Activists bristle as India cracks down on foreign funding of NGOs


By , Monday, May 20, 7:14 AM E-mail the writer, WP

NEW DELHI — Amid an intensifying crackdown on nongovernmental groups that receive foreign funding, Indian activists are accusing the government of stifling their right to dissent in the world’s largest democracy.India has tightened the rules on nongovernmental organizations over the past two years, following protests that delayed several important industrial projects. About a dozen NGOs that the government said engaged in activities that harm the public interest have seen their permission to receive foreign donations revoked, as have nearly 4,000 small NGOs for what officials said was inadequate compliance with reporting requirements.
The government stepped up its campaign this month, suspending the permission that Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), a network of more than 700 NGOs across India, had to receive foreign funds. Groups in the network campaign for indigenous peoples’ rights over their mineral-rich land and against nuclear energy, human rights violations and religious fundamentalism; nearly 90 percent of the network’s funding comes from overseas.“The government’s action is aimed at curbing our democratic right to dissent and disagree,” Anil Chaudhary, who heads an NGO that trains activists and is part of the INSAF network, said Tuesday. “We dared to challenge the government’s new foreign donation rules in the court. We opposed nuclear energy, we campaigned against genetically modified food. We have spoiled the sleep of our prime minister.”In its letter to INSAF, the Home Ministry said the group’s bank accounts were frozen and foreign funding approval suspended because it was likely to “prejudicially affect the public interest.”

A government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the government is not against criticism. But when an NGO uses foreign donations to criticize Indian policies, “things get complicated, and you never know what the plot is,” the official said, adding that NGOs should use foreign donations to do development work instead.

The United States is the top donor nation to Indian NGOs, followed by Britain and Germany, according to figures compiled by the Indian government, with Indian NGOs receiving funds from both the U.S. government and private U.S. institutions. In the year ending in March 2011, the most recent period for which data are available, about 22,000 NGOs received a total of more than $2 billion from abroad, of which $650 million came from the United States.

Government bars groups that oppose nuclear energy, human rights abuses from accepting overseas donations.

U.S. officials, including Peter Burleigh, the American ambassador at the time, quickly moved to assure Indian officials that the U.S. government supports India’s civil nuclear power program. And Victoria Nuland, then the State Department spokeswoman, said the United States does not provide support for nonprofit groups to protest nuclear power plants. “Our NGO support goes for development, and it goes for democracy programs,” Nuland said.
Although Singh was widely criticized for his fears, the government froze the accounts of several NGOs in southern India within weeks.“All our work has come to a stop,” said Henri Tiphagne, head of a human rights group called People’s Watch. “I had visited [the] Koodankulam protest site once. Is that a banned territory?”

But the government’s action appears to have had its desired effect. “NGOs are too scared to visit Koodankulam or associate with us now,” said anti-nuclear activist S. P. Udayakumar.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said many NGOs are afraid to speak up about the suspension of their foreign funding approval, which is “being used to intimidate organizations and activists.”

Analysts say the government’s way of dealing with dissent is a throwback to an earlier era. But Indian authorities have been particularly squeamish about criticism of late. As citizens have protested corruption and sexual assaults on women and demanded greater accountability from public officials, authorities have often reacted clumsily — including beating up peaceful protesters and cracking down on satirical cartoons, Facebook posts and Twitter accounts.

Donors look elsewhere

Officials say NGOs are free to use Indian money for their protests. But activists say Indian money is hard to find, with many Indians preferring to donate to charities.

A recent report by Bain & Co. said that about two-thirds of Indian donors surveyed said that NGOs have room to improve the impact they are making in the lives of beneficiaries. It said that a quarter of donors are holding back on increased donations until they perceive evidence that their donations are having an effect.

“They give blankets to the homeless, sponsor poor children or support cow shelters,” said Wilfred Dcosta, coordinator of INSAF. “They do not want to support causes where you question the state, demand environmental justice or fight for the land rights of tribal people pitted against mighty mining companies.”

INSAF, whose acronym means “justice” in Urdu, has seen its portion of foreign funding increase significantly during the past 15 years. Now it receives funds from many international groups, including the American Jewish World Service and Global Greengrants Fund in the United States, and groups in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The top American donors to Indian NGOs include Colorado-based Compassion International, District-based Population Services International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“It is not a question about money, it is a fight for our right to dissent,” said Chaudhary. “I don’t need dollars to block a road.”

