Governmental Measures Target Expanded Access to Affordable Housing 2 days ago On the topic of blight in residential neighborhoods, Ohio-based Safeguard Properties Chairman Robert Klein said, “A vacant and abandoned house is not a bottle of wine. It doesn’t get better with age.”The state of Ohio is taking steps to remedy the vacant and abandoned property crisis, however, and the rest of the country may follow suit. A bill that would reduce foreclosure timelines and therefore shorten the amount of time that residential properties remain vacant in Ohio passed by a unanimous 88-0 vote in the Ohio House of Representatives earlier this week.Ohio HB 134 is the second attempt at passing a “fast track foreclosure” bill in the state of Ohio in order to expedite the residential foreclosure process after a similar bill failed last year in the Ohio Senate. Just as Ohio HB 134 did on Tuesday, the previous bill passed unanimously in the state’s House last year. The legislation, if it passes in the Ohio Senate, would reduce the lengthy foreclosure process in Ohio from its current timeline of two to three years or longer down to as low as six months in many cases.For the mortgage industry, the passage of Ohio HB 134 represents a step toward solving what Five Star Institute President and CEO Ed Delgado termed a “community crisis of national proportion.”“I applaud the Ohio House of Representatives for passing this bill, and I am pleased that it received such overwhelming support,” Delgado said. “Reducing the amount of time that properties are vacant will ultimately eliminate neighborhood blight and prevent the calamities that often accompany it, such as vandalism, violent sexual assault, drugs, prostitution, and overall deterioration of communities. This bill will take steps to ensure that these magnets for crime will be more quickly rehabilitated and promote the safety of neighborhoods across the state. I urge the Ohio Senate to act quickly in passing this bill.”Ohio State Rep. Cheryl Grossman, a joint sponsor of Ohio HB 134, stated, “To be able to shorten this process from two to three years down to six months benefits everyone. I think it will have a huge impact. This is something that’s not unique to one area of the state. There are problems throughout the state and throughout our country on what falls in this category. What we can do to respect the homeowners that are maintaining their properties and being responsible and not have to have a boarded-up house next to them, that is huge.”“A vacant and abandoned house is not a bottle of wine. It doesn’t get better with age.”Robert Klein, Chairman, Safeguard Properties The Week Ahead: Nearing the Forbearance Exit 2 days ago The Best Markets For Residential Property Investors 2 days ago Fast track foreclosure bill Ohio Safeguard Properties Vacant and Abandoned Properties 2015-11-18 Brian Honea Servicers Navigate the Post-Pandemic World 2 days ago Previous: CoreLogic Unveils Enhanced Home Equity Data Offerings Next: Fed Reform, Mortgage Access Bills Under Threat of Veto from the White House in Daily Dose, Featured, Foreclosure, News Tagged with: Fast track foreclosure bill Ohio Safeguard Properties Vacant and Abandoned Properties Sign up for DS News Daily Demand Propels Home Prices Upward 2 days ago Subscribe Data Provider Black Knight to Acquire Top of Mind 2 days ago The bill now moves on to the Ohio Senate, where it ran into problems last year. But Ohio HB 134 has some strong backing that may give the bill the lift it needs in order to pass the Senate and become law.“We know the people in the Senate who are very involved in this project, including the Governor’s office, and we’re going to keep pushing to make this thing pass,” Grossman said. “I feel pretty confident that once it passes in Ohio, other states will pick up on it.The idea for the bill was first proposed by Columbus City Attorney Rick Pfeiffer, and Ohio HB 223 was introduced to the Ohio Senate in June 2013 by Grossman, a Republican, and Ohio State Rep. Michael Curtin, a Democrat. The bill passed unanimously in the Ohio House in April 2014, but then an amended version of the bill failed to make it out of the Ohio State Senate Finance Committee when it was introduced there eight months later in December. A new version of the bill, Ohio HB 134, was introduced earlier this year by the same two joint sponsors, Grossman and Curtin.The changes to Ohio HB 134 from the bill that did not pass in the Ohio Senate last year include:additional criteria defining a property as vacant and abandoned (three things from a checklist instead of two);a high burden of proof (clear and convincing evidence) that the criteria for defining a property as vacant and abandoned are met;a requirement that the mortgagor must be in monetary fault, along with a burden of proof;a statement that if another mortgagee or defendant has filed an answer or objection, it will preclude the expedited foreclosure;allowing the purchaser to file a motion with the court to proceed with the transfer of the property title if the deed is not prepared within 14 days, and the recording of the court order or confirmation of sale can act as the transfer of title (the previous bill allowed only the recording of the court order to act as transfer of title without first going through the court motion process;and a requirement that the officer record the deed within 14 days after the confirmation of sale and payment of the balance due, not one or the other.“This preserves the original intent of the bill to allow for an expedited process to foreclose on vacant and abandoned homes while not impeding the homeowners’ rights,” Grossman said. “It also allows second and subsequent attempts at sheriffs sales to be conducted without a minimum bid. This will aid in selling more foreclosed homes to reduce the number of empty houses in our neighborhoods, greatly preventing and reducing the number of blighted homes.”If Ohio HB 134 passes in the Ohio Senate, Ohio would be the eighth state since 2009 to pass a fast track foreclosure law. The others are Michigan, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Indiana, New Jersey, and Nevada. As is the case in Ohio, the majority of these are judicial foreclosure states, meaning the foreclosure process must pass through the courts to be complete; the only one of the aforementioned states where the foreclosure process is completely non-judicial is Michigan.Ohio’s bill raises the possibility of fast track foreclosure legislation at the national level. Delgado, who spoke on the topic of finding solutions for neighborhood blight and vacant properties at the National Property Preservation Conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this week, called Ohio HB 134 “an important template toward the introduction of a national course of solution for vacant and abandoned properties.”