Archive for July, 2009

Public Service: Silently

Club for a CAUSE

The Monday Charity Club, Which Helps People In Need

Priya M Menon | TNN

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This group of housewives gets together once a month, always on a Monday. And though they do take the time to catch up on each other’s lives, their concern extends to a larger section of society — the needy and the underprivileged. Topics discussed range from problems faced by working parents to discrimination against the girl child.

“I wanted to encourage housewives to do social work,” says 79-yearold Savithri Vaithi, who established the Monday Charity Club in 1970. From the age of 16, Savithri has been an untiring social worker, visiting the slums of Chennai.

The club, however, was established on a very modest note. “I used to teach women cooking and baking,” says Savithri, who holds a diploma in medico-social work. “I sounded them out about starting a charity club and we established it with the first group of students in my house in Alwarpet,” says Savithri. Kausalya Seshadri, 73, a founder-member and one of Savithri’s former students, says, “We wanted to start a ladies’ club not to just while away time but to do charity every month. Helping others gives us great personal satisfaction.”

Since the club consisted of housewives, Monday was a convenient day for them to meet. “We usually meet on the first Monday of every month, between 11 am and 1 pm,” says Kausalya. Any programme the club organises — be it lectures by eminent people or demonstrations — are also held on Mondays

Though they began with 20-odd members and the aim of doing one charitable deed a month, the club has grown exponentially over the years.

Today, it has 170 members and several ongoing charitable ventures. “We don’t just momentarily dole out help but are doing projects on a sustainable basis,” says 73-year-old Malini Kasthurirangan.

One of their older projects is the Book Bank, which helps college-going students. “They can enrol by paying Rs 20, borrow the prescribed textbooks for degree courses and return them after the academic year,” says Savithri.

Other projects to help needy students include funding poor students and Vidya Daan. “We request schools to recommend good students who need our help,” says Kausalya. They then ‘adopt’ students of Class VII, looking after their educational needs till Class XII.

The club was instrumental in setting up Vishranthi old age home. And the ‘Undrugol’ (literally meaning walking stick) project caters to people above 60 from lower socio-economic backgrounds. “We personally visit households and identify people,” says Savithri.

They are then given a photo-identity card. On the first Wednesday of every month, they come to the club to collect provisions — 5 kg rice, 1 kg dal, 1 kg oil and a little bit of tamarind, red chillies and dhaniya plus Rs 30 as pocket money. “This helps these elderly people live with their family and be independent at the same time,” says Savithri.

While the club has attracted sponsors over the years, today they are low on funds, admits Kausalya. Yet another concern is the fact that the club mainly consists of elderly people.

“Most of us started out together and are now grandmoms and even great-grandmoms, we are looking for younger members,” says Savithri. “Social work is our focus but we also do fun things together, like go on picnics.”

“We need younger people to take over from us, so I have enrolled my daughter-in-law and her sister,” says Kausalya. “We are even thinking of changing the day we meet to Saturdays as most women work these days.”
For more details, call 24994806
priya.menon@timesgroup.com

DIVINE SERVICE

This group meets once a month to spring-clean temples

Kamini Mathai | TNN

HAPPY TO HELP: Members of the group at work

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For about eight years now, on the fourth Sunday of every month, a group of people from various parts of Chennai and its suburbs meet up to spring-clean a temple somewhere in Tamil Nadu. While it began in 2001 as four friends thrashing out their idea for service to society, today the group has expanded to more than 400. And they call themselves the ‘Uzhavarappani Group’.

The original four founders of the group are B Srinivasan, a cooperative store employee in Tambaram, artist T Saravanan, S Ganeshan, an auditor and S Ayyappan, a store owner. They are still the main planners and get the requisite permission from the temple authorities.

“Our mentor, whom we used to call Krishnamoorthy Ayya, the man who inspired us to start, passed away sometime ago. But the core team remains the same. Usually, the four of us narrow down on the temple and then inform the members of the group and decide where and what time we can organise pick-ups etc,” says 48-year-old Srinivasan.

Transport is arranged for members who live in different areas in the city with each bus carrying around 50 people. “No one has ever written about us, we have never advertised our services. Still, the group has grown so much. It is only because of the conscientiousness of the volunteers,” says Srinivasan. He adds that since they have been doing this for years, it is so well organised that word just spreads and the volunteers arrive.