Asked last week about the Indian government’s moves against foreign-funded NGOs, a U.S. State Department spokesman said the department was not aware of any U.S. government involvement in the cases. The spokesman said such civil society groups around the world “are among the essential building blocks of any healthy democracy.”

The situation in India is not unlike the problems that similar groups face in Russia, where a law passed last year requires foreign-funded NGOs that engage in loosely defined political activities to register as “foreign agents.”

 

Jaipur: 5 deaf, mute orphan girls raped and beaten by school staff #Vaw #WTFnews


PTI  Jaipur, May 18, 2013

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Five deaf and mute orphan girls were allegedly raped and beaten by staff at a residential school run by an NGO in Kanota area in Jaipur.

Four persons, including the director of the NGO ‘Awaaz Foundation’ have been arrested after the incident was reported to police on Saturday, DCP (East) Shweta Dhankar said on Sunday.

“The girls, aged between 15-17 years, were staying at the hostel run by Awaaz Foundation where two employees Ashok and Suresh had been sexually exploiting them for some time. The girls were raped and beaten, and when they approached the NGO officials, their complaints were ignored,” she said.

The girls were from a juvenile shelter home in Gandhi Nagar and had been sent to the residential school, which runs with the support from the Social Justice department, to undergo a training, police said.

The case came to light when the girls returned to their shelter home, run by the state government, in Gandhi Nagar after completing the course.

“We have arrested Alpana Sharma, who runs the NGO, and employees Geeta, Suresh and Ashok. A few more arrests are likely to happen soon,” the DCP added.

Police said that 109 students were staying at the hostel, which has been functioning for the last six years.

Meanwhile, People’s Union for Civil Liberties activists today protested in front of the girls’ home in Gandhi Nagar and demanded action against the culprits involved in the case.

 

Apply Now- India Youth Fund #mustshare


 

What is the India Youth Fund Window? The India Youth Fund Window is a joint program between UN-Habitat and Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation to support urban youth in India with the aim of advancing the achievement of youth empowerment, the Millennium Development Goals, and the Habitat Agenda. The India Youth Fund Window is a specific funding mechanism under the UN-Habitat Urban Youth Fund for Indian youth financed by the Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation.

 

Who can apply for grant? Youth-led groups based in India where majority (50% and above) of the management and board are aged between 15 and 32 years may apply for the India Youth Fund Window. The youth group has to be registered for at least one year before the application deadline (15th April). Projects must be implemented within an urban area as defined by the Census of India.

 

How do I know whether the place I am planning to do my project is a city or town? For the India Youth Fund Window, an urban area is defined as:

  • All places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee etc.

All other places which satisfy the following criteria:

  • Minimum population of 5000;
  • At least 75% of male working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits; and
  • A density of population of at least 400 persons per sq km (1000 per sq mile).

 

You may also want to use Google or other search engines to check the population of your city or town. The information may also be available with your local administration.

 

What are eligible organizations? Organizations must have been legally registered for at least one year. They must be non-profit, non-government (NGOs or CBOs) and youth-led. They must have a valid bank account. They must involve girls and young women at all levels of decision-making.

 

What is an NGO? A Non-governmental Organization (NGO) is a legally constituted organization that operates independently from any government. The term is usually applied only to organizations that pursue some wider social aim.

 

What is a CBO? Community organizations (sometimes known as community-based organizations) are civil society non-profits that operate within a single local community. Like other nonprofits they are often run on a voluntary basis and are self-funding.

 

What organizations are not eligible? Organizations that carry out religious evangelization and organizations affiliated with political parties are not eligible. Organizations where the majority of staff and board members are not aged between 15-32 years are not eligible.

 

What projects are supported? Youth-led Development involves young people actively creating a better future for themselves and their communities, usually based at the grassroots level and are largely carried out by youth volunteers. Initiatives address a broad range of community needs such as health, employment, access to affordable housing, secure land tenure, safer cities and participation in decision-making. The objective of the project is also to develop valuable skills of management, teamwork etc among young people and boost their ability to acquire jobs and participate actively in society.

