Friday, February 22, 2008

Betrayal of the rural Poor

Is NREGS promoting contract labor without any social responsibility

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

More than 112 wage workers mostly landless agricultural workers belonging to Dalit community are agitated against what they termed gross violation of labour laws in the NREGS work they did in village Rupchandrapur under Badlpaur block of Jaunpur district in Uttar-Pradesh. Under the scheme, the village Pradhan wanted to dig a local village pond and develop it further. The work was tough as the land was full of concrete. The laborers started their work on the pond from December 17th, 2007 and finished it on December 30th, 2007. While there was no objection from the authorities, till one day when the laborers went to ask for their payments, they were rudely informed that there are lots of discrepancies in their work and that it will have to reevaluated and remeasured. Re-evaluation and reassessment of work is in the hands of the officer who use this as a stick to beat the rural poor and blackmail them. ‘You either keep quiet or face reassessment of your work, which will seal the fate of the workers. Is not it strange that after working for 14 days from morning till evening, full 7-8 hours, the workers are told that their total amount of work comes much below than 7 days?

This is miraculous in the NREGS. How our sarkari babus who are not working on contract and no ministers and no parliamentarian is ever asking how much unit days of work they do, plan out such projects which do not have anything for social security. How can they make a project which does not have social security and equality of rights? While they can claim that every one is protected under the act, one need to ask the basic question to the government why the benefits as insurance cover, medical expenses and education is outside its purview. Can not government register the children of those working in the NREGS in the government school? But who bothers in the government? When the women go to work, they are discouraged saying that you do not do enough work. When the people with physical disability go and ask for work, they are humiliated and when the old goes, they are told to rest and do not take away work of the youngsters. This is purely commercial mindset which is working these days where the older, physically challenged, the women become compulsory burden of any project and therefore need to be discouraged.

Timmal, who is about 60 years of age, can not really raise his hand, but he thought that NREGS would help him gain some work with dignity. He worked for one or two days in entirely adverse circumstances but his hand started paining. He was insulted not to come to work as he is of new use. He is a landless agricultural worker. It is shameful that rather than showing sympathy and providing him work according to his conditions, he was rebuked. In the NREGS act it has been clearly mentioned that people would be given work according to their conditions and there was work meant for even child care as well as providing other assistance to the workers.

But then child care is not in the dictionary of the officials. And for them every worker who asks for work is a beggar and therefore the beggars have no right to complain and ask for anything with dignity. Child care therefore does not come into picture and clearly means that women with children are discouraged. Soni, a young woman in her twenties lost her husband a year ago. Feeding her young child, she portrayed a picture of a woman who is uncertain about her future. Despite a child who she was breast feeding, there was no facility for taking care of her. Who would then take care of her child in the sun? ‘Her other children who themselves are too young to understand things, but she had to work for the fear of being rejected. With no one to take care of her, Soni today show the pain of a woman who work for full 14 days and when she go and ask for her salary, she was told that it comes out to be just 7 days, shocked, she refused to accept the payment. Its over two months and Soni and many others like her who have children do not have anywhere to complain. They went to the BDO, who blamed that there was no money. The Pradhan says when the money would come only then he would pay them. Once the people realized that there was some money, the Pradhan said that the work was reassessed that it was found out that every one of them work much below then the expected lines.

Kumari Devi have two children and both of them have disability. One can not even walk and the other have a psychological disorder. Her husband is a landless labor who worked for 14 days and yet got nothing so far. According to the assessment of the officials, his work comes out to be of 7 days.

Roshan Lal is a young person from the village Rupchandrapur, who came in touch with Bharatiya Jan Sewa Ashram, a local social organizations working with the Dalits and realized that he must involve himself in the work. He applied for the job and got the work for this pond. He says, ‘The Pradhan asks us to go to BDO for the payment as he did not have money. The BDO said that when the money would arrive, he would do the needful.
After some days, the Panchayat Secretary informed them that there number of unit days are ( Manav diwas) is about 7 days and hence the amount due is Rs 700/-. Shocked at this, Roshan Lal decided not to take money. But he says in the village when people do not have money, these power people blackmail them. We are told that we won’t get any work further if we do not clear our old dues. But, how can we forgo our amount we worked for.

Similarly Nand Lal, a father of five children feels disturbed. His children are starving. Most of the time people are eating Gur and drink water. Now, I am not getting any work as they want us to forcefully accept the payment for 7 days.