“We try and get to the temple by 8am so we can work till 6pm. The members are divided into various groups, which have their functions cut out for them. It’s all very well planned — one group takes care of cutting grass, another does whitewashing, the third group cooks food for the entire group, while the fourth polishes all the brass in the temple.

We always pick a temple that is dilapidated,” says Srinivasan. The group has people from all walks of life — from artists and government employees to doctors, housewives and businessmen

“We never ask people for money as this is a free service,” says Srinivasan. “But we usually have donors within the group who voluntarily take on various expenses, like the food served or the bus charge,” he adds.
To date, the group has cleaned more than 90 temples in Chennai and its surrounding districts.

“We know there will always be temples to clean and we are ready to clean them. Kancheepuram district alone has more than 1,000 temples. So, we have our work cut out for us for years to come,” says Srinivasan.
kamini.mathai@timesgroup.com

 

KEEPING TRADITION ALIVE

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Puri Rath Yatra festival 2009 June 24/.

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KEEPING TRADITION ALIVE:

A priest at Uttaradi Mutt in Basavanagudi performs ‘Mudra Dharane’ on the occasion of Prathama Ekadash

Pilgrims get their foreheads marked with a ‘tilak’ on

Aashadi Ekadashi at Pundhalik temple in Vitthalwadi on Friday

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MCD DELHI: Fake Employees?

45,000 MCD employees fake?

Weeding Out Non-Existent ‘Staffers’ Could Save Rs 1,000cr A Year

Ambika Pandit | TNN

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New Delhi: Harried Delhiites have long fumed that MCD doesn’t work. Here’s probably why: 45,000 employees on its roster, who have been drawing salaries, have gone missing!
An elaborate exercise by the civic body to build a biometric identification database of its employees has opened a can of worms. About 85,000 employees have registered, while 45,000 are not traceable.
It gets worse.

According to a senior corporation official, though these numbers add up to 1.30 lakh, the total number of employees could be up to 1.75 lakh, which means the number of missing staffers could double.

This workforce, a big section of which exists only on paper, thrives on a Rs 207-crore monthly wage bill.
That such a scam could be perpetrated for years so brazenly in the civic body of the national capital puts a huge question mark over the functioning of the corporation, its officials and the political wing.

It would be naive to think that there is no complicity and that this could have gone undetected all these years without an all-pervasive rot.

The corporation’s vigilance department and the state government’s anti-corruption branch, it seems, were not so vigilant after all.

It was Commissioner K S Mehra’s decision three months back to extend the biometric identification system, already operational in Town Hall, to all the 12 zones of the corporation that blew the lid. The phantom employees never registered. ‘‘July 15 is the deadline for all the employees to register and after that only those who are registered will get their salary,’’ Mehra told TOI. He refused to comment any further.

A senior official said the scam is most rampant in the sanitation and horticulture departments where salaries are drawn by supervisors against ATM cards of non-existent safai karmacharis and gardeners. The official, who didn’t wish to be quoted, said weeding out of these names could yield a saving of Rs 500 crore to Rs 1,000 crore annually.
MASSIVE DRAIN
85,000 staffers have registered for biometric identification system, 45,000 are missing
Sources say number of fake MCD employees could be even more
July 15 deadline for staff to register if they want their salaries

MISSING CORPN OF DELHI

Vasant Kunj resident smelt a rat in 2004

Dipak Kumar Dash I TNN

New Delhi: While revelations about MCD’s ghost employees — particularly in the sanitation and horticulture departments — might have come as a shock for many, resident welfare associations (RWAs) in the capital had more than an inkling about it for long. So much so that many had demanded that salaries of sweepers and gardeners should be paid after their attendance was endorsed by the RWAs.

A resident activist had even nailed the rot in the MCD in 2004 after filing an RTI seeking details of the gardeners deployed in his pocket.
Anil Sood, secretary general of NGO Chetna and a resident of C-1, Vasant Kunj, recalled he filed the first RTI in May 2004 as his colony parks were severely neglected. ‘‘I asked how many gardeners were deployed in our pocket and what were their duty hours to which they said three full-time gardeners were on duty,’’ he said.

In a revealing submission, the MCD said gardeners were working from 9am to 5pm in the pocket and in the logbook, one tubewell was being operated 4-5 hours daily.

