on the agriculture.  Someone wondered if NREGA is a kind of four-step conspiracy – initially make agriculture unremunerative using human labour, then make larger farmers dependent on mechnisation, then withdraw or reduce outlay on NREGA, by which time not much demand is left for agricultural labour, and in the fourth step, the workers are captive for the industrial and service sectors. I recalled that this was not too different from the history of England during the Industrial Revolution.

I than asked what they thought of other government schemes like the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy, and the food subsidy in terms of Rs 2 per kg rice. The response was there is no need of MSP if all the intended benefits – irrigation, seeds, extension services – reach the farmers.  MSP was also destroying varietal diversity as only a few varieties were purchased.  As for the subsidized rice scheme, the participants said the people never asked for Rs 2/Kg rice. These kinds of schemes are just making the poor farmers more dependent.  It was said that Government work is just target based and not attached closely with the real need of the common people. Change in the attitude of people is more important than meeting the target.

In the words of one civil servant [name withheld] – “This scheme is widely misused.  Middlemen collects hundreds of ration cards in return for the promise of giving 15 kg out of 35 kgs rice for free, and a bottle of liquor costing Rs 50. Thus the middleman spends Rs 80 per card.  The balance of 20 kg rice is sold in the market for Rs 16, thus earning Rs 320.  Thus the middleman makes Rs 240 per card. This then shared throughout the system.”  I told them , however, that wherever I had asked, people seemed to be getting their full entitlement of rice and at the specified price and appeared happy about the scheme. “Why would they tell you otherwise?” was the response.  Either I am naïve or they are cynical, or both. I leave it that.

They in turn, asked me about microfinance and the  future of the MFIs, as some of them were aspiring to get into this field.  I explained the original developmental intent of microfinance and how that had got distorted to the point it attracted adverse response from governments. “What is the most appropriate legal form for an MFI?” I talked about the need for savings as the primary one, and thus favouring a cooperative.  I pointed to the progressive cooperative law in Chhattisgarh, enacted several years ago on the lines of the AP Mutually Aided Cooperative Societies Act, 1995.  “But a coop is too open to interference by the state government.”  In that case I suggested registering with the central registrar under the Multi-State Cooperative Societies Act, 2002.

“Why did BASIX not experiment with the cooperative form?”  I responded by saying that in fact, we have worked a lot with coops and helped set up many.  We learnt a lot from the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) Sahavikasa, Warangal which has a few hundred savings and credit coops in the Mulkanoor area and GRAM, an NGO in Nizamabad, which also had several dozen women’s self-group cooperatives.  We also contributed to several other “member owned” entities, such as Sarvodaya Nano Finance Ltd and Anik Financial Services Ltd.

I concluded the meeting by thanking them and  saying what makes us come together is that  ”Each one of us is working for a cause that is close to our heart” and  suggesting  that we should have at least a quarterly meeting “Vichar Goshthi” with NGOs and creatively find opportunities to work together.  As a last word, I reminded them (and my twenty odd BASIX colleagues who were there) that BASIX is not an MFI , it is a  DFI – a  Development Finance Institution promoting livelihoods. At least so I think.

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About vijaymahajan

Educated at St XaviersSchool, Jaipur; IIT Delhi; IIM Ahmedabad and Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, USA; Co-founder of several development organisations - BASIX (www.basixindia.com), PRADAN (www.pradan.net), Development Finance Forum (www.dfforum.org), Andhra Pradesh Mahila Abhivruddhi Society (www.apmas.org), Sa-Dhan (www.sa-dhan.org) and the Microfinance Institutions Networrk (www.mfinidai.org). Chair of CGAP Excom; BASIX Boards; DSC Board; Board member of MSSRF, ASSEFA, Gram Vikas Honours - WEF Davos Schwab Social Entrepreneur; Ashoka Global Fellow; IIT Delhi Distinguished Alumni Award; HSBC-Access Award for Outstanding Contribution to Microfinance in India; listed among India's top 50 most powerful people in India by BusinessWeek, Asia edition, 2010 Married to Savita, Deputy Dean, ISB, Hyderabad; two children, Chirag and Chandni
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3 Responses to Day 11 – Raipur – Activists and NGOs

  1. vivek says:

    ‘Someone wondered if NREGA is a kind of four-step conspiracy – initially make agriculture unremunerative using human labour, then make larger farmers dependent on mechnisation, then withdraw or reduce outlay on NREGA, by which time not much demand is left for agricultural labour, and in the fourth step, the workers are captive for the industrial and service sectors. I recalled that this was not too different from the history of England during the Industrial Revolution. ‘

    Perhaps the reference is to the Speenhamland system, ‘outdoor relief’, whereby (the contention was) larger farmers had their labor inputs subsidized at the cost of weavers, artizans as well as small farmers who relied upon their own labor input. Furthermore, the suggestion might be that the Poor Law acted so as to maintain the pool of mill labor in place during slumps thus benefiting the ironmasters and mill-owners, as well as the petit bourgeois retailers, undertakers (Oliver Twist!) and so on- at the cost of other rate-payers.
    I don’t understand how the analogy applies to the NREGA. The Poor Law, on the analysis above, served a good economic purpose by subsidizing labour inputs without adversely impacting mobility. On the contrary the self-employed weaver or small farmer subsidized the big employers who could exploit economies of scale. In other words, those with lower potential productivity gain subsidized those sectors where productivity could grow faster. Isn’t this a good thing? Moving people out of agriculture and cottage industry is the only way to get out of abject poverty and effect demographic transition in a sustainable and non-coercive way.
    If NREGA and RTE and so on are very much better implemented and added to, why should not vast swathes of the rural hinterland not turn into welfare slums with ambitious youngsters aiming for employment in N.G.O’s to do things like revive ancient tribal languages and handicrafts and set up support groups for gay and lesbian goats and so forth?
    Or has it already happened?

  2. Partho Patwari says:

    ….following you blog recently…will like to have an opportunity to meet you while you are in Guwahati 0n 19 March.

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