Our PM, Mr. Narendra Modi made a disparaging remark against NREGA in the last Budget Session (March, 2015). He also communicated to world at large that the government has little interest in NREGA. We were outraged ! Several people’s organizations which were feeling the heat on several pro people legislation came together and launched a strong protest. We were involved with one such initiatives, “Abki Baar Humara Adhikar”. We were able to halt the attack on MNREGA and fear of NREGA getting scrapped is remote for now. However, PM’s remark has led to more lethargy in the government towards MNREGA. It was no longer seen as a flagship programme of the government. A commentary on the same was shared with you on our blog. Given this attitude we are trying not to make NREGA the entry point to a village for the sangathan, and work with NREGA only when people initiate it from their own side.
Yet the Sanagathan was involved with the usual filing of work applications in the NREGA, addressing cases of delayed payments and other related issues. And the strong units have as usual been able to get over fifty days of work. Many of our saathis have also got 100 days of work. The wonderful part is that wherever people are organized corruption has been reduced substantially and people have overcome huge bureaucratic hurdle to get the work.
The sangathan was also involved with the special social audit campaign started by the central and state government to do special NREGA social audits across 200 panchayats in Bihar. Though some of these audits became mere formalities in absence of a strong civil society team and any real interest on the part of the state machinery, the Sangathan did its best in making audit exercises meaningful in at least Araria and Katihar districts and supported the same in Saharsa district.
One other interesting development with regard to NREGA has been that we went to the High Court for pending unemployment allowance. The Patna High Court directed DMs of three districts, Madhepura, Katihar and Araria to dispose of these applications in three months, it has been six months since, and no disposal in site!
Timely implementation of the new National Food Secutrity Act (NFSA) has been a major achievement for Bihar. However, like in the past the Public Distribution System (PDS) still has problems of corruption and leakage. At the village level sangathan members have been carrying out a “poora ration, sahi daam, accha anaj” (full ration, right price, good quality) campaign. Inspired by women saathis of Bhojpur who had fought to get their rightful rations, the people of Bhag Puraini (Kismat Khawaspur) unionized and have come closer to their NFSA entitlements. While previously people had to pay three rupees more than the actual price for every five kilograms of ration, now they are paying the right price of 13 rupees. Additionally they have also been able to reduce the ration that was cut from their quota from each kilogram to 500 grams.
As before the sangathan has continued its involvement with various land related issues. We have focused on putting pressure on the Government to fulfil its promise to give 3 decimal of land to mahadalits and supporting the struggle of landless to get land through administrative and legal measures. This has led us to carry out meaningful interactions with the Land and Revenue Department as also the Bhoodan Yagya Committee.
Payments in MNREGA remains a big issue. Payments are routinely delayed and no compensation is given for the delay. In Vaishali where we have started working only a year back these issues became big. Payments were not only delayed but the officials said that they would pay only half of the daily wage rate as the amount of work was not satisfactory. This was unacceptable to us. One, measurement was not done in front of workers, two, site workers were kept waiting for a day for Muster Roll (attendance register) so we wanted to be paid for that and thirdly we knew that it was an attempt to discourage workers to unionize. When workers unionize corruption comes down, the local middlemen and official nexus is broken and that threatens the whole chain. This was also the case with workers here who for the first time since the enactment of the MNREGS, had demanded work as their right and had got work after lot of struggle. We petitioned the officials including DM, Vaishali but got only promises in return. Finally, the workers decided to do a dharna at the block office. More than three hundred men and women staged a two day-two night dharna starting on 7th December, 2015. On the very first day the workers refused to let the PO leave his office without settling their claims. Police had to intervene and only after assurances were given in writing PO was let go. The next day, full payment was made for one work and written assurance was given to start work in the panchayats where we work. Workers decided to call off the dharna after feeling confident that many of their demands were met. This was the first dharna for the workers who had unionized in Vashali and a great one in that respect. People got their own food and firewood. They cooked their meals at the dharna site. The administration was not prepared to see this kind of turnout and confidence and was taken by surprise.