‘‘The three gardeners were drawing Rs 6,500 salary each. I even sought the fathers’ names and residential addresses of the three gardeners to verify them. But they didn’t provide anything more,’’ Sood said.
Finally, he wrote to the lieutenant-governor seeking a high-level inquiry and the LG marked an investigation to then municipal commissioner Rakesh Mehta. Later, the MCD marked a copy of the findings of the inquiry to Sood, which said that the gardeners were marking their attendance in D-3&4 and they were working as per the directions of their ‘‘superiors’’.

About their salaries, the corporation said salaries were being paid as per their attendance verified by the supervisory staff. The corporation also submitted that though the pump was working 4-5 hours a day, it did not receive any electricity bill and no payment had been made till then. ‘‘To hide their lie, they even claimed to have got a certificate from a resident that said the condition of parks and working of the gardeners were satisfactory. Though we challenged the authenticity of the endorsement, they never paid any heed,’’ Sood said.

CORRUPTION BLOOMING IN MCD

MCD in denial mode, cites ECS payment

Ambika Pandit | TNN

New Delhi: Senior MCD officials have acknowledged that an elaborate exercise to enrol the MCD staff for biometric identification has revealed that over 45,000 employees are missing. They simply didn’t turn up — it’s feared that most of them don’t exist. But a day after TOI exposed this shocking state of affairs in the civic body, many officials and their political masters were in a state of denial.

Leader of the House Subhash Arya said since the corporation was paying all its employees through the electronic clearance system, there was no question of there being any ‘‘ghost employees’’. He, however, failed to mention how supervisors were withdrawing salaries of many of these nonexistent employees by using their ATM cards. This seems to be common knowledge.

The MCD is paying its employees through the electronic clearance system (ECS). This means that every employee should have a bank account which is not possible to create without an identity and address proof. Hence MCD says that all its employees are accounted for. But officials clam up when asked for a figure. No one is willing to state how many employees the corporation has or hazard a guess.
Arya was defensive.

‘‘We are in the process of implementing the biometric system of attendance and there are still 15 days left for employees to get themselves registered. Any conclusion can be reached only after all heads of departments and zonal heads certify that all employees under their charge have registered.’’

‘‘Secondly,’’ he added, ‘‘the finance department will have to say that the salary is being paid as per certification by the heads of departments and zones. Finally, the firm undertaking the biometric work will have to certify that they have enrolled each and every employee according to the list provided by the heads of department and zonal chiefs.’’

MCD Commissioner KS Mehra too told TOI that any inquiry or action on the matter will be ordered only after the exact number of employees is established.

About 85,000 employees from various departments of the corporation have registered under the biometric system so far. Of this figure, 50,000 are in the sanitation department, 11,000 in engineering, 18,000 in health and 7000 in horticulture.
ambika.pandit@timesgroup.com

 

RTI: CIC pulls up Pune Cantonment Board

RTI reply: CIC pulls up PCB for being ‘casual’

Asseem Shaikh | TNN

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Pune: The Central Information Commission (CIC) has pulled up the Pune Cantonment Board (PCB) for deputing a retired employee instead of a serving employee to attend the hearing of a second appeal.

The CIC also expressed its annoyance with PCB chief executive officer and the first appellate authority S K Sardana for not giving their comments on an appeal filed by Ranjeet Solanki, a resident of Bhavani Peth, opposite Poona college.

In its order delivered on June 16, Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra described the attitude of PCB officials as “casual” in dealing with matters under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The appellant Solanki had requested the central public information officer (CPIO), D D Modak, to provide information about the service record of his father Ashok Solanki. He had also sought details about the payments made to the legal heirs after his father’s death in an application dated October 26, 2006.

After the PCB transferred Solanki’s application to the CPIO of the accounts department, the appellant received a reply from the CPIO stating that on verification, no office record existed in his father’s name.

Dissatisfied with the reply, Solanki had preferred a first appeal before the CEO and the first appellate authority. The first appellate authority, in its order on January 16, 2007, had held that as per the index register maintained by the board, no file existed in Ashok Solanki’s name. The appellate authority further directed the CPIO to conduct a thorough search of the records and provide information within 15 days.
Solanki preferred a second appeal before the CIC after he received a reply from the CPIO stating that even after a second search no information sought by the appellant was available.