“This is the first bill that actually details that once you get a property that is vacant and abandoned, it will be fast-tracked to about six months on the foreclosure,” Klein said. “That is going to have a tremendous, tremendous impact on vacant and blighted properties. We still have a way to go, but this is definitely the first push. The sooner we get this bill passed in the Ohio Senate, I think it will have an impact on community blight on a national scale.” Delgado Applauds Passage of Ohio Foreclosure Fast Track Bill, Urges Senate to Act Data Provider Black Knight to Acquire Top of Mind 2 days ago Brian Honea’s writing and editing career spans nearly two decades across many forms of media. He served as sports editor for two suburban newspaper chains in the DFW area and has freelanced for such publications as the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Dallas Home Improvement magazine, and the Dallas Morning News. He has written four non-fiction sports books, the latest of which, The Life of Coach Chuck Curtis, was published by the TCU Press in December 2014. A lifelong Texan, Brian received his master’s degree from Amberton University in Garland. Print This Post November 18, 2015 2,324 Views Home / Daily Dose / Delgado Applauds Passage of Ohio Foreclosure Fast Track Bill, Urges Senate to Act Demand Propels Home Prices Upward 2 days ago About Author: Brian Honea Servicers Navigate the Post-Pandemic World 2 days ago Share Save Related Articles The Best Markets For Residential Property Investors 2 days ago Governmental Measures Target Expanded Access to Affordable Housing 2 days ago
Pellegrini said: “He couldn’t recover 100 per cent from his groin problem, so he is not in the squad list.” Aguero, who scored his 28th goal of the campaign before leaving the field in the 3-2 win at Goodison Park, has missed 18 of City’s last 31 games with various leg muscle injuries. The 25-year-old, however, has not yet been ruled out of Sunday’s season finale at home to West Ham. Pellegrini said: “Maybe he can have some chances, we will see the way he improves during the week. “It was not 100 per cent sure if he was completely fit for tomorrow, that is why I didn’t want to have a risk with him, but we will see during the week if he can play on Sunday.” Pellegrini does not accept the claim of his Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers that the title race is effectively over and settled in City’s favour. Liverpool squandered the chance to apply considerable pressure to favourites City as they surrendered a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3 at Crystal Palace on Monday night. The result still took the Reds to the top of the table, but the initiative, because of their game in hand, is now with City. Pellegrini said: “I really don’t know what Brendan said. I only know we have two games and we have to win the game against Aston Villa. “At the end of the week we will see which team has more points.” Pellegrini, speaking at a press conference to preview the visit of Villa, claimed he did not watch Liverpool’s dramatic late capitulation against Palace when they conceded three times in the last 11 minutes. When asked about the result, the Chilean said: “I feel it is just one result more in the Premier League. “In the Premier League it is very difficult to win the games. “You cannot be sure you are winning until the end, until the last minute.” Manchester City top scorer Sergio Aguero will miss the title favourites’ crunch clash with Aston Villa on Wednesday, manager Manuel Pellegrini has said. Argentina international Aguero, who has been plagued by injuries in the second half of the season, limped out of Saturday’s victory at Everton with a groin problem. City can move two points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League with just one game to play if they beat Villa at the Etihad Stadium. Press Association
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Rooftop solar evolved quicklyRooftop solar has inspired so much contention chiefly because it’s the first DER to enjoy widespread use, experiencing “the biggest, fastest adoption of these technologies,” Jesse Jenkins, a contributor to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2016 report, “Utility of the Future,” said in an interview. “It’s a bellwether of the broader issues that we’re going to be dealing with in the next decade.” Everything about utilities, from their rate structures to their business models to their corporate cultures, is on the cusp of change.For all the conflict surrounding rooftop solar, solar energy last year generated just under 1% of U.S. electricity, and utility-scale solar farms have three times the generating capacity of residential solar installations. That disparity is likely to grow.While the shift to rooftop solar and other distributed energy sources presents a major technological challenge to utilities, their current business models provide them no incentive to meet it. According to the models, utilities are allowed to use ratepayer revenue only to reimburse themselves for the costs of operating the grid. Profits accrue to them as a designated percentage — usually 7% to 10% — of their capital expenditures on infrastructure investments, from new plants to new transmission lines.Rooftop solar is in the vanguard of DERs that promise to upend this business model. Not only do rooftop solar and other DERs divert customers from the utilities, these innovations defer infrastructure expansion by producing decentralized, renewable