 

Is it compulsory for my organization to involve girls and young women? Yes! The Urban Youth Fund aims for gender equality and applicant organizations should therefore engage both female and male youth equally in the implementation of the project and among the beneficiaries. Organizations that do not involve girls and young women are not eligible.

 

What is the amount of the grants? Youth-led projects may receive grants of up to INR 8 Lacs.

 

How much does it cost to apply? Nothing! The India Youth Fund Window will not require you to pay any fee during the entire process of your application.

 

Can I apply for more than one project? No! Organizations can submit only one application for each annual deadline. Organizations may however, apply for the Fund the following year if not successful. Organizations that apply for more than one project will be disqualified.

 

When and where will the results be announced? The results will be announced on the Urban Youth Fund website: www.unhabitat.org/youthfund and the Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation website:www.nsfoundation.co.in on before 15th October (within six months of the application deadline). Successful applicants will be individually notified by e-mail.

 

How do I apply for a Fund grant? The application form is available online at http://unhabitatyouthfund.org. To access it, you have to first register on the front page, and then download the application guidelines and application form.

 

 

What do women want from netas? #mustread


The Times of India, Ahmedabad, 28 November 2012

VADODARA: Do political parties which aspire to form governments and make policies for the public have a committee to stop sexual harassment of women in all spheres? And why hasn’t the state government set up committees for dealing with sexual harassment of women at all work places and educational institutions as per the Supreme Court guidelines provided in the Vishakha judgment?

With barely 20 days left for the assembly elections, women activists of a city-based NGO have started raising these questions in letters to presidents, working committee members and office-bearers of all political parties. The letters come at a time when Nov 25 to Dec 10 is being observed as international fortnight observance on ‘Violence Against Women‘.

In a letter listing its demands and damning facts about lack of women welfare in the state, the NGO Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan) wants these political parties to announce their programmes, and organize public discussions on women’s right to live in a violence free society.

Statistics listed by the NGO state that the 2011 Census revealed 4,54,396 fewer girls as compared to boys in the age group of 0 to 6 years, while crime against women galloped with nearly one lakh cases registered under violence against women sections in the period between 2001 to 2008. In 2008, an average of one rape case against women was registered in the state, while 17 women on an average had to go to the police with mental and physical harassment related complaints.

The activists have also demanded a toll free, 24-hour helpline with a common number to be set up in the state. “so that any woman facing violence or fearing an act of violence could call this helpline to gain immediate support”.

The women also demand that a committee dealing with sexual harassment complaints should be formed in all institutions of local government including the gram panchayats and the phone numbers and addresses of the committee members be made publicly available.

Akanksha NGO, founded by Shaheen Mistry, Ashoka Fellow, violates RTE Act #discrimination


“Akansha founded by ashoka fellow by Shaheen mistry is running a BMC school in kala chowki , mumbai where they are violating all the sections of Right to Education Act , I made formal complaint regading this to variouse authorities , due to this they are discriminating my son Kabir and today they have not taken Kabir to the picnic and they kept kabir in the school alone , this is the shameful act on the part of Akansha and Shaheen Mistry . “-Shakil Ahmed , contact shakilnba@gmail.com,9969925602

Dear Shaheen Mistry,

I am a father of a six- year old boy, who, like thousand other parents has been anxious about finding a best educational institution for my child. As a law-practioner and a civil rights activist for over two decades, I have been working on a very close quarters with the education system. One such cause that I have invested my life in is trying to bring in accountability and transparency in state run educational institutions. I along with eight- nine other members, run Parivartan Shikshan Sanstha since 1997, and have been fighting to overcome lack of education facilities for children in the slums of Sangam Nagar, Wadala (east). Our NGO has ensured that a civic school was built in this area in 2006, following a Public Interest Litigation. Akanksha and Parivartan has worked together in the past.Akanksha helped us focus on the quality of education.

So when my son Kabir turned six this year, I knew, keeping all his constitutional rights intact, I had to zero down on one of the near- by schools. I too, like lakhs of parents wished to enroll him in an English medium school. But after several months of research and rejections, I was hit by hard and pressing reality that the admission process in most schools violates every premise of Right to Education Act. I then turned to your organization- Akanksha. And to my shock your school, too, did exactly what private educational institutions did.

