This article is part of The Chhattisgarh Story series.
A few years ago, Left Wing Extremism (LWE) coupled with the region’s difficult terrain made life in the villages of Sukma district tough. With development lagging and the resultant poverty, starvation was common. Adding to their woes were other social problems.
While facilities such as free healthcare and subsided foodgrains and other essentials from designated ration shops were available, the residents, mostly belonging to SC, ST and OBC groups, could not access these. Youth couldn’t avail scholarships to pursue higher students, which meant they either had to choose between unemployment or low-paying unskilled jobs. And all this because they did not have documented proof of their caste, required to avail these benefits.
According to the Chhattisgarh Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other Backward classes (Regulation of Social Status Certification) Act, 2013, government officers have to issue caste certificates to any applicant/citizen. However, to get this certificate, applicants need to share some supporting documents as mentioned in the Act. For those belonging to SC, ST, and OBCs, those below the poverty line, and from backward tribal communities, this was a major challenge since they had little or no awareness about the importance of documents. Those who never had official documents, didn’t have access to make one.
Even though numerous efforts were made in the past to provide caste certificates, these were not very successful. In 2017, the government launched yet another effort, only this time, in a systematic manner.
After identifying some key reasons that led to the failure of similar attempts in the past, and armed with better training and resources, the Chhattisgarh government launched Chinhaari – a mission to achieve 100 percent coverage of caste certificate distribution in the district.
Under the Chinhaari initiative, a cut-off date was announced by the Gram Sabha to process applications for caste certificates. Within the cut-off date, the applicants were required to get supporting documents such as a declaration letter, and a family lineage chart prepared by the official Patwari. In case a lineage chart was not available, the applicant had to furnish official documents such as ration card, Aadhaar Card, PAN Card, Voter Card, Service Record, Insurance Policy document, Revenue Department Document, Birth certificate or Death Certificate of the nearest family member, among others.
Once the Gram Sabha received an application, the Village Secretary prepared a declaration letter after which a family lineage letter was prepared. On the announced date, a Gram Sabha was held with villagers, Gram Sabha members and a District Nodal Officer in participation. At the Gram Sabha, applications were validated and the family lineage documents read out.
This gave people the opportunity to identify and weed out errors before they become part of the official documentation and nullified related hassles due to errors in documentation. Once an application is validated by the two parties, the caste certificate is issued by the District Administration Official at a Lok Seva Kendra or the nearest nodal office.
At its core, the Chinhaari Mission has been designed to ensure the Gram Sabha does not deny service to anyone from Sukma under any valid circumstance. In case, somone is unable to furnish the official documents for application of the caste certificate within the cut-off date, the Gram Sabhas have been empowered by the local Panchayats and the Rural Development Departments to issue case certificate and domicile certificate to the people.
The onus of verification and checks are on the Gram Sabha and Panchayat of the village of the applicant. In such a scenario, the Village Secretary prepares a list of applicants who do not have required supporting documents and presents their case in a special Gram Sabha. In another instance, since migration is a common phenomenon in rural India, an applicant from the village who currently resides elsewhere but has lived in the village for a significant duration is eligible to apply for the caste certificate under the mission.
The need and the impact of the initiative can be gauged by the fact that within five months of its launch, the Gram Sabhas in the district received more than 45,000 applications. The success of the initiative stems from a thorough need assessment done by the District Administration of Sukma, identifying the causes of failure of similar interventions in the past and taking these learnings to design an effective intervention.
The next part of the success equation can be attributed to the training of all the key stakeholders, right from the Chief Executive Officer, Zilla Panchayat, Village Secretaries (Gram Sachivs), Patwaris, School Nodal Officers, public representatives like the Sarpanch and related officers like the Nayab tehsildar, tehsildar, officers from revenue department, etc.
The popularity of a socially relevant project like Chinhaari, especially from the point of view of the beneficiaries, is a testament to the relevance and need for one on a wider scale.