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UPDATE (India): Call for immediate compensation for the victims as well as a thorough investigation with punishment for the alleged perpetrators

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to inform you that action has been taken against officials found guilty of corruption and misappropriation of government funds intended for the poor in Orissa. However, to date the victims have not been granted compensation. Some village officials have been suspended or discharged from their duties but no charges have been brought against them.

Hunger Alert Update: AHRC-HAU-003-2010



2 June 2010

[RE: AHRC-HAG-001-2010: INDIA: Another massive misappropriation of government funds to ensure food security in Orissa]
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INDIA: Call for immediate compensation for the victims as well as a thorough investigation with punishment for the alleged perpetrators

ISSUES: Corruption; impunity; right to work; right to food; rule of law
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to inform you that action has been taken against officials found guilty of corruption and misappropriation of government funds intended for the poor in Orissa. However, to date the victims have not been granted compensation. Some village officials have been suspended or discharged from their duties but no charges have been brought against them.

UPDATED INFORMATION:

On April 7, 2010 the AHRC reported in a Hunger General Case that seven villagers from Kusmal village of Birighat Panchayat, Nuapada District in Orissa had been the victims of corruption by village officials. Villagers had applied for work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) digging village farm ponds. Mr. Jogeswar Sagria, husband of Gram Sathi who is an assistant for the implementation of the program, told the village workers to stop work and to pay him INR 5000 (USD 100) each. They would still receive their wages, without having done any substantial work. The villagers reluctantly agreed due to the official position of Mr Sagria’s wife. The villagers subsequently stopped work on May 19, 2009 but were not paid until December 4. 2009. The farm pond project was never completed.

In October 2009, Khirasindhu Sagria, a village farmer, discovered through a Right to Information (RTI) request that the officials involved in the project had hugely overstated the amount of money paid to the workers. The difference between the amount declared to have been paid in salary and the amount actually received amounted to about a USD 4,000 difference. It was found that the extra money had been paid into the bank accounts of the relatives and the friends of Gram Sathi, Mrs. Mandal.

After bringing attention to these irregularities, Khirasindhu Sagria and several other villagers became the target of several physical attacks at the hands of Mr Jogeswar Sagria’s brothers and a group of thugs. Two villagers were admitted to hospital as a result.

The AHRC was encouraged after receiving a letter from the District Magistrate of Nuapada district detailing that the Gram Panchayat Technical Assistant, Mr. Simanchal Samantry and Mrs. Rina Mandal had been relieved of their duties after receiving a formal statutory notice. The then Executive Officer of the G.P. Birighat, Mr. Meher, was suspended from his position and departmental proceedings have been brought against him. The local administration has taken arbitrary and lenient action that is not fully in accordance with the appropriate punishments prescribed by the law.

In addition, draft criminal charges have been brought against the ex-Block District Officer, Mr. Chittaranjan Bangola and the present Block District Officer of Khariar Block, Mr. Nabin Chandra Naik and the Assistant Engineer, Keshab Chandra Mohanty. They are subject to the same charges which have been lodged with the Panchayati Department and are awaiting the necessary action to be taken.

The local government has assured the AHRC that Kusmal and other villagers will be provided with work under the NREGA scheme. And the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) has begun an inquiry into this case with its allegations of fabricated charges and physical abuse brought against Khirasindhu Sagria.

A letter from the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC), states that this case has been passed to the State Human Rights Commission. They are due to receive a report on the investigation from the SSP of the district within two weeks from May 14, 2010 - the date the NHRC sent the complaint.

Given the positive steps that the local government has taken, the Asian Human Rights Commission, in agreement with the human rights groups supporting the victims, encourages the local government to take further steps in favour of the victims. Despite the fact that the villagers are the main victims in the case, no one has received any compensation, which should be an absolute priority in this situation.

The AHRC urges the local government to:

1. Restore the peoples’ entitlements. This includes adequate compensation due to the delays in construction of the farm ponds and the payment of their just wages. The food security of the villagers, many of whom are BPL card holders, must be ensured as they cannot survive delays in salary payment;

2. Recover the misappropriated funds which were stolen by corrupt local officials, and repay these monies to the workers;

3. Punish corrupt officials under section 25 of NREGA which states that erring officials are liable to a fine for neglecting their duties;

4. Withdraw the fabricated charges against Khirasindhu Sagrai and ensure his safety in the village;

5. Hold the project director of the District Rural Development Agency equally responsible for irregularities in Nuapada district with appropriate action taken against him immediately.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

The local government and the law enforcement officials do not fully implement the laws as seen in this case, which willfully fails to prevent similar cases in the future. This is one of the root causes, which promotes corruption in India.

In March 2010, the central government acknowledged the need to tackle rampant corruption that had been hampering the functioning of the NREGA (Act.) This was communicated in a letter from the Ministry of Rural Development to all state governments. They were asked to initiate criminal proceedings against state officials found ‘guilty of embezzlement’ of NREGA funds, under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988. The letter also requests that states ensure that the entire ‘embezzled amount’ be recovered from the corrupt officials.

According to the NREGA rules and guidelines, if the payment of due wages is delayed for more than 15 days the labourers are entitled to compensation. A reminder to this effect was contained in the central minister’s letter.

To support this appeal please click here:

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please join us in expressing your concern for the poorest in India regarding the misappropriation of public funds aimed at guaranteeing the right to work and the right to food.

The AHRC has also written a separate letter calling for the intervention of the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food.

