Awareness for Alertness- Community Avidly Learns the Importance of ‘Speaking Out’ for a Collective Voice against Injustice
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is one of those glorious schemes put forward by the Indian government in 2005, guaranteeing legal rights to the adult members of rural families who are willing to participate in unskilled manual work for getting minimum 100 days of wage employment in a financial year. Significance of the Act is that it recognises right to work and provides employment to the unemployed rural people during lean seasons with a view to check distress migration of rural households in search of employment.
After a decade of coming into force, the scheme has shown several anomalies when it comes to implementation in the right manner. This social security measure has been weighed down by technical and administrative bottle necks which hinder its performance on the ground.
A similar combination of problems related to ineffective implementation of MGNREGA had been troubling the community members of Sijang village in Bano Block, Jharkhand. The panchayat had got the approval from Gram Sabha for land levelling and it was directed from the block office to implement the same under MGNREGA. The work had to be conducted under the supervision of the MGNREGA mate who was responsible to supervise the work at site, undertake attendance, maintain work measurement, maintain job cards etc. The work started off well but the progress was too slow. After only few months of work, the community members started observing inadequacies in delivering and practice and brought to the notice of the Panchayat. On further probe they learned that Rs. 16, 000/- had been already withdrawn for the work but not more than INR 5, 000/- seemed to have been invested in the work.
DBSS Chotanagpur has been working with the community members of Sijang village in Bano block on the issues of livelihood and land rights, focused on the Social Security schemes available for their benefit and development. To address the problems related to implementation of MGNREGA scheme, capacity building programs were conducted with the community members including Panchayat members on different issues, schemes, entitlements related to land and livelihood. DBSS put continuous efforts to train and empower the community members about their rights, entitlements and also the redressal mechanism available. MGNREGA had been one of the main schemes that the DBSS had stressed upon for the benefit of the community. Some of the community members being aware of the technical aspects, timelines and other aspects of MGNREGA were able to recognize the hitch.
When the Secretary of the Gram Sabha received a written complaint about the matter, he immediately inspected the site and verified the documents. He found that the MGNREGA mate had entered false measurement of work of few job card holders’ in the employment register. All the job card holders also knew the mate personally. On finding the allegations to be true, he summoned the mate to confront and ordered to stop the work. The MGNREGA official at the block had also been requested to enquire the same and provide a report to Gram Sabha. If the Gram Sabha is satisfied with the report then the work would restart or else a written complaint will be sent to the District Collector to further probe and necessary actions would be taken subsequently. This created commotion between the community members who were already employed at that time and others in the community. But after detailed discussions with DBSS on the situation and how ill effects corruption and can cause division in a community if it gets deep rooted, they were all convinced on resolving the matter.
A major learning came out that the marginalised and the economically poor section are affected the most when resources are wasted. Thus it is important to create awareness among the communities on various issues and empower them to raise voice against any injustice or discrepancies identified. The Secretary and other members of the Gram Sabha appreciated the community members of being conscious and prompt to report the matter. They also appreciated and thanked DBSS staff for their efforts to support the community members and provide necessary information. At present the work has been suspended under the direction of Gram Sabha but it ensured the accountability of different bodies involved including the labourers.