gfiles magazine

April 19, 2011

‘To fight female foeticide I have revived the system of midwives’

SONEPAT’S Deputy Commissioner, Ajit Balaji Joshi, is something of a social activist. An electrical engineer from Mumbai’s Sardar Patel Engineering College, he chose the IAS over Infosys. The 2003-batch officer of the Haryana cadre has been using modern technology to plug the loopholes in the system while at once putting traditional institutions to optimal use to address issues like a skewed sex ratio. He emphasizes that addressing the root causes of society’s ills is better than clamping down with stringent laws.

interviewed by KELLOL DEY

gfiles: Sonepat has about 1200 private schools and an equal number of government schools. The district had the first women’s university in North India — the Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Viswavidyalaya. But the lack of quality education fosters unemployment, which is one of the biggest problems. How are you tackling this?
Ajit Balaji Joshi: We recently brought a PPP model on employment exchange to Sonepat to increase the scope of employment. Infrastructure is not a headache. Sonepat has adequate power and water supply, and 75% of agricultural land is irrigated. The district is one of the largest producers of rice and wheat in Haryana. Also, Sonepat is not deprived of industries. There are three or four industrial estates located in the district. What worries me are social indicators like sex ratio, female foeticide, adult literacy and so on.
The 2001 census listed Haryana as having the worst male-female ratio in India. Since then, the Haryana government has taken measures to reverse the imbalance. Sonepat was among the nine villages which received an award for improving the sex ratio in 2009 but 2010 showed the negative trend again. Sustaining the improved ratio requires a huge thrust and public participation. The Haryana government scheme of Janani Vikas Yojana was valuable. The main reason behind female foeticide and the skewed sex ratio is the high cost of marrying off a daughter. There are other ageold factors like the custom of a younger brother marrying his elder brother’s wife to protect family land holdings. The biggest threat is the growing trend of bride purchase, which has negated the efforts of the administration in improving the skewed sex ratio. The incentive to curb female foeticide has been wasted as brides can be purchased from both neighbouring and far-flung states. There are touts in Delhi who get brides for the men here for a price and that has made the battle against female foeticide an uphill one. Demographically, it will pose a big problem in coming years.
To fight female foeticide, I have revived the system of midwives and made use of Anganwadi workers. These are the best people to counsel the pregnant mother and her family, keep track of births, and check mortality at birth. Training is imparted to the midwives and they are given a basic knowledge of allopathy, homoeopathy, and so on. They are given incentives for institutional deliveries. Anganwadi workers have been given mobiles.
Institutionalizing childbirth to fight female foeticide needs meticulous technical support. We are pursuing development of new software to facilitate better coordination between midwives and Anganwadi workers and the administration, and to track pregnant mothers and deliveries more effectively.

gfiles: What about another social ill – child labour?
ABJ: Child labour is a problem that the administration in places where industries flourish has to tackle. The soil on the banks of the Yamuna in Haryana is considered ideal for brick-making. Thus, brick kilns come into the picture. This industry provides a livelihood to lakhs of poor families who migrate from Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and even Assam. But it also breeds child labour. Sonepat has at least 350 brick kilns. We started the Bhatta Pathshala scheme to provide elementary education to the children of the migrant labourers in these kilns.
We cannot crack down on child labour in the kilns without offering the labourers an alternative. The Pathshala scheme was accepted by the Union HRD Ministry in 2008 and also the International Labour Organization and UNESCO and is now being implemented all over Haryana. The first pathshalas were set up in Jhajjar in December 2006 when I was posted there as Additional Deputy Commissioner. In 2008, I replicated the successful model in Sonepat. On January 1 last year, 56 such schools, with 1,356 students, were set up in Sonepat. Now, technical and vocational training is being planned for children over 15 years of age. The project also gives employment to youths who have studied up to Class XII, as they are recruited to teach in the brick kiln schools.

‘Sonepat was among the nine villages which received an award for improving the sex ratio in 2009 but 2010 showed the negative trend again.’

gfiles: As District Commissioner of Sonepat, you are also the district electoral officer….
ABJ: I eliminated the system of paperbound manual preparation of twin databases – two separate electoral rolls, one for the State Election Commission and one for the Central Election Commission. It would take officials several days and hundreds of manhours to manually compile both lists. Inherent flaws in the system like duplication of names meant several persons could technically vote twice.
I hired a software firm, who sent down an engineer to work with us on a common database. The first Common Electoral Roll (CER) programme was thus created in December 2008 at a cost of just Rs 95,000. With the CER, it took only a few hours to manually key in details of the entire population into the database. This software, which was accepted by the Election Commission, not only saved crores for the State in paper and printing but also unearthed a huge number of duplicate voters in the twin lists.

gfiles: Any other innovative projects for better administration?
ABJ: I started a call centre in Sonepat – a number at which people can call to register their complaints and relate their woes to the administration. But people still prefer to come and see me with petty problems. The administration in Haryana is very centralized. Hundreds of citizens want to see me instead of getting the issues solved at tehsildar level, for instance. The system of administration even at village level needs to be decentralized.

No comments:

Post a Comment