NREGA, PDS, MDM – rural schemes and their implementation

News Contents:

October 13, 2007 : NREGA implementation in West Bengal – article by Debabrata Bandyopadhyay
October 7, 2007 : Food riots in Bengal over PDS corruption
October 6, 2007 : Article by Parshuram Rai : Invisible Genocide Of The Poor – PDS, NREGA, MDM and their implementation
June 18, 2007 : “Gana-dharna” in Kakdwip SDO office by PBKMS
February 2, 2007 : Detailed report, district-wise, of NREGA implementation in Bengal by PBKMS
November 1, 2006 : Update on NREGA
March 31, 2006 : Murshidabad, West Bengal – Starvation death; abject poverty; government neglect and inaction

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October 13, 2007 NREGA implementation in West Bengal

By Debabrata Bandopadhyay. Translated by Soumya Guhathakurta, Sanhati

The oft repeated statement of the chief minister of West Bengal is that only 1% of the total land in the state is non- cultivable and therefore there is no way other than compulsory acquisition of cultivable land (eg multiple crop land in singur), in order to foster the growth of industry in the state. The fact of the matter is that 15.73 lac hectares of such uncultivable land (i.e 18.1% of such land) is located in remote areas, in areas that are not linked by modern modes of transport or communication. Another, oft repeated statement of the chief minister is that 94-96% of the landholders of the compulsorily acquired land in singur have handed over their holdings without any resistance. In response to the affidavit submitted by me in the high court of Calcutta, the joint secretary of Department of Land and Land Reforms, Government of West Bengal, submitted a counter affidavit stating that of the 997 acres compulsorily acquired by the state government only landholders of 287 acres have agreed to accept the compensation payable as per section 11(2) of land acquisition act,1894. It is therefore evident that the chief minister is wilfully spreading a canard of lies when a department reporting to him is submitting a completely different set of figures , under oath, to court. Another, instance of misstatement by the state government is the recent news report published on 20 September 2007 in The Statesman,Calcutta, wherein the minister for panchayats and rural development was quoted as stating that it is only in West Bengal that the various programmes under NREGA,2005 have been impartially distributed/implemented vis-a-vis other states of India. As usual, such claims were not supported with statistics.

We can now discuss the objectives of the NREGA,2005 with specific reference to West Bengal. The central government organisation which is the chief advisor as well as monitoring agency for NREGA,2005 participated in a discussion at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on 20 September 2007 where the author was also present. The ministry of rural development, government of India , presented state /union territory wise detailed statistics of developmental work being done. National sample survey on the expenditure pattern of rural households for 2004-05 (61 st series) has also been prepared. As per NREGA ,2005 the main objective of this act is to increase the standard of living of rural households. Towards this end, 100 days of paid employment will have to be provided to each registered household during each fiscal year.

NREGA implementation status (2006-07)

State Man-days of work created per enlisted household Rural poverty (%) Rural families subject to mal/under nourishment (%)
Andhra Pradesh 31.0 11.2 0.6
Bihar 35.0 42.1 2.8
Chattisgarh 56.0 40.8 2.6
Jharkhand 37.0 46.3 0.7
Madhya Pradesh 68.0 36.9 2.0
Orissa 58.0 46.8 6.1
Rajasthan 85.0 18.7 0.0
Uttar Pradesh 32.0 33.4 1.7
West Bengal 14.0 28.6 11.9

From the above table the state of affairs in West Bengal would be clear. In 2006-07 only 14 work days were created per enlisted household in West Bengal whereas as per NREGA,2005, the stipulated limit is 100 work days. The top state wrt NREGA,2005, implementation is Rajasthan and the % of rural poverty in this state is 10 points lower than west bengal and to top it , the highest percentage of households, suffering mal/under nourishment, is in the state of West Bengal.

It is a commonly held belief that agricultural labourers in West Bengal get the highest wages. However, as per the report of National commission for enterprises in organised sector August 2007 (Arjun Sengupta report) this myth has been exposed. As per the report (table 2.1 of the report), 95.4% of agricultural labourers in West Bengal draw wages substantially lower than statutory minimum of Rs.66/day. The average daily wages is Rs 45-46 for men and Rs 30-32 for women.

