Piyush Raj Verma is the director of the Care About People Foundation (CAP), which promotes alternate dispute resolution in village of Uttar Pradesh and is run by alumnus and students of RMLNLU. He tells us what it’s like to manage an NGO and how “creativity is the best substitute for financial muscle”.
Interview by Ryan Wilson.
[In pic above: Piyush]
RW: Hi Piyush, Could you introduce us to Care about People Foundation(CAP)?
Piyush: Care about People Foundation(CAP) is a Lucknow-based registered NGO. It was founded by Sachin Upadhayay, Rishabh Kapoor and Rishi Raj- alumnus of the RMLNLU. CAP works to bring about social change in a realistic and practical way. Currently we are trying to promote alternate dispute resolution in villages to make them litigation free one at a time.
RW: What has CAP achieved in its 3 years of functioning?
Piyush: In 3 years CAP has worked towards general social welfare through a Legal Aid Camp at the Kumbh Mela, Blood Donation Drives, RTI awareness campaigns and career counselling for the underprivileged.
RW: Why target the Kumbh Mela for a Legal Aid Camp?
Piyush: CAP focusses on a “realistic” and “practical” solutions to social problems. We targeted the Prayag (Allahabad) Kumbh Mela for a Legal Aid Camp. It is the largest of all melas and is believed to be the most auspicious. On important bathing dates, millions of pilgrims bathe on the banks of the holy Sangam.
Maha Kumbh- 2013 as per the estimates attracted nearly more than 5 Crore people during the 55 days of its course. With a massive gathering like this, a large number of disputes, legal in character, were expected to arise during the Mela.
It would be in the interest of the people, to resolve their issues at the spot, instead of going too far off places and being summoned to courts for proceedings every now and then.
It was for this purpose the Mela Administration itself installed a mediation centre in the Mela vicinity, a legal aid authority and appointed advocates to work for the cause.
A team of 12 para-legals by the name of CAP duly certified by the National Legal Services Authority, New Delhi worked day in and day out for the purpose.
[CAP’s RTI Awareness Camp reach out to the illiterate]
RW: CAP works closely with students of RMLNLU. Could you elaborate upon this relationship?
Piyush: CAP’s operational model includes a temporary working staff strength of 50. Apart from the working staff, CAP works closely with 15-20 students of National Law University of Lucknow while others are always welcome to volunteer.
We had good law student involvement in our RTI camps. This is beneficial for both the attendant of the camp and the student. It puts pressure on the student to not only research the act well (Preparation Level: Moot Court), but to take it a step further and explain it to the common man in a language comfortable for him.
This brings about social change and develops socially sensitive law graduates at the same time.
[Picture: RMLNLU students working with CAP to conduct RTI awareness camps in Schools]
Piyush: In 3 years, I would like to believe that CAP has established a good name in UP when it comes to work in Socio-Legal Issues.
RW: How does CAP secure funding?
Piyush: Now that CAP has almost completed 3 years of functioning, it will soon be eligible for s “80G Certificate” under the Income Tax Act 1961. As per the Income Tax Act, 1961 only those donations to NGO’s registered with the tax authorities will be considered eligible for deduction. So far CAP has been entirely self-financed.
However, this self-financing model is not sustainable in the long run. We would like to facilitate and encourage those willing to donate and contribute for a social cause to invest in social welfare through CAP.
RW: Unlike other NGO’s, CAP does not seem to focus on a single area of social welfare. Why so?
Piyush: Financing and a lack of experience are major difficulties an NGO in its nascent stage needs to overcome. We need to understand our strengths and weaknesses to figure out a way to serve society the best.
Our strategy involved adopting a “flexible” model whereby we tackle a variety of social issues through a number “short-term” projects, while we gain experience and develop a positive working relationship with state agencies. In the long term, we would like to narrow our focus to help the needful in the legal field through PILs/legal Aid Camps/ADR promotion.
However, after working closely with people at the grass root level, I feel we have developed a special bond with them, and we will always be ready to help them in other aspects as well.
RW: What would be your advice to law students seeking to start their own NGOs?
Piyush: My advice would be to adopt a small rural district/locality nearby and closely monitor human rights situation there. CAP has “adopted” Gondarao Gram Sabha for free legal aid and promoting settlement of disputes using Alternate Dispute Resolution methods.
We have met the District Judge of the hardoi District and discussed upon the possibilities of making a village litigation free and gathered support from the Hardoi Bar. We hope to do so by the end of this year with the help & guidance of UPSLSA & NALSA.
We also monitor the human rights situation there closely and help in involving the necessary state agencies in rectifying the same.
If each law-student run initiative “adopts” a small rural district, I am sure the overall benefit to the nation would be tremendous.
[Picture: CAP team regularly interacts with the locals of Gondrao and ensures that grievances are heard by appropriate State Agencies]
RW: How can a law student-run NGO make a difference?
Piyush: Law student-managed NGO’s can make the biggest impact if they focus on working with the government(irrespective of who’s in power) and aid in the practical implementation of state schemes by offering “creative solutions”.
For example, Lucknow Health Care Centers had an inherent inability to reach out to the right donor during times of emergency. CAP organized people from Lucknow into different Facebook groups on the basis of their respective blood groups.
People joined the group they belong to as per their blood group and also made their friends join the groups they belong to. It has helped people much to reach out to the required donor quickly and resulted in saving a few lives as well.
There are more than 250 members(all blood groups combined) in this activity now. This initiative did not cost us anything. Yet, by pursing this diligently I am sure we will make a difference.
I would encourage all my fellow law students to set up NGOs/start social welfare initiatives even if they do not have adequate funding- creativity is the best substitute for financial muscle.