Running you through my experience:

Over a month ago my wife Shabana had gone to Prabhud Nagar Municipal School (English medium) Cotton Green, to admit our son Kabir in 1st standard. One of social worker in School run by Akansha, NGO informed   that all seats were already full. When we pressurized to admit out child citing the Right to Education Act, they told that they do not take the students residing outside 1 km. Thus School Authority turned my son away on the ground that we reside outside 1 km. from school.

We wanted to know the admission beginning and closure details but Akansha refused to disclose and said that they have taken admission of Senior K.G students then we asked the detail list of students admitted with their residence address. My wife wanted in writing the reasons for denial of admission but she was not given then my wife gave a letter in writing stating that we had visited school for admission of our son but they refused to take that too. We lodged a complaint before Commissioner of Municipal on the same day.

On July 19, 2012, I was called by one social worker from Akansha organization who informed me that they have been directed by Administrative Officer (School) to admit my son. On July 20, 2012, I visited the school for admission and met Ms. Chitra, Principal of school. Ms. Chitra asked me to come the next day as there was a shortage of staffs in school and she was finding it difficult in carrying out formalities of filling up the forms. I told her that I have come there on receiving a phone call and can hardly find time out of my busy schedule and insisted for admission filling up form myself in absence of the staffs. This is in sheer violation of Section 8(d) and 9(f) which enshrines the duty of the Appropriate Government and Local Authority respectively to provide infrastructure including school building, teaching staff and learning material. She interrogated me about my son’s previous schooling upon which I replied that he had not attended school previously. She refused to admit him for not having previous schooling background. I wanted to come back on their refusal on which she agreed to give admission and asked me to wait as she had no idea about form fill up and called staffs from head office.

After half an hour, two ladies staffs came from head office who advised me to put my son in senior K.G as he would not be able to cope up with other student having schooling background. I shall again point over here that in refusing my son to admit in Class I, Ms. Chitra violated section 4 of the Act wherein a child above six years of age has not been admitted in any school or though admitted, could not complete his or her elementary education, then, he or she shall be admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age. The proviso to the section says that such child shall have a right to receive special training, in order to be at par with other children. They suggested me that these are in the interest of my son’s career. I did not agree with them and pointed out provision of RTE, Act which ensures special training for child to cope up in case child is admitted to class in appropriate to their age.

When I kept insisting her to take admission with the reference of Administrative Officer’s direction, she replied that AO has nowhere mentioned in letter to give admission and  again advised me to put my son in senior K.G. I did not agree for putting my son in below standard than his agree and came out.

After five minutes Ms. Chitra called me over my phone and told me that she is ready to grant admission without any condition.  She took prescribed admission form of BMC and thereafter she gave me another sheet carrying terms and conditions of Akansha, NGO. The conditions were not acceptable but I had no other option than to sign it. For example: Ms. Chitra told me to give only vegetarian food for lunch in tiffin, because it is the rule of school. I would like to point over here that the provision of mid-day meal in schools is a basic amenity provided by the Government towards ensuring that the children of all strata have the facility of having lunch provided in the school itself. Again emphasis by the school Principal to give only vegetarian food in lunch creates a sense of disparity among the children themselves as they come from all the sections of society. In fact, they should be made aware of the qualities of healthy food habits rather than discriminating them on vegetarian and non-vegetarian grounds.

While talking to the Principal I came to know that the school has tie up with Akansha, NGO under agreement to provide teaching staffs in the school. I asked per municipal rule the qualification of teachers of primary schools. She told me that minimum qualification of teachers is D.Ed. I asked number of teachers and their qualification of those teaching in their school.She informed that there are 20 teachers, out of 20 only 8 teachers have D.Ed or B.Ed qualification. I wanted to know the process of appointment, she told that they are employees of companies like Wipro, Infosys and deputed for two years in school. On asking about training I was told that Akansha provides them 20 days training. The project of deputing the teaching staffs in school are run by Teach India, NGO. Hence, the basic question that arises over here is, though the teachers over here may have worked with reputed organizations such as Infosys and Wipro, but do they have the minimum qualification of a B.Ed or D.ed degree to teach in a school? Teaching children between the age of six to fourteen years does not require experience of an IT Firm rather what is needed is the skill and training to be qualified as a teaching staff.

