SOCIETY
 


Green is his valley
Sanjeev Singh Bariana
meets Dr Avdhash Kaushal, the man behind the go-green movement as well as several other projects to improve the lot of bonded labour in Dehra Dun.
Guarding the fragile ecosystems in Uttaranchal, the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) has inspired conservationists in saving the green cover.

The Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra provides education to Van Gujjars
The Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra provides education to Van Gujjars

Consumer rights
Choose coaching classes with care
Pushpa Girimaji

As admissions to technical courses become highly competitive and tough, students wishing to join these courses make a beeline every year for the “coaching classes” that promise to help them score well in the entrance examinations to these courses. And there are coaching classes for MBA, IIT, engineering and medical courses, civil service entrance examinations and even law courses.





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Green is his valley

Sanjeev Singh Bariana meets Dr Avdhash Kaushal, the man behind the go-green movement as well as several other projects to improve the lot of bonded labour in Dehra Dun

Guarding the fragile ecosystems in Uttaranchal, the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) has inspired conservationists in saving the green cover.

What started as a lonely walk by Dr Avdhash Kaushal, a faculty member at the Lal Bahadur National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, has now become a movement with inhabitants of hundreds of hamlets in the region joining making his mission a success. The brigade comprises largely women, who have become soldiers of the ‘change brigade’.

Bonded labour


Dr Avdhash Kaushal
Dr Avdhash Kaushal

One winter morning in the early 1970s, Dr Kaushal was having a walk at his favourite haunt, Dhaura Lakhand, an obscure hamlet in Jaunsar Bawar district. “I had to cross a river to reach the village. I sat in a basket that was pulled over to the other side by some person. I was surprised to find a woman sitting on duty. I asked her if she was managing her fields.”

“No”, she replied, “the field belongs to ‘Ranaji’”. I asked about her husband and she said he too worked for ‘Ranaji’”. Her husband had taken a loan for their marriage. How long will you work to repay the amount, I asked. She looked heavenwards. I was surprised to see that bonded labour existed till date when the government was claiming that it had ended”, he said.

The incident shocked the teacher whose first love was environment. He thought protecting the environment would have no meaning without involving people. He set up a long-drawn mission of safeguarding environment in conformity with the needs of society.

After nearly two decades of work without any outside support, the RLEK got itself registered in 1989. The open mines in the area had taken a heavy toll on the fragile ecosystem around Dehra Dun. Availability of water in the area was affected with the city taps running dry.

A government survey showed at least 101 mines in the area. The matter was taken up with the Supreme Court. “We argued in our case that the hills had gone white. In 1986, the Environment Protection Act came into place and things changed. All the limestone mines here were ultimately closed. College and school students in the valley have contributed immensely to tree plantation”, Dr Kaushal said.

Soon he was joined by a number of youngsters, including women, in his movement which led to the setting up of the Panchayati Rule and the Gender Awareness Training Institute (PAGATI), sister concern of RLEK. Today the kendra has more than 150 full-time and part-time staff besides more than 100 volunteers working in different departments and projects.

Pollution control

During the early 1980s, emissions from a number of chemical and cement factories were polluting the Doon valley. Dr Kaushal took up the case under the Citizen’s Right to Breathe Act. The industrial units were finally shifted outside the valley.

Illegal poppy cultivation was rampant in the valley during the 1980s. It was uprooted in the area following a RLEK movement.

The kendra has expanded its work area to several fields and the results are a source for inspiration for others.

While men served as slaves to higher castes in the Jaunsar Bawar area, women were coerced into prostitution in the northern Indian cities. The RLEK registers have significant data on the number of women freed and rehabilitated.

Following Dr Kaushal’s intervention, the Uttar Pradesh Government officially recognised the presence of more than 19,000 bonded labourers.

The government often took away land given to bonded labourers without due compensation under the garb of development projects. The RLEK carried out a study and detected 128 instances of injustice. The matter was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court that directed the state to facilitate land allotment to the bonded labour.

Van Gujjar project

Since 1992, the RLEK has been involved with the Van Gujjars (forest gujjars), a fiercely independent, Muslim, vegetarian, and nomadic, pastoral and indigenous community residing in Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The kendra has shown good results in the fields of education, milk marketing and veterinary schemes for the Van Gujjars.

The RLEK has facilitated the construction of eight primary schools in the Dehra Dun, Tehri and Uttarkashi areas where there is no primary school within a periphery of 3 km.