energy or by improving energy efficiency, thereby threatening utility profits.And as more and more customers install solar panels, utilities earn less and less revenue, which means that rates for remaining customers must increase — which drives even more of them to rooftop solar. As battery storage becomes cheaper, some customers will be tempted to leave the grid entirely. A paper published by the Edison Electric Institute in 2013 famously warned of this vicious circle, giving rise to the expression “utility death spiral.” Nevada Reverses Unpopular Net-Metering RuleLearn How Solar Friendly Your State IsPV Systems That Divert Surplus Power to a Water HeaterDutch Utility Reinvents Its MissionBatteries for Off-Grid HomesFlorida Voters Reject Solar AmendmentWhy a Vermont Utility Welcomes Solar Many utilities see only one solutionHemmed in by their business model and regulators who expect adherence to it, many utilities have concluded that they have only one alternative: stop rooftop solar. In this battle, utilities have sometimes behaved oafishly, sabotaging themselves.Florida utilities, for example, spent more than $21 million last year in support of a proposed state constitutional amendment they touted as a way to expand rooftop solar, but that actually contained provisions to kill it. Three weeks before the election, the policy director of a utility-supported think tank was recorded as he explained the deception at an energy conference. The resulting revelation helped defeat the amendment. Six months later, the Florida legislature unanimously passed laws hastening rooftop installations.Similarly, in 2015 Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission, under pressure from the state’s largest utility, NV Energy, announced drastic changes in rooftop solar rates that caused installers to stop doing business in the state. Even worse for rooftop solar owners, the rates were made retroactive, so that customers who’d been enticed into purchases with generous state rebates and the promise of unchanging rates over their contracts’ 20- or 30-year lifetimes found that they’d been victimized by a bait-and-switch: Under the new rates, they would pay more for electricity than if they’d never installed solar, even though they generated most of their own electricity.But the utility interests underestimated rooftop solar’s appeal. The resulting protest was so strong that in June, Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, signed legislation that restored most of the previous rate structure and enabled rooftop installers to resume operations.For utilities, the issue isn’t solar energy per se, which they like as long as they can sell it themselves. From their perspective, utility-scale solar has some major advantages over rooftop: not only does it enable utilities to keep their customers, but thanks to economies of scale and lower installation expenses, its electricity costs one-third to one-half as much as rooftop’s, according to Michael O’Boyle, a grid expert at Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based policy research firm.Equally significant, the value of electricity generated by solar varies greatly depending on time of day and location. The plentiful electricity generated on rooftops at mid-day, when the sun is highest, is much less valuable than late-afternoon electricity, which feeds the daily demand peak formed when both homes and businesses are consuming energy. And the first rooftop solar installation in a given location is far more valuable than the hundredth: the first one may help meet mid-day electricity demand, but the hundredth may help produce a surplus, in which case its chief impact is straining the system. Jacques Leslie is a regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times op-ed page and the author of Deep Water: The Epic Struggle Over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment. This post was originally published at Yale Environment 360. Limits of net meteringThese nuances usually aren’t captured in “net metering,” the common but flawed rate structuring system for rooftop solar owners that has been the focus of most utility-versus-solar company conflicts. Under net metering, utilities compensate rooftop electricity contributions to the grid at an unvarying rate, usually close to electricity’s average retail cost, roughly 11 cents per kilowatt-hour. Utilities argue that compensation should be lower, near electricity’s wholesale cost of 3 or 4 cents per kilowatt hour, because rooftop owners benefit from using the grid without paying for it.Solar companies say compensation should be at least as high as the retail rate because rooftop solar provides valuable unacknowledged benefits such as generating pollution-free energy, eliminating grid transmission losses when electricity is sent long distances, and avoiding the costs of building more power plants and transmission lines.But what is usually lost in the dispute is that no matter what rate a utility sets, net metering fosters energy inefficiency because it does a poor job of reflecting rooftop solar electricity’s varying value depending on the time and location of its generation. At the moment utilities lack the technology even to identify sites where rooftop installations would be most valuable, so they have no way to formulate energy-efficient rates. And without business models that reward them for installing tools to evaluate the value of rooftop locations, they have little incentive to act. In this way, utilities aren’t so much villains as captives of their often somnolent regulators.“The regulators,” said GTM Research’s Kann, “are the keys to this whole transition.”Regulators in a few states are beginning to reshape policies accordingly. California’s Public Utilities Commission is performing the delicate task of supporting the rooftop solar industry while phasing out net metering. Two years ago it introduced time-of-use rates for homeowners with new rooftop solar panels, and will follow up in 2019 with rates that also take location into account.Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission fostered the growth of rooftop solar’s close cousin, community solar (which typically involves placing solar arrays over parking lots and agricultural fields) by abandoning net metering. Instead, it devised a methodology for calculating a fair rate for electricity fed back to the grid by adding up all the components of community solar’s value, including the so-called “social cost of carbon” — the dollar benefit from reduced climate change impacts and air pollution.“What we found is that every year, the value of community solar has been higher than the retail electricity price,” said John Farrell, an energy researcher at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Which means that customers who produce solar energy were giving more value to the grid than they were receiving in net metering payments.” RELATED ARTICLES But the metaphor begins to break down here, since utility company opposition isn’t the only reason for the slowdown in rooftop solar. According to Shayle Kann, head of GTM Research, a leading electricity market analysis firm, two of the nations’ three biggest rooftop installers, SolarCity (now owned by Tesla) and Vivint Solar, shifted the emphasis of their business models from growth to profitability. In addition, in California, home to nearly half the nation’s rooftop installations, rooftop’s growth has tapered off as solar companies have run out of early-adopter customers. In any case, the decline is almost certainly temporary: GTM Research projects that rooftop solar’s growth in the coming years will rebound to a healthy 10% to 15% annually. Making innovation payNew York’s Public Service Commission has crafted the most ambitious of state renewable energy regulatory shifts. Its Reforming the Energy Vision, or REV, has begun moving away from typical utility compensation schemes including net metering toward programs that reward innovation. Its first venture was Consolidated Edison’s Brooklyn-Queens Neighborhood Program. Faced with increasing electricity demand in the area, ConEd first considered a conventional solution, building a new substation at a cost of $1.2 billion.Then it asked outsiders for alternative proposals, and selected one that meets the increased electricity demand with distributed resources, including rooftop solar — at a cost of $200 million. Under REV provisions, the utility’s reward for fostering electricity efficiency was earning as much profit as it would have if it had installed the substation.“It’s not just the utilities that need to change their business model,” Richard Kauffman, New York’s “energy czar” and REV’s leader, said in a telephone interview. “One of things we’ve been pleased about is the way that the solar industry has demonstrated a willingness to change its business model. The solar sector is beginning to view the utility not as the enemy, but as a customer and partner, in just the way that the utility needs to start viewing the solar industry.”In the long run, utilities are likely to come around, since the rapidly decreasing costs of rooftop solar and other DERs and the expected emergence of cheap batteries promise consumers a chance to leave the grid entirely. “If customers have the choice to cut the cord,” said the ISLR’s Farrell, “the utilities are going to have to either come to the table or they’re going to go out of business.” In the prevailing narrative of the rooftop solar industry, the dominant theme is combat. The good guys are the innovative, climate-positive, customer-pleasing solar companies, which must be nimble to avoid being crushed by the plodding, influence-buying, fossil fuel-spewing dinosaurs of the electricity industry, the utilities.Thus The New York Times headlined a recent story, “Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure from Utility Lobbyists,” while a Vox headline declared contrarily that, “Utilities fighting against rooftop solar are only hastening their own doom.”The combat trope isn’t entirely wrong. The utilities have successfully waged battles to squelch rooftop solar in states such as Arizona and Indiana, mostly by wielding political muscle to reduce compensation to customers for electricity fed back into the grid. This has helped hobble solar companies, and after four years of growth that averaged 63% a year, U.S. rooftop solar growth dropped to 19% last year, and this year is projected to be flat. The truth is more complicatedThe truth is that the combat analogy is misleading. Some utilities do actively oppose rooftop solar. But others have been immobilized by the ongoing paradigm shift toward clean, renewable energy. And a few utilities — most notably, in New York, California, Hawaii, and Minnesota — are taking tantalizing first steps into the new realm of distributed, or decentralized, electricity generation.“The broad characterization of all utilities acting monolithically is highly unfair, highly unsophisticated,” said Tanuj Deora, executive vice president at the Smart Electric Power Alliance, whose members are utilities learning to navigate the renewable energy arena. Most utilities are moving slowly, he says, “not because they have some hatred for rooftop solar,” but because the task of adjusting to the coming renewable energy era is profoundly complex.Both utilities and their regulators have been slow to recognize the tidal wave coming at them. For more than a century, utilities had learned how to send electrons in one direction, usually safely and reliably, from large, centralized fossil fuel and nuclear power plants over transmission and distribution lines to businesses and homes.Now, abruptly, their networks are being asked to accommodate electrons flowing in two directions, to and from consumers, without compromising safety and reliability, as a new generation of electronic devices enters the market. These “distributed energy resources,” or DERs, can be stationed in or near homes and businesses. They include not just rooftop solar, but wind power, batteries, electric vehicles, smart meters, smart water heaters, smart thermostats — on and on. They promise not just emission-free, fuel-less electricity, but far greater energy efficiency, thus reducing consumer costs and environmental damage. Their expanding use increasingly will determine how the grid functions.
