Political enmity makes HIV field workers face pay cut

KOLKATA, 8 APRIL: NGOs that were working with the erstwhile Left Front regime have alleged that the Trinamul dispensation’s attitude is “forcing” many from the sexual minority associated with them to return to prostitution.
MANAS Bangla, which describes itself as a statewide network of 13 grassroots-level community-based organisations that works for the “health and human rights” of the homosexual, transgender and hijra communities, said it used to “reach out” to almost 10,000 people in the high HIV/AIDS risk category till even a year ago under a model project for the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society (WBSAP&CS).
However, now the WBSAP&CS has withheld MANAS Bangla’s past grants (for nearly a year for one project and for close to six months for six other projects) despite not closing down the projects or cancelling the contract with the NGO for 2011-12.
Anindya Hajra, secretary of MANAS Bangla, said: “No documents have been shared with us. They have neither cancelled our contract nor discontinued it. So on what basis are they withholding the grants?”
Though health officials have apparently been “warned” against speaking to the Press, an official of the WBSAP&CS said that the organisations that have been working under the Left regime are being eased out as it happens whenever there is a change in administration and those close to the new regime are sought to be given grants under the National AIDS Control Project (NACP).
The move has meant about 300 members and peer educators of MANAS Bangla have not been getting their salaries for six months to a year in some cases. “The financial burden has been such on these people that they have been forced to return to prostitution,” claimed Hajra.
The audit report of the WBSAP&CS, dated 2 March 2012, is riddled with findings of financial mismanagement by the organisation clearly states that the selection of NGOs for NACP3 in 2011-12 was not through a “fair exercise… some community-based organisations (CBOs) were empanelled despite being unqualified: On 22 February 2012, the members of MANAS Bangla who went to meet the project director of WBSAP&CS, Mr Rupen Chowdhury, were reportedly told by the latter that the matter was not in his hands but with the chief minister’s office pending a decision.
The WBSAP&CS has apparently conducted an inquiry in which one of the seven zones of MANAS Bangla in Burdwan has been accused of not utilising Rs 2.59 lakh and hence has withheld release of grant for all the six other projects.
Hajra told The Statesman that when he repeatedly asked on what basis the WBSAP&CS conducted the inquiry despite the fact that all zones of MANAS Bangla were audited every quarter and had passed the Annual Evaluation in 2010-11, there was no reply. “Some portion of the grant was spent in paying the office rent and salaries of peer educators in cash as it is difficult for transgenders to open bank account. We are yet to get a copy of the inquiry report,” he added.
The Project Director, Mr Rupen Chowdhury, and Mr Dipendra Goswami, Joint Director (Target Intervention) of WBSAP&CS, refused to comment on the allegations.

Soma Basu (The Statesman)

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