Nov 07, 2014
Dipa Sinha, a right to food campaigner, who has earlier worked with the office of the commissioner to the Supreme Court of India on the on Right to Food Act, says community mobilisation is necessary for successful implementation of public welfare schemes. Dipa talks to OneWorld South Asia at the National Consultation on Community Action for Health in New Delhi. Excerpts from the interview.
OneWorld South Asia: How do you think the experience gathered during the Right to Food campaign can lead to better ideas for community action in the health sector?
Dipa Sinha: Be it any sector, health, food or education, what we have learnt is that when a community is empowered, they become familiar with their entitlements leading to an enabling environment.
This enabling environment helps people to raise their voice, which attracts some response and then things start functioning. This has been experienced with various schemes including the Public Distribution System (PDS), school mid-day meal and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). When there is an active demand from the community it meets with some kind of response from the government.
OWSA: What is the role of communities in making social welfare schemes successful?
Sinha: While the government has enacted various social welfare schemes for people, they are not accountable to the communities, which is the primary reason they fail. The real problem lies in the implementation of projects. The reaching down (to the beneficiaries) is the question of accountability and community monitoring is the only way through which accountability can be ensured.
When you mobilize the community, grievances start pouring in. But once the grievances start coming, and there is no response, then you find that the grievances stop coming. So, if you look at, for example, the mid day meal data of different states, you find that there are more complaints on mid day meal schemes in Tamil Nadu than in Uttar Pradesh. UP in five years had just one complaint, while the number of complaints in Tamil Nadu was much more, therefore making the scheme more successful in the southern state.
In UP people have tried complaining but in absence of any response people stopped complaining.
OWSA: How can government translate community action into tangible results?
Sinha: The government just needs to create an enabling environment and people will do their bit. The problem is that government is not facilitating enabling environment which it can do by taking various steps like instituting an independent grievance reddresal authority.
OWSA: How can communities pressurise political parties for creating an enabling environment?
Sinha: Parties will change their politics by people’s pressure only. Normally, we have found that anywhere where mobilisation of the excluded, marginalized groups happen, than these issues also start surfacing.
Currently, what is happening is, as people get powerful, they move away from government services. It is the poorest who use government services, but the former are the most voiceless which also makes it difficult to mobilize them. Despite odds, the poorest people still have a lot of faith in the system because that is the only hope they have. For them, it has to work as they have nowhere else to go.
OWSA: What kind of role civil society can play in converting the community power into some action?
Sinha: Mobilising the community is one thing the civil society can do. It’s the poorest who is the most voiceless, so give them a voice. The civil society can’t replace the community. What it can do is, mobilize them in a collective so that the marginalized gain confidence to raise their voice.