The Planning commission had entrusted a Delhi based NGO (Priya) to evaluate the implementation of NREGA,2005. The second phase of Priya’s survey was made in September 2007 and its findings are an eye opener. In March 2007, 40.2% of eligible households were enlisted, in West Bengal, under NREGA,2005, whereas the comparable figure for Rajasthan was 94.9%, 97.2% in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh , 85.1% in Jamtara, Jharkhand and 74.7% in Rajnandgaon, Chattisgarh. The low figure of eligible household registered under NREGA,2005 in a politically conscious state like West Bengal is indeed surprising.

From the aforesaid survey report it is also evident that 75.7% of the enlisted households in West Bengal under NREGA are paid wages much lower than the stipulated minimum. It would suffice to say that the claims made by the minster of panchayat and rural development, government of West Bengal are incorrect. Further, as per NREGA,2005 , enlisted households will have to be provided healthcare facilities and creche facilities for infants. In West Bengal , healthcare and creche facilities have been extended to only 13.5% of the enlisted households under NREGA,2005. Another, revealing statistic of the said survey report is that 100% of the NREGA,2005 projects in West Bengal have been done through the panchayats. An analysis of the class character of panchayat members in West Bengal will reveal that only a few of them are from poverty stricken households. In 1979, after the first panchayat elections in West Bengal, Dr. Satyabrata Sen, the then advisor to the left front government conducted a survey of the class composition of the elected panchayats. It was found that only 7% of the elected panchayat members were landless agricultural labourers and bargadars and 93% had direct relation and vested interest in ownership of land. A similar survey was repeated after the second panchayat elections in 1983 and the result was similar to the 1979 survey. It was observed that the panchayat system has been hijacked by the rich rural peasantry. 30 years hence this class has monopoly over all the levers of rural economy and power and will not allow any external force to upset their apple cart.

An increase in agricultural wages would mean an increase in income of the agricultural workers and this will only come from the surplus that is presently being enjoyed by the rich rural peasantry. If 100 days of employment at minimum wages as envisaged under NREGA,2005, are indeed made available to the agricultural labourers then there is an opportunity for augmentation of agricultural wages. But this is also a measure that will hurt the class interests of the rich rural peasantry. Marx believed that no one can go against the interests of his/her class and it would be futile to believe that the rich peasantry, well entrenched in the echelons of power in the West Bengal panchayati raj institutions, will turnout to be any different. Therefore, in West Bengal only 40.2% of the rural households have been enlisted as eligible households under NREGA,2005, only 14 days of work has been generated per household in lieu of 100 as stipulated in NREGA,2005, 75.7% of 40.2% enlisted households earn less than the national stipulated minimum wages and crèche facilities have been extended to only 13.5% of the enlisted households.
To sum up, a state government purportedly run by leftist, has pursued the class interests of its power base, the rural reach peasantry and in the process jeopardised the implementation of NREGA,2005, in West Bengal. This is nothing short of a betrayal of the working class, whose interests the west bengal leftists claim to protect.

(The author is the erstwhile Land Reforms Commissioner, Government of West Bengal.)
This article first appeared in the Dainik Statesman

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October 7, 2007 – Food Riots Continue In South Bengal

A ration dealer’s house and the office of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) were set ablaze in Burdwan district of West Bengal Sunday in the continuing protests against alleged corruption in the public distribution system (PDS) and food grain hoarding that have claimed four lives.

A group of people set on fire the house of ration shopkeeper Golam Mohammed at Nawabhat in Burdwan district, about 250 km
northwest of Kolkata, and as the mob left the area it torched the CPI-M office in the vicinity.

The group clashed with police and some CPI-M supporters alleging that the ration dealers were hoarding food grains.

Burdwan superintendent of police Piyush Pande told IANS that about 25 people, including Pradip Das, the CPI-M MLA from the area, were injured during the arson and subsequent police action.