One question often asks is whether the amount of work being asked to complete in a day is genuine. And in UP it is said that one has to dig 3 cubic meter space to be called one unit day’s work. Unfortunately, the authorities want every one to dig including women and physically challenged people. Secondly, the authorities rarely realize that some land is soft while other is concreted waste land. It would be hugely difficult to dig this much of space in a day if the land is concrete. The pond which was being worked on was on a concrete area and each one of these verified that it was impossible to dig 3 cubic meters
Land in a day.

Renu, a social activist working with BJSA Badlapur said that according to act of NREGS, there is every facility and women were happy. ‘We have made them aware that there are so much of facilities for them in the act. Unfortunately, it has turned into a contractual labor where you need ‘strong’ men who could dig more than required. There is no need of women, old aged and disabled persons. They are humiliated by asking how will you do this work. Women are depressed today. Muster role is not filled regularly and manipulated. Regular attendance is not being recorded in the muster role or presence register as it would expose them. You are registered as per unit days, so that nobody could question the amount of work as well as days involved in the work. What is this, if not contract?” Renu further make startling revelations. ‘Medical facilities are not there. Now the labor knows that this is in the act and hence he ask for it. To create more problems for them, the officials, the Panchayat secretary ask them to first get the treatment and then get a bill. It is difficult to get a bill in the villages as well as how long will the labor wait to get it clarified. Why is the medical facility at least the primary health care not available on the site? She says that no help come from the Pradhan or the contractors in the case of any eventuality.

Actually, such things reinforce the rural beliefs that women and disabled are good for nothing. Numerous research have been done that Dalit women never used to live in Purdah but they started following this traditions as a follow up of what the ‘elderly’ and ‘big’ people do in the villages. Therefore in this part of UP, condition of women and particularly of the Dalit women is really a matter of concern. But despite that they do work on the land and earn for their family. Unfortunately, the authorities have discouraged them from working as they assume that women do less work. And in this world where every inch is being calculated and measured as per unit days, women remain unwelcome and unwanted. This is a matter of serious concern and need strong reactions from the government. Even if for argument’s sake, they keep women for work, she will never get the amount of payment equal to her male partner.

The complaints are not received by the authorities. They are asked to give the application and action will be taken but the Sarkari babus never receive anything. If any body forces them to sign, they would make some mark as signature which means nothing.

As I came out of the pond, the village Pradhan was passing through the same area. The villagers surrounded him and started a volley of question which was difficult to answer. On the road, I saw a board for the building of a proposed school. The corner stone mention the date of the inaugural as October 2, 2006. Clear enough the birthdays of our political leaders are useful to grab land and these days the best thing to grab land in UP is to either start a statue or build a muth or temple and if you are ‘social worker’ then start a school for the ‘poor’. This betrayal of people continues despite change of power in Lucknow. These changes remain cosmetic as the local power politics would always side with those who are in power.

Under the NREGS, enough of UP have been worked. One does wonder as why there is no other activity involved in it. One great thing was for the Dalits to get funds for leveling of the land but then not even the so-called civil society is interested in it. The pond which was ‘created’ after the digging, will ultimately go to the ‘school’ which will probably never open unless one day the owner of the school with the help of MLA’s or MPs local area fund manage some money and deny the people their right over land. Nobody is there to question as why the school has not come up and why should it be made on the village land. Nobody question whether the pond which was developed will remain there or not after two years.

Meanwhile, Rupchandrapur people are wondering whether they will be able to get their total amount or not. If for 14 days of work, an individual get Rs 400/- as per calculation of the babus which turn out to be Rs 28.57p per day or for Rs 700/- it comes out to be Rs 50/- per day, it is much below the minimum wages of the state. That the state government increased the minimum wage to Rs 100/- per day immediately after it assumed power in Lucknow, has been made redundant by this miraculous work of the government officials. Now, you are getting much below the minimum wages of the state. This shows how much is the gap between government’s announcement and actual receipt of the people. And mind this story is not just one village, Uttar-Pradesh has become notorious for the failure of NREGS.

NREGS need serious introspection. In the hands of Babus and our jealous political leaders it is becoming another betrayal of the rural poor. You get him or her involved in this, ignore his pleas for livelihood and cheat him with the money for this also. Perhaps more monitoring and more intervention from civil society are needed.

1 comment:

Saurabh J. Madan said...

It is true that the NREGS has not been an all round success but from the central govt's point of view; I think it is a step in the right direction. Delivery has always been India's weakness. Our systems including law and order are so badly crippled that even the best scheme would not work to its potential.

At any rate, the change is coming. India is waking up. Your voice is the evidence. And when enough voices come together, one day, we will reach a tipping point at which we will indeed become a nation for the people.