Bureaucracy stands in the way of benefits
Most villagers in U.P.'s Hardoi district, except for a miniscule few associated with social or political organizations, were not aware of the passage of the new Employment Guarantee Law last year. Since then, its coming into force in 22 districts of U.P. has not impressed them either.
18 February 2006 -
By many accounts, there is a massive siphoning off of food
grains from Public Distribution System
in U.P. Likewise corruption in ration card allocation
and the Food for Work (FFW)
scheme continues, denying people food even for completed
manual work. In
the meantime the new National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has come
initial reports give the impression that the bureaucracy in U.P. will
not implement this scheme any differently. But first, the food grains and the
for work stories.
In village Panchayat Atwa Danda of Hardoi District, Below Poverty Line
ration card holders have not received a single food grain in the last five
years. The situation is not better in other villages across the state. Antyodaya and
Annapurna ration card holders, people who are living in extreme situations of
poverty, consider themselves lucky if they get their quota of food grains once
in 3 or 4 months. The ration shop owners, mostly in collusion with the panchayat
keep the ration cards with themselves and by making fake entries on them, take
away the food grains meant for the poor. The officials at the godown, supply
inspectors, other officials and private people in the chain between the food and
the beneficiaries, are happily part of the racket.
Dharna and hunger strike
Hardoi district villagers have been staging a sit-in at Sandila (tehsil) since 7 February. They
have decided to convert it into a hunger strike.
On 18 February they plan to start walking towards the district headquarters at Hardoi
and then begin their hunger strike on 21 February.
Autonomous NREG agency needed
A.P. gearing up for entitlements
Currently the nexus of mafia and contractors, patronized by officials and
politicians, has monopoly over the food grains meant for various
schemes for the poor.
In most cases the ration supply in full quantities doesn't
reach the fair price shop in the village. And, in violation of a Supreme Court
ruling, no records are available for public examination, making the whole system
totally unaccountable to the people.
During the last two years we see a new phenomenon in U.P. There are
reports, from mostly eastern parts, of people dying of hunger and committing
suicides when they are not able to pay off their debts. In every single case the
administration, of course, denies that these deaths are due to starvation and
ascribes them to illness or something else. However, the fact remains that poor
people are dying in large numbers and if the food grains meant for them as part
of Food for Work scheme or PDS were to reach them, at least some of these deaths could
have been prevented. The failure of PDS is representative of the failure of
government's poverty alleviation schemes.
In Godwa Khem Village Panchayat of Hardoi District, the Ambedkar self-help group (SHG)
staked a claim to desilt the Kashipur Minor (branch of a canal) under the National Food for Work
scheme. Both under this scheme and the new Employment Guarantee Act, no contractors can be
employed for works. There is a clear instruction that the work has to be done directly by government
departments, village panchayats, SHGs or NGOs. Thus Ambedkar SHG's claim was legitimate.
In addition, the villagers were also hoping to get water into the canal for irrigation.
There has been no water in the canal since 1989.
The Irrigation Department chose to give work to another group of labourers on a
different segment of the same canal more than 15 kms away, and even here the food component
was not given. Back at Godwa Khem, after requesting the administration for over 6 months,
villagers decided to begin the work on their own initiative on 2 January 2006. They have
since claimed wages 1592 person-days of work put into desilting the canal. The Irrigation
Department maintains that they do not intend to supply water to that point and hence cannot
sanction this work. It has instead issued legal notices to 42 villagers in Godwa Khem for
having illegally dug the canal!
The issue here is that Irrigation Department charges the villagers money for using water from
this canal. People are routinely harassed, sometimes using arm twisting tactics,
to pay up for the water from the canal even though they might not have got the water. The department
is also denying people the right to work by saying that they do not intend to supply water to
the point where people have desilted the canal. But the department charges people money for having
used water from the same segment. The villagers are now waging a struggle to get their due wages,
and also water in the canal. The Irrigation Department appears to be behaving in an arbitrary and
contradictory manner. The engineer responsible at the department is R C Verma.
The new Employment Guarantee Act promises work for the rural poor, but similar
norms of the FFW program continue to be blatantly violated. Contractors and
machines are being employed
in most cases to get the work done. Muster rolls are
being fabricated with false entries and are not available for public scrutiny.
As noted earlier, workers do not get their full payment, especially the 'food'
component in almost never given.
A young Samajwadi Party leader, Chandrashekhar Yadav of village Dharhaura in Kushinagar
district complained that machines were being used to dig a pond in violation of the norms
of the FFW programme. On 25 May 2005 he discovered the anomaly and complained to the District
Magistrate, the district's top bureaucrat, on 26 May. The tractor was seized and the
contractor's assistant arrested. However, because of pressure from a local politician,
the tractors were released after having been shown as seized under the Motor Vehicles Act,
even though the tractor drivers had given it in writing that they were employed to dig the
pond, i.e. a violation. Even though FIR was lodged against the contractor, the enquiry
report was manipulated to let the suspects go.