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SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

INDIA: Call for immediate compensation for the victims as well as a thorough investigation and punishment of the alleged perpetrators

Names of victims: Seven beneficiaries of the NREGA farm pool project
Name of Alleged Perpetrators:
1. Mrs. Rina Mandal, Gram Sathi
2. Mr. Jogeswar Sagria, Husband of Gram Sathi
3. Mr. Simanchal Samantry, Gram Panchayat Technical Assistant
4. Mr. Birighat, Mr. Meher, then Executive Officer of the G.P.
5. Mr. Chittaranjan Bangola, Block District Officer,
6. Mr. Nabin Chandra Naik, Ex-Block District Officer of Khariar Block
7. Mr. Shri Keshab, BDO of Khariar Block
8. Mr. Chandra Mohanty, Assistant Engineer
Name of village:
Kusmal village of Birighat Panchayat, Nuapada District in Orissa

I am writing to urge further progress in the case involving seven villagers who were the victims of misappropriation of state funds by allegedly corrupt state officials in Orissa.

I am aware that from May to December 2009, seven villagers from Kusmal village of Birighat Panchayat, Nuapada District in Orissa were the victims of corruption by village officials. Villagers had applied for work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) digging village farm ponds. Mr. Jogeswar Sagria, husband of Gram Sathi who is an assistant for the implementation of the program, told the village workers to stop work. They were pressured to pay him INR 5000 (USD 100) each. The villagers would still receive their wages without having done any substantial work. Due to the official position of Mr Sagria’s wife, the workers reluctantly agreed to this arrangement. Subsequently, work stopped on May 19, 2009 but no salaries were paid until December 4, 2009. The farm pond project was never completed.

In October 2009, Khirasindhu Sagria, a village farmer, discovered through a Right to Information (RTI) request that the officials involved in the project had hugely overstated the amount of money paid to the workers. The difference between the amount declared to have been paid in salary and the amount actually received amounted to about a USD 4,000 difference. It was found that the extra money had been paid into the bank accounts of the relatives and the friends of Mrs. Mandal, Gram Sathi.

After bringing attention to these irregularities, Khirasindhu Sagria and several other villagers became the target of several physical attacks at the hands of Mr Jogeswar Sagria’s brothers and a group of thugs. Two villagers were admitted to hospital as a result of this violence.

I am encouraged to learn that the Gram Panchayat Technical Assistant, Mr. Simanchal Samantry and Mrs. Rina Mandal have been relieved of their duties after receiving formal statutory notice. The then Executive Officer of the G.P. Birighat, Mr. Meher, suspended from his position had departmental proceedings brought against him.

I also welcome the draft criminal charges that are lodged against the exBlock District Officer, Mr. Chittaranjan Bangola and the present Block District Officer of Khariar Block, Mr. Nabin Chandra Naik and the Assistant Engineer, Keshab and Chandra Mohanty. They are subject to the same charges which have been brought to the Panchayati Department and are awaiting the necessary action.

I will watch with close concern to see that the local government fulfills its promise of providing work under the NREGA scheme to Kusmal and other villagers. And I await the conclusion of the investigation from the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) who has begun an inquiry into this case with the allegations of physical abuse and fabricated charges brought against Khirasindhu Sagria.

I am further informed that the National Human Rights Commission of India transferred the complaint to the State Human Rights Commission. The Commission has a duty to receive a report from the SSP of the district. The SSP has pledged to conclude its inquiry into this case within two weeks from May 14, 2010 and further their report.

Given the positive steps that the local government has taken, I, in agreement with the human rights groups supporting the victims, encourage the local government to take further steps in favour of the victims. Despite the fact that the villagers are the main victims, no one has received any compensation, which should be an absolute priority in this case.

I therefore urge the local government to:

1. Restore the peoples’ entitlements. Adequate compensation paid for the delays in construction of the farm ponds and the payment of their just wages. Food security of the villagers, many of whom are BPL card holders, must be ensured as they cannot survive delays in salary payment;

2. Recover the misappropriated funds, which were stolen by corrupt local officials, and pay them back to the workers;

3. Punish corrupt officials under section 25 of NREGA which states that erring officials are liable to a fine for neglecting their duties;

4. Withdraw the fabricated charges against Khirasindhu Sagrai and ensure his safety in the village;

5. Hold the project director of the District Rural Development Agency equally responsible for irregularities in Nuapada district with the appropriate action taken against him immediately.

I look forward to prompt and positive response.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO :

1. Mr. Naveen Patnaik
Chief Minister
Naveen Nivas, Aerodrome Road
P.O.Bhubaneswar, Dist. Khurda
751001 Orissa
INDIA
E-mail: cmo@ori.nic.in

2. Upendra Prasad Singh
Commissioner-cum Secretary
Department of Agriculture
Orissa, INDIA
Fax: +91 674 2393 948
E-mail: agrsec@ori.nic.in

3. Mr. Bikram Keshari Arukh
Minister
Ministry of Rural Development
Bhubaneswar, Orissa
INDIA
Fax: +91 674 2536 641
E-mail: rdsec@ori.nic.in

4. Ms. Amita Sharma
Joint Secretary (NREGA)
Rural Development Department
New Delhi, INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2338 4703
E-mail: amita712@yahoo.co.uk

5. Bishnu Prasad Panda
Collector of Nuapada District
Collectorate
Nuapada Tanwat, Nuapada District
Orissa 766105
INDIA
Fax: +91 6678 223465
E-mail: dm-nuapada@nic.in

6. Justice R.K. Patra
Chairperson
Orissa State Human Rights Commission
Toshali Plaza Complex (2nd Floor),
Satya Nagar, P.O. Saheed Nagar,
Bhubaneswar-751007, Orissa
INDIA
Fax: +91 671 256 4333 / 674 239 0563

7. Mr. Pratyush Sigha
Commissioner of Central Vigilance Commission
Satarkata Bhavan
A-Block, GPO Complex, INA
New Delhi - 110 023
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 24651010
E-mail: vigilance@nic.in, cvc@nic.in

Thank you.

Right to Food Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Posted on 2010-06-02
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