When the appeal came up for hearing before the commission in New Delhi, which was held via video conferencing from the National Informatics Centre here, Solanki brought to the notice of commission that the first appellate authority had not given its comments on the appeal even after the CIC making a communication on October 6, 2008.
Mishra stated: “It is deplorable that the PCB had failed to send its comments on the appeal even after 10 months of being asked to do so. This shows their utter lack of seriousness in matters related to right to information”.
Mishra further observed that “It is also very strange that the public authority deputed a retired employee to appear in the case instead of the current CPIO. Even if the CIC notice had been issued in the name of Smt D D Modak, CPIO and chief accountant, it was not desirable that the public authority should have summoned a retired employee to appear. It was the duty of the current CPIO to appear for the hearing”.

Modak submitted that she had replied to the appellant after the concerned section of the board had informed her that Sonlanki’s service record could not be traced, but she admitted the fact that she had once met him when he was alive.

“In any public authority, information about a former employee can be found by looking at several records like acquaintance roll, leave registers, seniority lists etc. Even if this particular person had passed away, the authorities concerned could have tried to find out about him from one or the other relevant records or documents only if they had tried hard and should not have casually dismissed the request by stating that no record in this name existed,” Mishra’s order stated.

Mishra directed the CPIO to once again search the records and files for finding out if there is any reference of the appellant’s father.

The CIC has sought an explanation from the CPIO.

 

Unsung Heroes & Heroines

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A BUILDER OF YOUNG LIVES

Samarpita Banerjee

Pune: Renuka and Anjana enter the room with a twinkle in their eyes. And why not? They had a big news to announce. “I scored 87 per cent in my class VII exam,” Renuka announces. “And I 85 per cent,” chimes in Anjana.

What makes the achievement of these two girls worth acknowledging is the fact that they belong to poor, uneducated parents who work as nomadic construction workers. And for this marvellous achievement, full credit goes to their mentor, Nirmala Hiremath, or didi, as she is lovingly called.

Hiremath has been working for the children of construction workers across the city for the past 23 years and runs the Tara Mobile Crèche (TMC). The crèche takes care of some 6,000 children every year. “We have children ranging from the age group of 15 days to 15-16 years. At the moment, we are running 16 day care centres across the city and till date we have opened and closed 128 sites,” said Nirmala, elaborating on the structure of the TMC.

So, how did it all begin? “The idea of starting such a crèche first came to social worker Meera Mahadevan when she came across many half-naked children of construction workers playing on a site in Delhi. The sight moved and motivated her so much that she started a day care centre for such children in Delhi in 1969. The Mumbai and Pune branches opened in 1972 and 1980 respectively, and we work collectively under the name Mobile Crèches. Since then, the programme has grown considerably and all the three organisations now function as separate entities,” says Hiremath.

Elaborating on the aim of the organisation, Hiremath adds, “Even as thousands of people come to the city from other states to work as construction workers, and build the ‘Modern India’, their children are left to fend for themselves among piles of rubble and construction material. They do not get proper food and hygiene. They have to work as domestic helps at homes and most of them cannot attend schools. In the process, they lose their childhood. Our aim is to ensure that we are able to reach out to more and more such children and make them capable enough to enter the mainstream instead of following the path of their parents.”

Since its inception, TMC has faced many problems. “Initially, the developers did not support the idea because it becomes an added responsibility and they even had to give us a room which is in a good condition to act as a house for new-borns. This problem persists even today. At times, they give us a small room with a tin ceiling without a fan or water supply,” says Sandhya Gujar, a volunteer who has been with TMC for the last 17 years.

However, facing these problems as challenges, the TMC team, headed by Hiremath spreads awareness around the city about the fundamental right of every child — the right to education. “Today, the situation is much better. Because of the awareness, schools are accepting our children. Also, more developers and builders are giving us support by contributing one-third of the expenses.”

The organisation has also opened a hostel for students who do well in schools. “Since the parents are nomadic, they keep shifting from one site to another and it becomes difficult for us to track down the children. Continuity in education is very important. That’s why we have opened the Seva Sadan hostel. Today, we have 13 students staying there.”

Numerous students, who once were a part of the TMC, have now entered the mainstream and doing quite well. Twenty three-year-old Sidhu Kamde today works in a call centre. “I owe everything to TMC and didi,” says Sidhu.