I asked for drinking water from one of teacher available in office for which they said that they have no water facility in school.   I expressed shock for non availability of water in school. Upon asking how children get water she replied that children are told to bring water bottle and in case they don’t’ bring water, they call parents to ask them arrange for water for their children. They further informed that school staffs take packaged drinking water when required. On asking about complaint in this connection they said that construction work of building is still going on and they are arranging funding for aqua guard. I observed that water connection is available in school but they are not providing water to children as they are waiting for aqua guard. The non-availabilty of safe drinking water facility in a school is in clear violation of The Schedule of the Act wherein the norms and standards for a school are laid down. Item (2)(iv) of the Schedule lays down that all-weather building should consist of safe and adequate drinking water facility to all children. It is to be emphasized over here that section 19 of the Act lays down that where a school fails to fulfill the norms and conditions within a specified period of 3years of its commencement, then the appropriate authority under section 18 of the Act shall withdraw recognition granted to such school.

Here, I would like to bring to your notice that thousands of parents like me are struggling to admit their child in school. Though there is legislation for providing children elementary education in govt. run schools, so that children right can be protected, it has been violated by your school. Akanksha has been in the field of imparting education for a long time and is perceived as one of the committed NGO’s.

But my experience with Akanksha has confirmed that your institution, although constitutionally bound to provide education to all, has failed a large section of the society.

Your schools arbit grounds to admit a child has violated not only the child’s constitutional right, but also defeats the purpose of a NGO.

RTE does not cover 0- 6 years age group. So when a child come to a school to be enrolled for the first time in a school at the age of six, it reflects a lot on his parents social and financial status. it for such a child that RTE comes for rescue and not for the ones who has an access to pre- primay education. Akansha should have been more careful and sensitive towards such kids. A child, who is deprived of this educational rights, should be Akanksha’s priority and not the one’s who have been to some nursery and pre- primary schooling. By asking me if my child has been to any such institutions before securing admission in standard 1st, your organization has violated my sons fundamental right to education. Previous qualification, age and the time when a parent approaches a school for admission is secondary. Every child should be in a school is and must be a priority!

I would like to ask, has Akanksha done anything to find out where are those kids it has denied admissions?

Does Akansksha know, after stripping them off their basic rights, have those kids been admitted to any school?

Unless a NGO works within the realm of the RTE and ensures each and every child is admitted in the school, without any discrimination, their existence can not be justified.

Thanks & Regards,

 
Shakil Ahmed

 

Sterilisations carried out under torchlight on Dalits, SC asks why


New Delhi: The Supreme Court today sought the stands of the Centre and various state governments on a plea alleging sterilisation surgeries on women under torchlight, in various places, specially in Bihar, in gross violation of the medical and ethical norms.

A bench of justices R M Lodha and H L Gokhale issued notices to the Centre and various states and sought their replies within eight weeks on a public interest litigation by non-governmental organisation Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) which bought to the court’s notice the alleged horrific incidents, particularly in Bihar.

Appearing for the petitioner, senior counsel Collin Gonsalves told the bench that operations “were performed by doctors under torchlight and activists of an NGO were administering anaesthesia to the patients.”

According to the NGO HRLN, a sterilisation camp was held at the Kaparfora Government Middle School at Araria in Bihar in January this year by an NGO in coordination with the State Health Society, where a private doctor used the school classroom as an operating theatre for sterilisation surgeries on at least 53 poor, Dalit women.

Devika Biswas, the activist who filed the petition said women were operated on paddy straws provided by the local villagers leaving three women bleeding severely and requiring their subsequent treatments at a private medical hospital, the NGO said in its petition.

“In clear violation of the government guidelines and the basic human rights, the doctor performed surgeries at night, under torchlight. During the two hours he was operating, the doctor did not wash his hands, change gloves, or wear a surgical gown and cap,” the petition alleged.

Most of the women from the camp had to seek costly private care later, the petition alleged adding that none of the women were counselled, either before or after the surgeries.

“The horrific human rights violations extend beyond these events in Bihar,” the petition added.

