GRAKUS - Making MGNREGA work for rural people
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Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA- http://http://nrega.nic.in )'The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundreds days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled work'.
Jagruti is part of a state level registeredtrade union 'GrameenKulikarmikarSanghatana' (GRAKUS) and is mobilizing rural labour (most of them landless or marginal farmers) to implement MGNREGA programme. The main hurdles to implement this People's Programme are mostly the bureaucrats [at every level starting from the Panchyatthat is the PDO (Panchyat Development Officer), the next level bureaucratic is Taluk level, the EO (Executive Officer) and then at the District level is the CS (Chief Secretary). And above all at the state capital are Director and Chief Secretary. In addition there are the local political leaders who have strong feudal power concentration].
To overcome these hurdles the only way forward is to unionize the rural community and take on the challenges thrown by the political, feudal and bureaucratic powers. Though every panchayat office wall has displayed in bold colourfulletters in regional languages but bureaucrats and feudal powers hijack the programme. Jagruti in its effort has started working in five taluks - Khanapur, Belgaum, Bailhongal (all three taluks in Belgaum District), Kalghatgi and Dharwad (both taluks part of Dharwad district).
Here is brief outline of Jagruti's experiences;-
Campaign for 'Right to Work';-Khanapur Taluk: Organising women and labourers for their employment is spreadingfrom village to village often by word off mouth. Jagruti encourages the labourers to share with their friends and relatives on their MGNREGA experiences and its results. Thus through different ways and means the demand for MGNRGEA is spreading. For example our intense contact and campaign in Khanapurhas already spreadto the neighbouring Taluk of Bailhongal Again fromBailhongal to its adjacent TalukofDharwad it is spreading through word of mouth and so also from Khanapur to Dharwad. In a slow and steady manner by word of mouth the demand for organizing labourers is approaching from different corners. Mr.Ashok of Jagruti is going to new set of villages in BailhongalTaluk,Ms. Suvarna has made her presence in Dharwad district beginning from Alnavar.To give an example alabourer in Bailhongal Taluk spoke to his daughterwho lives in Dharwad taluk. And the she in turn called Ms. Sharada for initiating the unionization.Both Mr. Yellappa and Mr. Mallappa are entering deep into forest area of Khanapur taluk while Ms. Gangamma and Ms. Mahananda are organizing people in the same villages where it was not possible before. Ms. Mahananda is also going to neighbouring villages of Bailhongal taluk. Mr. Ashok and Mr. Yellappa are testing the waters in Belgaum taluk as well.
Problems of getting employment, getting wages etc.:.: If one imagines that problems become less once more and more people are unionized, he/she is wrong. One is also wrong if one thinks that the same problem may not arise again. In every Panchayat, every time the same problems manifest. Very often the Panchayat system and village elders are trying to scuttle the process. At times the people have to keep running around at least three to four times to the village Panchayat to get their applications for MGNREGA accepted. The same people have to go to bank only to get a `no' for any question, that is when they need to open a bank account. Mr. Ashok, Mr. Yellappa and Ms. Suvarna are kept on their toes to run around and talk to the PDO andthe EO before the hurdle gets solved. Jagruti finds this as one reason why MGNREGA is not spreading as fast as it could. Complaints to higher officials, notice of Dharana are often necessary even after three years of unionization in the same panchayats. To give few examples, wages were not being given in Mangenkoppa, Keravad and Linganmath panchayats because it was the work of Forest Department. People had to run from Panchayat to Forest Office and again back. Similarly labourers of Hidkal village, have bank account in 'Maharashtra Bank'at Kakkerivillage and the Panchayat`s bank account is in 'KVGBank' atBidi. They had to run from Bidi bank to Kakkeribank which isthe panchayat in Kerwad. Bank officers would just send back the people of Handur for want of more identity proofs. In the village of Linganmath there was no reason why wages were not being paid. The panchayat and bank would use every single opportunity to make life miserable for labourers. The PDO of Mirada would ask people to get money for panchayat first and then he would start receiving applications. In Garbhenatti and Junjwad of KasabaNandagad panchayat people are working in the same tank for the third year now. Even now the PDO would raise objections on measurements and try to confuse the labourers. In Bhuttevadi of the same panchayat, a member started creating trouble by abusing the activist Mr. Mallappa. In two villages, Kashenatti and Hulikere of Kadabagatti panchayat of Dharwad labourers are not given their job cards in spite of repeated requests. Much of the time of the activists is spent in attending to the same problems every week and every month.
Unionization at Taluk level: GrameenaKoolikarmikaraSamghatane(GRAKUS) is getting stronger day by day with more and more labourers joining the union and with many more activities. Membershipto GRAKUS is by paying Rupees.10/00 and once they get employment and wages they pay one year membership fees of Rupees 100/00. Khanapur unit is established with its own account. Kiralasa, Merada of Halagapanchayath, B.K.Sindholli, Sindholli and Shivarana of Gotagali panchayat, one village each in Devalatti and Bijagarnipanchayath, Bhuttevadi of Kasabanandagad, Hadaga of Bekavad panchayat, Jatagi of Kapoli panchayat, Halasala, Chikangrolli, Hidkal have new groups becoming members of GRAKUS. Taluk committee meets once every month, which is a platform where the grievances concerning MGNREGA at Taluk are addressed with full participation of all concerned officers and villagers.
Unionization process is on atBailhongal taluk also. People are taking time to decide on opening of bank account.
Taluka level Grievance redressal meetings in Khanapur: Taluka level Grievance redressal meetings are a regular ongoing feature in Khanapur. The meetings are attended by the representatives of the GRAKUS Union members few from each group. The taluk committee members of GRAKUS plan during the morning hours to decide the subjects to be brought up in the meeting and in the afternoon they share with the EO and PDOs to discuss problems faced by labourers. Delayed payment, issuing of 9 no. forms (calling people who have applied for job to work), type of work to be given, selection of mates, payment of mates were some of the issues that got settled in the grievance redressal meetings. But the issue of insurance is still pending. The EO tried to bring the Labour Commissioner for this meeting in November itself but he did not turn up. GRAKUS demanded that the concerned Labour official and also Tahasildar must attend this meeting. Finally officers from both offices attended the meeting in December and promised to get insurance done by March.
The Gram Panchayats never prepares an action plans in time so as to provide work for the labourers before the onset of rain while people are in need of jobsin April and May only. As a result of Jagruti`s continuous campaign, the action plans for 2011 were ready by April itself for all the panchayats of Khanapur taluk. Labourers in Byadaradaddi could complete 75% of their 100 days of work in the first part of the year itself. People could get work even in rainy season when there was no work in farmer`s field at Mangenkoppa and Junjwad.
Bailhongal Taluk: Basapur of Ugarkod panchayat and Mallapur: In both these villages where the GRAKUShas been established, people are ready for work but Panchayat is harassing them without giving job cards. A youth from the same group was appointed as community worker but he fled without giving any notice. Ashok himself had to go and organize people there. The group went to panchayat and succeeded in getting job cards. There is a group in Mallapur where they demand for job and work without giving an application. When they are told about the methodology of working in NREGA, the group immediately went to panchayat asking for job cards. Ashok had to intervene before they got job cards. 60 people got job cards by the end of the year.
Today, Bailhongal has a unit of Grakus with its own bank account.
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