Community kitchens equipped with gas stoves and cooking utensils were installed in far-off locales of rural Garhwal under the programme with the support of the Hindustan Petroleum. An average of 10-12 women cook their meals in these kitchens. Self-help groups are trained to manage the kitchens.

Grassroots Man

Abiding by his precept of ‘Include the excluded and reach the unreached’, Dr Kaushal has brought alive the Doon valley and the hill state of Uttaranchal with reverberations of empowerment. A passionate environmentalist and human rights activist, he was honoured with Padma Shri in 1986.

He filed the first environmental PIL in the Supreme Court known as the Mussoorie Mining Case. Dr Kaushal has been instrumental in drafting and enactment of the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, Environment Protection Act and Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS).

The long list of awards conferred on him include the Rotary International Award for Service to Humanity (India); the Birla International Award for rural uplift by the Vice-President of India in 2005, and the SKOCK Award for Grassroots Man of the Year-2005.

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Consumer rights
Choose coaching classes with care
Pushpa Girimaji

As admissions to technical courses become highly competitive and tough, students wishing to join these courses make a beeline every year for the “coaching classes” that promise to help them score well in the entrance examinations to these courses. And there are coaching classes for MBA, IIT, engineering and medical courses, civil service entrance examinations and even law courses.

These coaching classes are not cheap. In fact, most of them charge exorbitant fees and are a great financial burden on the parents. Many of them also take an undertaking from the students or parents saying that they will not ask for a refund even if the student discontinues the coaching course. Yet, parents send their children to these coaching courses in the hope that these classes help them gain entry to coveted professional courses.

The increasing demand for coaching centres has in fact spurred an entire “coaching industry”. And in the absence of stringent regulation, not every coaching class delivers what it promises and it is difficult for students to choose the right institution. Some of them are also known to make false and misleading claims about their capabilities, results and teaching staff, thereby luring unsuspecting students. The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practice Commission has on many an occasion hauled up such institutions for issuing misleading advertisements.

A couple of years ago, a student of a coaching class had filed a complaint before the consumer court, seeking compensation for his failure to get admission into the Indian Administrative Service. His contention was that the study material sent to him had many mistakes and this in turn impacted his performance in the entrance examination. This case highlighted, more than anything else, the need to regulate the coaching industry.

Interestingly, last year Mohan Singh introduced in the Lok Sabha a private member’s Bill for the regulation of this industry. Titled “The Pre-examination Coaching Centres Regulatory Authority Bill, 2005”, the Bill sought the constitution of a regulatory authority to regulate pre-examination coaching centres.

The Bill was quite simple. It suggested that the Central Government constitute a regulatory authority with its headquarters in Delhi and offices in every state and union territory, to regulate the coaching centres. The job of the regulator would include conferring recognition to pre-examination centres imparting coaching for various competitive examinations, prescribing fees to be charged by them, fixing the minimum number of classroom lectures for various courses offered at the coaching centres and laying down the minimum qualification for the teachers employed in the coaching centres. It also recommended penalties against such coaching centres that violated the provisions of the law.

Said the statement of objects and reasons accompanying the Bill: “The number of private institutions conducting pre-examination coaching is increasing at an alarming rate throughout the country. These coaching centres claim to be shaping the future of the youth of this country. Some of these coaching centres make false claims in order to attract maximum number of students and get huge amounts from them as fees without providing proper coaching to them, thereby endangering their future. Therefore, there is an urgent need for legislation to regulate the functioning of such coaching centres in the country.”

One hopes that this private member’s Bill will spur the government into action and get the state governments to regulate these pre-examination coaching centres so that there is standardisation in the quality of education or coaching imparted by them. In fact, students and parents should demand such a regulation.

They must also demand that the terms and conditions imposed by these coaching centres with regard to refund of fees, etc, are fair to students and parents. It would also be good if education departments provide an ombudsman mechanism to redress the grievances of students vis-ŕ-vis coaching classes.

Meanwhile, if coaching classes make false claims or do not deliver what is promised or provide deficient service, students and parents can always seek relief through the consumer courts constituted under the Consumer Protection Act. The courts have come to the aid of consumers in many such cases and awarded compensation to students affected by unfair trade practices indulged in by such schools as well as deficient services rendered by such coaching classes. Consumer courts have also taken to task coaching centres for providing defective study material.

But do choose the coaching centre with care and read the terms and conditions for joining carefully before signing up. And if you disagree with any of the conditions or think that they are unfair, do point it out in writing.

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