“After their surgeries, untrained NGO workers placed the women on straw paddy provided by the families. The doctor operated on one pregnant woman, Jitni Devi, who miscarried days after her surgery. The doctor and NGO staff left three women profusely bleeding, including Saraswati Devi, who spent 8 days recovering in the hospital,” the petition stated.

“Doctors and health facilities across the county routinely flaunt the ethical and procedural guidelines prescribed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the constitutional obligations and international norms. The Public Interest Litigation specifically outlines examples of coerced and unsafe sterilisations in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan,” it claimed.

Bombay HC orders state to stop work on Kalu dam


Dam Damned

Dam Damned (Photo credit: Lingaraj G J)

By Mustafa Plumber | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

The Bombay high court on Thursday stayed the construction of a dam being built on Kalu River in Thane district because necessary permissions were not obtained by the state government from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF).

The stay would continue for three months until the ministry decides on the proposal seeking permission.

On June 5, DNA had first reported how the dam, if built, would submerge an area of 2,100 hectares, including around 1,000 hectares of dense forest, and displace four villages.

“The private construction company appointed by the state government cannot undertake any activity unless further permission is given by the court,” said the division bench of Justice DD Sinha and Justice VK Tahilramani.

The bench rapped the ministry for not deciding on the proposal within three months as per the forest conservation rules, thus allowing the state government to carry out the construction activity on the dam site. “If it is a temple or a resort, it is ok. But if the matter is in larger public interest, it should be decided on a priority basis. You cannot keep everything on hold,” the bench said.

The bench noted that the ministry was non-apologetic for the delay.

“It is unfortunate that the statement made by the ministry on completing the entire exercise within four weeks was not honoured. However, nor there is an apology or regret in this regard. Because of procedural technicalities, the process was not completed. Due to the apology by the counsel, we don’t propose to take this matter any further.”

The bench directed the MoEF to decide on the state government’s proposal, seeking permission for development on forest land within three months. The Central Advisory Committee of MoEF has two months to submit its report/suggestions/recommendations based on the report dated February 9, submitted by the Chief Conservator of Forest (Central) in the ministry for consideration. Thereafter, the central government has to take a decision on it within a month.

The directions were given during the hearing of a petition filed by Shramik Mukhti Sanghatana, an NGO, alleging that the dam is being built without required permissions from the forest department.

In an affidavit, the state government admitted that work on Kalu dam in Murbad began in October 2010 without permission from the Centre and MoEF.

The MoEF had carried out a site inspection and the report submitted by the chief conservator of forest said the construction should be stayed as the state government had not got the necessary permission.

Advocate Gayatri Singh, appearing for the Sanghatana, argued that the work order was given on May 29, 2010, and only after the petition was filed, the state government applied for permission to the chief conservator of forest in June 2011.

According to the state government, as per a resolution passed on July 9, 2009, it was granted an approval for building the dam.

Barrack-room surgery in Bihar’s backwaters


A youth plays the anaesthetist minutes before he was nabbed.

A youth plays the anaesthetist minutes before he was nabbed.

Shoumojit Banerjee in The  Hindu 23rd Jan 2012

The Kaparfora sterilisations expose the State administration’s tenuous hold over NGOs contracted for conducting family planning camps.

About a fortnight ago, as the sun was setting late one cold Saturday afternoon, a crowd steadily trooped into the premises of a State-run middle school in the backwaters of north-eastern Bihar.

The group, comprising mostly of indigent, illiterate women, hailed from the extremely backward classes (EBC)-dominated hamlet of Kaparfora in Araria district and had assembled in anticipation of a sterilisation camp to be conducted by an NGO. After a long wait, eyewitnesses said, the tubectomy (or tubal ligation surgeries) commenced after dusk, lasting barely a couple of hours. The women were called in, operated upon on rough, unvarnished school benches and their fallopian tubes sealed at breakneck speed.

This appalling barrack-room surgical procedure, bereft of prescribed operating theatre (OT) facilities, started unravelling in the wee hours, when three women started haemorrhaging profusely. Further trouble broke out when the “camp organisers” refused to pay the mandatory amount (Rs.600 fixed by the Bihar government) to the women for undergoing sterilisation. Agitated by the turn of events, an irate mob comprising relatives and attendants of the women caught hold of three youths present on the spot and threatened them to make a clean breast of the affair.
Utter mess

When the police, led by the District Superintendent, reached the spot next morning, they found the ‘Operating Theatre‘ in utter mess, with the room a diffuse tapestry of spent needles, syringes and some medicines past their expiry date.

