IN this rather materialistic and self-absorbed world that we live in, few people possess benevolence and even fewer devote lives to charity and welfare of the deprived. Of them who do, several go on to form NGO’s. The eminence of NGO’s is imperative to the proper social development of the land. Youth Ki Awaaz correspondent, Abhirup Bhunia is in conversation with Dipankar Biswas, the trustee of a distinctive, government registered NGO based in West Bengal, Agni.
Abhirup Bhunia: Tell us about Agni.
Dipankar Biswas: Agni started with 5 of us. We have been school friends since our toddler days. When we grew up to become mature and as we went into the pensive mood we were pretty unhappy that people had become so self-centered and were leading lives of sumptuousness oblivious of sufferings of the poor. We thought of doing something different, we wished to give face to our philanthropic side. Thus, Agni was formed.
AB: What is your motto?
DB: Education for all poor children is our main aim. And when we say education, we mean, primary education — we don’t run any schools directly. We are volunteers. We all are in our respective service sectors and are established. So the obvious time constraint creeps in! As far as motto is concerned, we try to mitigate problems of destitute children.
AB: What exactly do you mean by mitigation, please elaborate.
DB: We travel to the distant villages; we talk to headmasters of the schools there. We get to hear from them the problems of the poor children and we put in our best to help them. For example we provide books, pencils, writing materials and related stuff free of cost. After the devastating Aila storm that almost demolished the entire island, we tried to alleviate the sufferings of the poor there. We provided them with basic amenities and other essential requirements of the season.
AB: What is your present project that you are working on?
DB: Our next project will be undertaken on 6th June where we will supply 400 kerosene lanterns to poor children since there are major electricity concerns there and children need light to study. We are working on four government schools, prathamik vidalayas to be accurate. Roughly 650 students study there and we help them fully and wholly. We take up two projects per year and our website, www.agni.net.in, gives details of all the projects we have undertaken till date, also our future ones.
AB: You work only in Sundarbans?
DB: Yes, at present Sundarbans is our prime focus.
AB: You have traveled there many times on account of projects. What do you make of the condition of people in Sundabans?
DB: Villagers are mainly dependant on fishing, wood cutting, etc for their livelihood. There is scarcity of water too where rainy season is the only breather for farmers. Sanitation is a problem. Sundarbans is a mono crop land and that puts a cap on agricultural yield. There is very little development in the entire area, to put it in short.
AB: Are you happy with the state and central governments measures?
DB: (Grins) I would not want to comment on that.
AB: You can be discreet as you answer that.
DB: See, government is doing its job … it is not possible for government to do so much and look after every other problems. They are providing mid day meals. The centre has formulated the RTE (Right to Education). We supplement all that by offering what the poor needs, as per our means. After we worked for education in the village, the drop out numbers has been substantially curbed. There are other projects in the pipeline and we are hopeful of very positive results.
AB: Where do you see Agni ten years down the line (2020)?
DB: (Laughs) Well, when we discuss amongst ourselves, we look at twenty years later, because that is the time all of us will retire from our services. We are confident Agni will be something big… But one thing we pledge to do is maintain transparency and keep things documented. We believe we should tread the correct path… the right direction. Maybe that would result into a bit slower growth, but ethics and principles are high in us. We have our well wishers, we get members and we look to be a bigger NGO ten years later. We are already recognized under Sec 80 G of the IT Act.
AB: Do you have major expansion plans in mind?
DB: Yes, of course we do. Everybody wants to grow, so do we. We hope to dedicate more time and increase our workforce. We are hopeful of getting more volunteers to ease the pressure and consequently expand Agni to greater heights. When we started out almost 7 years ago, we had only 500 Rs. Now each of our projects is worth Rs 60, 000 or more. We tell newcomers that we will support every initiative that helps the poor and we welcome new ideas that champion a social cause, for example helping the blind, starting evening classes for slum children, etc.
AB: And lastly, what message do you have for Youth Ki Awaaz visitors?
DB: (Smiles) What to say…… (After a pause) Well, we would request everybody to please come forward, give your time so that we can build a second generation… a better West Bengal and a better India.
AB: Thank you Mr Dipankar Biswas, all the best
DB: Thank you.