Cambridge, MA – Jayaram Venkatesan, the convener and cofounder of the Arappor Iyakkam, gave a talk at MIT about Citizen’s Movement for Transparency and Accountability, which was cosponsored by the Association for India’s Development, MIT, Boston and Metrowest chapters as well as the Coalition for a Democratic India.
Arappor Iyakkam (AI) is a people’s movement started in 2015 with a mission to create a vibrant civil society through a large scale citizens’ participation in establishing transparency and accountability in governance. They focus on issues in municipal corporation, public health, citizen’s awareness campaigns and restoration of water bodies.
Jayaram recounted AI’s first campaign in 2015 where they took down large banners of politicians that obstructed the footpaths and forced people to walk on the roads with traffic. This brave act landed the activists of AI in jail and caused a huge public uproar. The public pressure thus created forced the political parties to stop putting up banners on footpaths for a few years.
Members of AI found out that the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption(DVAC) had been steadily dropping the number of random checks it was supposed to conduct on ration shops, driving license offices and other public facing Government offices. Using the Right To Information (RTI), the organization came to know that from 2014 through July 2017 only 4 random checks had been conducted by the DVAC. AI launched the Rest in Peace DVAC campaign where citizens sent RIP messages to DVAC. Public pressure resulted in 61 checks from Aug 2017 through Feb 2018 and 137 from Feb 2018 through Mar 2019 – a significant increase over the previous years.
AI launched the Kelu Chennai Kelu (Listen Chennai Listen) public event to call attention to the water crisis in Chennai and create mobilize people to conduct a citizen’s audit of water bodies. AI had found that the debris from the metro construction was dumped in the Villivakkam lake reducing its capacity to hold water which led to the flooding of the surrounding areas. Due to sustained public pressure, the Government has been removing the debris to restore the lake.
Jayaram emphasized that it is only through citizen’s participation that democracy can be actualized. Through its campaigns, AI has been able to get many citizens to actively engage with the local Government and hold it accountable. He gave examples of citizens taking pictures of improper laying of roads and reporting the corruption leading to cancellation of tenders to certain companies. Jayaram’s passionate talk and his work which has required great personal sacrifice and risk left the audience spellbound and inspired. Many people continued the conversation with Jayaram long after the talk was over and walked away enlightened and inspired.