An e-mitra plus operator in Bhim tehsil, Rajsamand district, Rajasthan. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy “There is not enough signal for the Internet to work properly,” Khatik says apologetically. “Imagine, if it is so bad in Bhim town, it’s much worse in the village panchayats. At least, with the urban machines, they can be connected to Wi-Fi even if the speed is slow. Rural machines must be connected to Rajnet [the State operator].” Data available with the government show that in one year, only 10 transactions have been made on this particular machine. Of the 14,440 machines installed across the State over a year ago, 914 have never been used.Khatik adds that all 37 of the kiosks installed in Bhim block have private operators who act as middlemen anyway. “There is no incentive for the operator to even login to the machine in many areas, because he can charge more for the same services without using it,” he says. DoITC data show that the kiosks are used more frequently in urban areas mostly to print out digitally signed certificates and pay for phone and electricity bills. The Jan Soochna portal itself has been accessed only 16,000 times on these machines over the last month.Little informationAlthough the Jan Soochna portal was launched with much publicity, information about it is still to reach many people in Rajasthan. “No one outside our office has heard the name of this Jan Soochna. But it is a new scheme, it will take some time to become popular,” explains Khatik.In the villages of Rajsamand and Bhilwara district, there is no visible publicity regarding the portal as yet. Even villagers who have personally benefited from the expanded database access are yet to hear the term Jan Soochna.“We have put out advertisements in papers and are planning awareness programmes. So far, the entire expenditure on Jan Soochna has come from our own internal budget, but the DoITC has now proposed a budget of ₹5 crore over the next five years to maintain the software and popularise the portal,” says Sharma. He sees the Jan Soochna initiative as the next step of the government’s integrated service delivery efforts, a natural evolution of its franchisee-based e-mitras or service centres. He argues that e-mitras are the ideal facilitators for the Jan Soochna portal.According to the MKSS activists who helped evolve the concept of Jan Soochna, e-mitra operators are often part of the problem, acting as middlemen who have a vested interest in blocking access to information. “We see Jan Soochna as a natural evolution of the RTI movement. This information is meant to back up an accountability and grievance redressal framework, and as such needs government-run information and facilitation centres,” says Dey.MKSS wants training on Jan Soochna usage to be imparted to front-line government workers at anganwadis and panchayats as well as grassroots social workers. Local databases need to be made visible offline as well, says Dey. “Specific data on ration beneficiaries should be painted on the walls of the ration shop itself, so it can be seen even by those who cannot go online,” he says. The DoITC is also seriously considering an MKSS suggestion that printouts of information from the Jan Soochna portal should automatically come with a digital signature, giving them the same legal validity as RTI responses. At the Jan Soochna launch, the Chief Minister gave a big boost to the point of view that the portal is part of a wider RTI framework rather than a mere service delivery, reminiscing about his engagement with the early RTI movement. “About two decades ago, I reached the sit-in protest organised by social worker Aruna Roy and her companions demanding RTI. I agreed to their demands. Then, fortunately, we formed the government and Rajasthan became the first State of Indian to initiate for this law,” he said.As the Rajasthan experiment evolves, other States are already making plans to follow suit and are thus closely watching these debates. Just five days after the launch of Jan Soochna, the Karnataka government directed all departments with beneficiary schemes to begin sharing datasets in preparation for the launch of a similar portal. The real success of the story will depend on how well the Rajasthan government can help empower the marginalised with the biggest tool at its disposal: information. For example, in 2017, MKSS activists got access to a list of 10 lakh people across the State who had been excluded from the government’s pension scheme when the payment system switched from the post office to Aadhaar-linked bank accounts. Overnight, the number of pensioners dropped from 68 lakh to 58 lakh. According to the government, almost three lakh of the excluded names were dead, while another two lakh were fake or duplicates. By painstakingly tracking down names from the list of the supposedly dead, activists like Baluji found that thousands of people like Tolaram had been wrongly excluded. “We sent in the papers to show he is alive, and finally they restarted his pension three months ago,” says Baluji. He navigates search queries and Excel sheets on his phone with a fluency that is enviable in a 62-year-old who has only studied till Class 8. “See, he got ₹8,000 worth of back pay, pensions unpaid for 11 months, on July 25, 2019,” Baluji points to the screen. Tolaram cannot read the information there, but nods vigorously with a gap-toothed smile. “Overall, I have helped people who were denied pensions get more than ₹80,000 worth of unpaid pensions,” says Baluji. In the neighbouring Bhim tehsil alone, more than 1,300 wrongly excluded names were added back to the pension scheme after a re-verification exercise. “It is only possible because we