The FIR filed that day notes the absence of the surgeon, the anaesthetist and the block Primary Health Care centre doctor, supposed to be supervising such a camp. The youths, who claimed to be working on behalf of an accredited NGO, Jai Ambe Welfare Society, had barely cleared their intermediate exams, the police said.

The NGO’s tab-sheet detailed the successful completion of no less than 61 tubal ligation surgeries. There was no evidence of any clinical assessment, pre- or post-operative care or decent waste disposal procedures during the entire run of this “successful camp.”

“There was nobody to look after us once the surgery was completed … we were lain on the veranda as if we were dead people,” said Rambha Devi, a mother of three who started bleeding after her operation. The women were lying listlessly on the cold, hard floor “scattered like livestock,” notes the investigating officer in the FIR.

While initial police reports suggested that the youths themselves had performed surgeries (The Hindu, January 10), a confession statement given later to the police by Ramanand Jha, one of the nabbed, states: “the birth control operations commenced after 5 p.m. on 7/01/12 and were performed by one Dr. A.K. Choudhary and his staff in barely two hours, after which the doctor and his team left the place.”
‘53, not 61′

When contacted by The Hindu, Dr. Choudhary admitted the surgeries began at 5 p.m. on Saturday. He said he had performed “53, and not 61, surgeries in an operation that lasted five hours,” following which he and four of his assistants left the place.

Asked whether proper regulations were followed during the duration of the surgeries, Dr. Choudhary said: “I am not aware of all that [Health Ministry rules and regulations] … all I know, sir, that I was requested by the NGO [Jai Ambe] to come for a birth control camp at Kaparfora.” He stressed that he could not be held responsible for any of the rules or arrangements that an NGO had not followed as it was guided by the District Magistrate of that particular district.

In a raid that Sunday, the police tracked down the domicile of the NGO’s promoters to an imposing bungalow in the neighbouring district of Purnea. The raid yielded a rich haul of CDs and forged stamp heads.
Forged stamp heads

Among the 60-odd forged stamp heads seized by the police, one included the seal of Dr. A.K. Choudhary. Other forged seals include those of Block Development Officers and PHC doctors from each of the nine blocks in Araria, and some in Purnea and Kishanganj districts. Police sources said the seized CDs contained morphed images of the same women, displayed against different backgrounds, with dates interspersed to coincide with the genuine dates of a fuzzy camp held by Jai Ambe Welfare.

The women, including minors decked up in saris to pass off as adults, were photographed holding slates detailing their names, their spouse’s names and domicile address in white chalk. The chalk lettering was deliberately obfuscated and the same women used under different names several times over in order to prove that a “successful birth control programme” had been conducted by the NGO on paper, sources said. The CDs further detail harrowing night surgeries conducted by the NGO under torchlight in other blocks of the district.

The NGO’s promoters, Vidyanand Vishwas and Kumar Nath Chaudhary, charged with cheating and forgery, have since been absconding.

Attempts by The Hindu to contact the Jai Ambe trust for its version of the events proved futile as all three of its cell phone numbers returned a “switched off” answer.

At the root of the problem is the State’s all-round lack of capacity in the health sector, including family planning. Bihar’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 3.9 — the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime — is the highest in the country and vastly outstrips the national average of 2.6. According to the National Family Health Survey (NHFS– 3, 2005-06), more than 60 per cent of women in the 20-24 year age group get married by the age of 18 in Bihar.

In fact, populous states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have less than 350 sterilisations per 10,000 unsterilised couples with three or more than three children, with a high unmet need for family planning.

Though NGOs can and do play an important role in augmenting the efforts of the State government, the Kaparfora sterilisations expose the tenuous hold of the Nitish Kumar-run administration over NGOs contracted for conducting family planning camps.

