Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Savio Silveira sdb
MUMBAI, SEPTEMBER 22, 2010: Since the past two years, the Development Office has been advocating that we should use the Rights Based Approach in our developmental programmes. In this context, a question that I am often asked is: What exactly is the Rights Based Approach to development?
Today’s Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition) has carried three articles, including one on the front page, of Sitaram Pandu Gavanda, who committed suicide on 15th September, in Chondipada village of Jawhar taluka, Thane district. Desperate poverty drove Sitaram to this step. According to one of the reports, twenty-four tribals, mostly farmers, have committed suicide in Jawhar taluka since January 2010.
The most common reason for poverty in this, and most rural areas, is lack of employment. To address this problem, the government passed the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in 2005. Unfortunately, even five years later, most rural people are unable to draw benefit from this Act. Kailash Jadhav, Additional Collector in charge of the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) in Jawhar, admitted that the EGS has been non-functional in the taluka for the past 18 months. “If the EGS had worked, Sitaram Gavanda could have been saved,” said Ramchandra Navsu Barph, the local police patil.

Inability to access food grains is another huge issue in rural areas. The above mentioned news reports point out that the Public Distribution System (PDS) is in tatters in Jawhar. In Sitaram’s village Chondipada, for instance, only 20 of the 270 families have ration cards, which means the others cannot access food grains through the PDS. Again, 169 families in this village fall under the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. Hence, these families are entitled to more grain at less price; but since they do not have a ration card they cannot avail of this benefit.

The immediate reason that pushed Sitaram to commit suicide was sickness in the family. He was suffering from TB and his ten year old son Nilesh was down with fever. The day before he committed suicide, Sitaram asked his wife Kamal to take Nilesh to the hospital for which he gave her Rs 100. “That was all he had. He told me he had to choose between Nilesh and himself,” Kamal said.

Sitaram was entitled to employment, but was unable to access work that would have brought him an income because the EGS has not been functioning in the taluka since the past 18 months. He was entitled to low cost food grains, but could not feed his family since the PDS there had collapsed. He was entitled to free medical services, but could not avail of the same since this service too has collapsed. Sitaram was entitled to live, but he was forced to kill himself since he could not access any of those entitlements that would have enabled him to stay alive.

The Rights Based Approach is about enabling people like Sitaram access their entitlements. It is about helping people like Sitaram live.

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