are able to see this information in detail,” Baluji says. Digital Dialogues, the beginningOver the last five years, Rajasthan has been digitising and integrating databases, including flagship social sector schemes, using Aadhaar-based verifications and payments. In 2017, the Department of Information Technology and Communication (DoITC) began to host ‘Digital Dialogues’. Bimonthly meetings were held with interested citizens including activists from MKSS and the wider collective of the Soochna Evam Rozgaar Adhikar Abhiyan, to discuss how to open access to such databases and present them for public use. In early 2018, Tolaram Kumhar, 73, suddenly stopped getting his pension of ₹750 per month. “I went to the bank after a while, but they didn’t have any answers. I didn’t know what to do until Baluji came,” he says, holding a creased booklet that documents the saga of his pension payments. Tolaram gestures to the man sharing the charpoy with him on a breezy October evening. “Baluji looked up information on his phone and found that I had been removed from the government’s pension list,” he says. Why? “Because they said I was dead.”Tolaram, who wears a torn blue T-shirt and a dirty white dhoti, spends most of his days in a small hut located high above the fields and grazing grounds of Thana village in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan. The land looks lush, but excess rainfall in this typically water-starved region has destroyed the maize crop this year, leaving marginal farmers and agricultural workers like him on the brink of destitution and deeply dependent on the government’s pension scheme for basic sustenance.It is people like Balulal Gujjar, popularly called Baluji, who have come to the rescue of people like Tolaram. Baluji is dressed in an intricately tied white dhoti, pleated white kurta-jacket, a silver neckband, and a red turban. He has been a social activist with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) for half of his 62 years. Now an elected ward member in Thana, Baluji with his faded pink jhola is a familiar sight to villagers for 30 km around. Baluji carries a well-used Samsung smartphone in his pocket, through which he accesses the Jan Soochna (public information) portal, which is the Rajasthan government’s latest effort to offer wider and easier access to the State’s increasingly digitised databases. The single window portal aims to increase transparency and accountability in governance. It has 82 different information request options for 32 schemes across 13 departments. It not only explains the schemes but also provides real-time information on beneficiaries, authorities in charge, progress, etc. Jan Soochna was launched with great fanfare by Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in Jaipur on September 13. Different elements of the portal have been on trial for more than two years, with gradual public access to databases being provided under the previous regime of BJP Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.Also Read Effort worth emulation: On Rajasthan’s public information portal After she recovered from the operation in June 2017, Devi made several visits to the hospital, but failed to recover her money. “I took all my papers, but they told me they have applied to the insurance company and nothing has come yet,” she says. “Only when Vineet bhai looked on his computer, he found that the hospital had already got the money.” Devi also says that after her operation, she put her fingerprint on a form that she could not read. Later she found out that the form falsely stated that she had not paid any money to the hospital as she was covered by the cashless insurance scheme. In March 2018, Bhambhu, armed with information from the Bhamashah database, accompanied Devi to the hospital and recovered ₹19,600.“After that, my husband got cancer, so we had to use up the money for my husband’s treatment. He died last year,” Devi says, as her two remaining goats enter the courtyard along with her youngest child, 13-year-old Radha. “I never went to school, but my daughter has finished Class 8 and I want her to study till Class 12 at least. Without education, there is nothing,” she says. Strength of unityFor unlettered villagers, the Jan Soochna portal is of little use without facilitators like Bhambhu and Baluji. However, in Gomaka Badia village in Thana panchayat, villagers have also discovered the strength of unity when armed with information. On a hot evening in May 2017, Baluji set up a projector in an open area in front of a small shop owned by Chun Singh, 67. Suddenly, the shopkeeper saw his own face flashing on the makeshift screen. “They had all the details about my ration card. For the first time, I found out that I was getting less foodgrain than I should have. There were five names on my card, so I was owed 25 kg of wheat every month, but I was only getting 10 kg,” he says, sitting on a steel drum in his shop. The information obtained through Digital Dialogues showed that almost every family in the village was getting cheated by the local dealer, Paras. Outraged, a delegation of 22 villagers took their complaint to district authorities in Bhilwara. Following an investigation, the dealer was suspended and the 400-odd quintals he had swindled were distributed among the villagers.Also Read Rajasthan launches information portal “Digital Dialogues was the real beginning of the Jan Soochna portal,” says R.K. Sharma, an additional director who oversees the project. Sharma joined the DoITC in 1988, the year it was formed, and can speak at length about the State’s efforts to use “technology for integrated service delivery” over the last three decades. “Through our discussions