Counting eligible BPL cardholders
In making simple decisions as these the bureaucracy does not want to give up its control
and in most cases the wishes of the people are ignored. Until the people have an important
say in determining decisions there doesn't appear to be any hope that things will improve.
In village Badhara, similar violations have been discovered. JVC machines were being used. Chandrashekhar Yadav and his colleagues resisted, but the administration did not cooperate. A complaint was lodged with the Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and Chief Secretary Neera Yadav and the charges were found to hold in the subsequent enquiry. But no action has been taken against the errant Block Development Officer, Mahendra Prasad Chaubey. In a different wages case, 48 workers of village Jaitapur Bhadewan, in Sitapur district belonging to Akhil Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Sabha complained that they have still not been given wages and food grains for their work during the periods July-August and November last year. The work was supervised by Vijay Kumar of Rural Engineering Services department and private contractor Rukmesh.
In another case, in Nagepur village of Varanasi district, the Assistant Development Officer Srikant Darwe
- a local bureaucrat -- asked the newly elected panchayat Pradhan Mukesh to reduce the number of ration cards
meant for the BPL category by three, probably a method adopted by Government to show reduction of poverty. This was
Mukesh was elected president in recent local body polls about 6 months back. Currently there are 26 BPL cardholders in the village, whereas Mukesh feels there are about 35-40 people in all who should be given these cards. Given a choice,
Mukesh would like to increase the number of cards; but the ADO Darwe asked him to reduce the number.
Normally, village committees do not have the freedom of deciding the number of ration cards in their village, these decisions
are taken by officials, and often without a comprehensive survey. Mukesh's views however were
recorded in the report of a December 2005 Gorakhpur public hearing on right to food that was subsequently sent
to the Supreme Court. The SC is monitoring the implementation of a number of government schemes stemming from the
right to food litigation.
The challenge of making Rural Employment Guarantees work
It into this situation that rural employment guarantees are being ushered in. After the
passage of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in September 2005, a British journalist
Peter Foster working with The Telegraph visited village Purwa Maan in Hardoi, one of
the 200 districts covered under the Act. His aim was to find out how villagers felt
about the new law. Most villagers, except for a miniscule few who were
associated with some social or political organizations, were not aware of the
passage of the new law. They were then informed of its provisions and encouraged to respond.
Not surprisingly, they did not seem too impressed. One old man hesitatingly said
that he did not expect that he would overnight start getting his full minimum
due wages, which is Rs.58 for a day's of difficult labour in U.P. The situation
in his area was such that one would consider himself lucky if one got Rs.30 in
a private work and Rs.40 in a government work. For women labourers these rates
would be even lower. 58 years after India became a democratic republic, the Act
has to specify that both sexes must get equal wages, clearly implying that this
is not the case right now.
Until there is transparency in maintaining muster rolls and payments are made,
both that of cash and food grains, according to the rules, once in every seven
days for the workers, there cannot be any guarantee of employment. But from the
experience in dealing with the administrative machinery it is also clear that
officials and contractors are not going to change their ways on their own. It
will probably require a pro-active effort on part of the common people to
organize and exert pressure on the system so that it starts delivering according
to the law.
The U.P. bureaucracy will have to change its mindset. Gone are the days when
they could take all decisions by themselves. They must start relying on
common people and people's organizations for implementing important schemes like
the Food for Work instead of the contractors and mafia, which right now exercise
complete control over the machinery to the extent that the bureaucracy seems
helpless. The Right to Information Act is going to make it more difficult for
them to take decisions in arbitrary manner. Already, during last 3 years people in
Bharawan and Sandila Blocks of Hardoi district have used a 1999 Panchayati Raj Act amendment
to access income expenditure details of 30 village panchayats. This has exposed
corruption on a large scale as well as put pressure on elected representatives and
officials to not indulge in blatant embezzlement of funds. The people are more vigilant
and officials and elected representatives feel the pressure.
Currently a struggle is going on in Hardoi district to realize the benefits of
Employment Guarantee Act, improve the functioning of PDS, Mid Day Meal scheme
and Anganbadis so that benefits meant for the poor, especially under
the food related schemes, start reaching them. For the beneficiaries, the
functioning of these schemes is a matter of life and death.
Dr Sandeep Pandey is based in Lucknow and one of the founders of the NGO Asha for Education and winner of the 2002 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership. He is involved with right to information and right to food campaigns
in Hardoi District of U.P.