According to Central Health Ministry operational guidelines, an NGO receives Rs.1500 for every successful tubectomy and vasectomy operation performed. Bogus or botched up, on-the-hoof operations can be passed off as successful tubectomies, and the money to be made is considerable.
Signs of cover-up

Speaking to The Hindu, Araria Civil Surgeon Husna Ara Begum said the Jai Ambe trust had been operating in the Purnea-Araria belt for more than four years and had carried out more than 4000 sterilisations in Araria alone.

The district has a TFR as high as 4.6. “Araria has a target of 28,000 sterilisations which has yet to be completed. So, we often contract NGOs to organise family planning camps in the district,” she said.

Despite evidence to the contrary, she denied the camp was conducted after dusk. Dr. Begum insisted they had taken place “during the day and were performed by a registered government doctor.” The surgeries had to be performed in a State-run middle school as Kaparfora was located in the remote hinterland, she said.

Incidentally, the Kursakanta block PHC is less than 2 km from the school premises where the tubectomies took place that day.

In an indication of cover-up, the State Health Department hurriedly circulated a prima facie report on the incident to the media, contradicting police investigations and seeking to assure the public that events had transpired quite differently.

The report, drawn up by the Araria District Civil Surgeon, issued by the District Magistrate (Araria) and presented by the Principal Secretary (Health) Amarjeet Sinha, gave a resounding clean chit to the NGO stating: “53 tubectomy surgeries were conducted successfully by Dr. A.K. Choudhary (M.B.B.S.) and his team in 6 hours in the presence of the head doctor at the PHC, Kursakanta block.” It further says “there were no complaints from any of the women who were sterilised.”

This is at odd with the facts as the women who were bleeding profusely had to be later referred to the block PHC at Kursakanta. One of them, Saraswati Devi (aged 25), was discharged only last week.

Tubectomy surgeries are performed using two methods. In a laparoscopic surgery, a laparoscope (a thin veiled tube containing a small camera) is inserted into the abdomen and the operation performed by making small incisions (usually 0.5-1.5 cm). The equipment is more sophisticated and, therefore, the surgery costlier as compared with a Minilap surgery which requires only basic and easily maintainable surgical instruments.

While laparoscopic surgeries can be performed quickly, a conventional tubectomy (or a Minilap surgery, as it is known) as in the Kaparfora cases, takes relatively longer. A Minilap operation can be performed by a trained M.B.B.S., whereas laparoscopic surgery requires highly-trained gynaecologists (MD or DGO) or surgeons (MS). This, and a number of other factors, including cost, have led to a policy preference for Minilap surgeries in densely populated States with a high TFR figure.
‘Not humanly possible’

The Hindu spoke to many doctors from the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists Societies of India (FOGSI), who said that it was “not humanly possible” to perform so many Minilap surgeries without a specialised team or standard medical infrastructure.

“It is next to impossible for 50 or 60 Minilap operations to be performed by one doctor in six, let alone two, hours under such conditions. Only a highly trained doctor can perform an operation in 10-14 minutes at the very least,” said Dr. Sanjay Gupte, ex-president, FOGSI, and Director, Gupte Hospital, speaking from Pune. “I have performed a maximum of three Minilap operations in an hour in a superior medical ambience. So, such figures [53 in six hours] are simply unbelievable” says Dr. P.K. Shah, Secretary-General, FOGSI.
Litany of violations

The camp operations themselves read like a litany of violations of the Standard Operating Procedures set out in the Union Health Ministry’s Standards for Female and Male Sterilization Services and the Quality Assurance Manual on Sterilization (both 2006). According to them, a camp can be held only on the premises of government referral hospital or a primary or community health care centre, with an ambulance service at hand.

No permission was sought from the school authorities at Kaparfora for such a camp. Neither was any attempt made to disseminate information in the form of posters or pamphlets. Importantly, rules stipulate that camp timings must be during the day (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), whereas the Kaparfora tubectomies began late in the evening, concluding abruptly at night after a frenzied surgical session.

However, Mr. Sinha said State-contracted NGOs had generally done a commendable job of conducting birth control camps in the past. NGOs like Janani had conducted several successful family planning camps in different parts of Bihar, including Araria, he pointed out.

“We are committed to providing quality healthcare services in the State. In one-off cases like these, there is nothing more we would like but to see the culprits put behind bars. We are not trying to cover up anything,” he told this correspondent.

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