with citizens and activists, we developed this portal to share whatever real-time, individual-level data are needed by the common man, to reduce corruption and to increase transparency of governance.”In the month since its official launch, the Jan Soochna portal (jansoochna.rajasthan.gov.in) has had 3.3 lakh visitors and almost 15 lakh information hits. Apart from this, there have been another 50,000 information hits from the Jan Soochna mobile app.The portal provides information in Hindi and English on universal social security, health and education schemes as well as welfare schemes specifically aimed at farmers, construction workers, miners and students. Land revenue records, case listings, and grievance redressal databases are also available. While some categories, such as forest rights, have very limited data, some others have a lot of detail — on individual beneficiaries and specific details of payment, for instance. “This is a much-needed step inspired by the spirit of Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, which mandates governments to maintain computerised records and provide this information suo moto to the public, so that there is minimal need to file RTIs,” says Nikhil Dey, an MKSS activist who has been at the forefront of the RTI movement. A recent NGO study of orders by the Central Information Commission in 2018 found that 70% of the original RTI applications requested information which should have been put out in the public domain already. “You have made people go through so much pain for digitisation, getting multiple cards made, giving their biometric data… At least, let them get some benefits from it. Through Digital Dialogues, we argued that the public has a right to all the information the government collects about them. There should be no password-protected login barring access to these databases,” says Dey.The role of facilitators “It was activists like Baluji who gathered initial information on what data are most needed by marginalised villagers,” says Vineet Bhambhu, earlier a U.S.-bound software engineer and now a grassroots activist, who helped lead MKSS conversations with the DoITC for Digital Dialogues. “We found that people mostly needed data on their own entitlements: food, pensions, job guarantee, educational scholarships, labour welfare benefits, health insurance, treatment for occupational diseases such as silicosis, land rights, etc.,” he says. Bhambhu points out that many poor people had no way to track what happened if payments had been diverted to a different bank account or if forest rights applications had been rejected. In other words, they had no way of finding out what happened to payments if they could not access the databases and processes that form the backbone of a particular scheme or law. Take the case of Sovani Devi. A 45-year-old widow in Bherukeda Amner village in Rajsamand district, lack of information cost her a flock of goats, a loss she could ill-afford. Sitting in her bare courtyard, Devi is flanked by her sons, both disabled. Ram Singh, 18, cannot use his legs and drags himself around on his knees, while his 16-year-old brother Kishore can neither hear nor speak.“Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a tumour in my uterus and I went to the hospital because I had Bhamashah [health insurance],” says Devi. The Bhagwan Mahavir Hospital, a private hospital, is empanelled as part of the State’s cashless health insurance scheme, the Bhamashah Swasthya Bima Yojana, and should have treated a card-holder without payment. “But they said I would have to first pay for the operation and that I would get the money back only later,” Devi says, showing the folder from the hospital. which is located in Deogarh town, 40 km away. Faced with a demand for ₹15,000 for the operation plus additional charges for medication, Devi saw no choice. “I used up all my savings. I went back home and sold 12 [out of 16] goats for ₹30,000 and used that to pay the hospital,” she says. Apart from the operation, Devi says she paid ₹8,600 for medicines, of which bills were provided for only ₹4,600. The rest of the money from the goat sale was soon gone too, in paying for food and travel, with a one-way trip to hospital by taxi costing ₹600. A milestone in greater transparency, accountability “I got one bori [100 kg] of wheat. Now, we all know we must ask for the receipts every time we get ration,” says Singh. Although an FIR was filed against Paras, villagers say that his proximity to the local MLA means that no further action is likely. “The Jan Soochna portal is not about simply getting information for information’s sake. It must be built into a wider ecosystem of accountability,” says Bhambhu. Over the last two weeks, he has been part of a social audit of a welfare scheme for construction workers. Using their access to the government’s database, teams visited workers across the Bhim tehsil of Rajsamand district, gathering complaints which were presented at a stormy jan sunvai, or public hearing, in Bhim town on Monday. Confronting the labour commissioner, senior police officials and the local MLA under a swaying tent, hundreds of workers testified to a corrupt nexus of agents and government officials swindling them. They said they had been denied thousands of rupees worth of benefits. “We did not know our rights. We had no other option, so we paid the agent, but he cheated us,” said Ambalal, a worker from Sameliya village in Rajsamand district.No middleman, yes middlemanIn the Bhim block office, adjacent to the public hearing sit two expensive kiosks branded as e-mitra plus machines, which are meant to cut out the corrupt middleman and provide services and information directly to the user. The sleek orange and grey machines, which also host the Jan Soochna portal, look like ATM machines and cost ₹2 lakh each. Nearly 15,000 have been installed across the State.However, neither of the machines in Bhim works during the public hearing. One sits amidst coils of wires which have not been connected. The block’s informatics assistant Dalvir Khatik manages to switch on the other machine, but jerks his hand away as he gets an electric shock every time his finger meets the touch pad. Using a piece of paper as a makeshift protective glove, he manages to reach the Jan Soochna portal, but it fails to cough up any information. It gets stuck on a ‘loading’ page.Also Read
View comments Typhoon Kammuri accelerates, gains strength en route to PH MOST READ The Tornadoes overwhelmed the Lady Realtors in terms of attacks, 42-24, and committed fewer errors 17-21.But the telling discrepancy was in the frontline, which Foton declared a no-fly zone with a 3-1 edge in blocks. Foton also had more aces, 8-1. LATEST STORIES Kammuri turning to super typhoon less likely but possible — Pagasa Don’t miss out on the latest news and information. Japan ex-PM Nakasone who boosted ties with US dies at 101 Trending Articles PLAY LIST 00:50Trending Articles02:25PH women’s volleyball team motivated to deliver in front of hometown crowd00:50Trending Articles01:37Protesters burn down Iran consulate in Najaf01:47Panelo casts doubts on Robredo’s drug war ‘discoveries’01:29Police teams find crossbows, bows in HK university01:35Panelo suggests discounted SEA Games tickets for students02:49Robredo: True leaders perform well despite having ‘uninspiring’ boss02:42PH underwater hockey team aims to make waves in SEA Games Brace for potentially devastating typhoon approaching PH – NDRRMC CPP denies ‘Ka Diego’ arrest caused ‘mass panic’ among S. Tagalog NPA Jaja Santiago of Foton over Pam Lastimosa and Mar-Jana Phillips of SLR. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOFoton displayed all the qualities that made it a back-to-back champion, exposing Sta. Lucia Realty for the struggling team that it really is Saturday night.The result was a lopsided 25-16, 25-10, 25-16 triumph for the Tornadoes, who spun back into title orbit with their fifth victory in six matches.ADVERTISEMENT QC cops nab robbery gang leader, cohort Torre logs back-to-back wins, grabs share of lead in World Seniors tournament Read Next Kris Aquino ‘pretty chill about becoming irrelevant’ Stronger peso trims PH debt value to P7.9 trillion After losing to Petron recently, the Tornadoes have now caught up with the Blaze Spikers at the top spot with similar 5-1 records.It was a big morale bounce back for the Tornadoes, who fashioned out the win in an hour and seven minutes before a capacity crowd at La Salle Lipa Sentrum in Batangas.FEATURED STORIESSPORTSWATCH: Drones light up sky in final leg of SEA Games torch runSPORTSSEA Games: Philippines picks up 1st win in men’s water poloSPORTSMalditas save PH from shutoutTowering star Jaja Santiago scored 14 points, including two aces and a block.Foton led in all departments as it showed determination to pile up enough wins in the eliminations and secure a lofty spot in the knockout rounds.
TagsTransfersAbout the authorPaul VegasShare the loveHave your say Solskjaer: What I’d do with Pogba as Man Utd managerby Paul Vegas10 months agoSend to a friendShare the loveMolde coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes he can get the best from Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.Solskjaer is expected to be named United caretaker boss after the dismissal of Jose Mourinho on Tuesday.Before the start of the season, the United legend, who worked in the club’s academy, was asked about Pogba: “I would [build the team around him], absolutely no doubt. I had him with David [Gray] and Etzaz [Hussain] who is playing for me tomorrow.”That just shows how far the kid has come. Paul is a fantastic kid so hopefully we can build the team around him and keep him.”On his own managerial skills, Solskjaer added: “Sir Alex [Ferguson] taught me how not to become complacent and always keep the standards up.”Everything I know about managing top footballers I learned from him.”
Man City attacker Sterling: Victory a massive step for usby Paul Vegas10 months agoSend to a friendShare the loveManchester City attacker Raheem Sterling says victory at Southampton has them back on track.After two successive losses over the festive period, it was vital City bounced back and to a man the Blues delivered an impressive all-round display on the South Coast.“It’s a massive step and what we needed to do. We had two poor games and we knew we needed to win here today to give ourselves a chance,” said Sterling. “But we were really motivated to give ourselves a chance and that’s what we did.“We had to bring that level that we know we can bring – we had a bit of luck but we played some great football and controlled the game which we know we can do.“Now its down to us to keep this focus and go onto the next one.“ About the authorPaul VegasShare the loveHave your say
IG/_rg80_Today is St. Patrick’s Day, so we’ve had plenty of college athletes and teams send out celebratory tweets and Instagram posts. Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene took a slightly different tone for the holiday. Greene, who racked up 1,365 yards and seven touchdowns this season, posted a screenshot from Florida State’s dramatic 31-27 win over Notre Dame, a clear dig at the Fighting Irish.Greene caught eight passes for 108 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame, and caught two big passes on what would prove to be the winning drive for the Seminoles. Well played, Rashad.