‘The situation is now under control. We have arrested eight people,’ Pande said.

Police said Mohammed was attacked after he failed to pay up money demanded by the group. His storehouse was also set on fire. There was tension in some other areas of the district like Golshi, Itaru and Shashankha.

Murshidabad district also witnessed ration riots in some areas Sunday.

Burdwan had witnessed similar attacks on Saturday as well along with Bankura and Birbhum districts.

A ration dealer from Bankura Saturday hanged himself as he could not afford to pay the Rs.400,000 fine slapped on him by a kangaroo court.

Biman Kundu, 32, was found hanging from the ceiling at his home in Borokumira village, 230 km from Kolkata.

This was the second suicide in the district since protests against alleged corruption in the food distribution system began. A ration dealer from Raipur had killed himself on Sep 28.

The kangaroo court, called by villagers, had charged Kundu with selling wheat and rice in the black market and was asked to pay up.

The villagers have been attacking the houses of the ration dealers, their stores and looting property and food grains before torching them.

‘The ration corruption allegations should be probed by the state agencies immediately. We have to activate the anti-corruption wings of our state instead of always screaming for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry,’ said state PWD Minister Kshiti Goswami.

Earlier two protesters were killed in the police firing.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has appealed to people for peace. He asked people not to take law into their own hands and said the government had requested the centre to increase rice, wheat and kerosene supplies.

Food Supplies Minister Paresh Adhikary said a show-cause notice had been issued to Bijendra Nath Malakar, the Birbhum district controller of food, and action would be taken against Madan Mohan Mandal, the Bankura district controller of food, who has recently retired.

Nandigram to PDS, CPM red-faced over trouble at grassroots – An IndianExpress Report

Even as the CPI(M) is preaching foreign policy to the UPA Government in Delhi, the comrades running the powerbase of West Bengal are busy tackling crises at the grassroots, one after the other.

For Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the first shock was the trouble that erupted following land acquisition at Singur for the Tata Motors’ small-car project. Barely had that died down, a much bigger crisis broke out in not-so-far-away Nandigram in December last year as farmers opposed the Government’s plans to acquire a much larger swathe of land for a couple of special economic zones (SEZs). The Nandigram trouble peaked in March 14 this year, when 14 people were killed in police firing.

As Bhattacharjee continued to woo industry, making announcements in fits and starts after the Nandigram dampener, the ground shifted again. This time, villagers in various parts rebelled against the pathetic state of the public distribution system (PDS). The first flare-up took place in Bankura, in the last week of August. Since then, the violence — in which shops have been burnt down and party leaders attacked — has claimed four lives.

The PDS crisis has two interesting points. First, while it is being led by the Trinamool Congress, at the grassroots it is backed by CPI(M) activists. Second, Muslims here have coalesced with the Scheduled Castes and Tribes to rail against institutionalised corruption. This, at a time when CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat has been going hammer and tongs at the Congress-led UPA Government alleging that it is neglecting the PDS system.

As if land acquisition and rationing system were not enough, the latest crisis has sprung from a poor but educated Muslim boy’s love for a rich businessman’s daughter. It seems that when Rizwanur Rehman fell in love with Priyanka Todi and married her, her father was livid and used his connections to bully the boy. The bullying failed. But the boy was found dead on a railway line. While the police is under siege for meddling in a domestic arrangement, senior leaders and CPI(M) ministers — Muslims and otherwise — have begun criticising the police.

Meanwhile, even as the CPI(M) in Delhi was challenging the UPA Government to do more for the Muslims, the Justice Rajindar Sachar Report showed that the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government in West Bengal had a dismal record in improving the lot of Muslims. Muslims, traditionally pampered by the CPI(M), suddenly woke up to ground realities. For long, Muslims have been important for the “secular” CPI(M). They account for 27 per cent of the votes.

With Karat and his colleagues in Delhi threatening the existence of the UPA Government, the CPI(M) in the state has already begun telling its district committees to gear up for the panchayat polls, which are due in June 2008. But the district committee leaders have lobbed the ball back to the CPI(M) state headquarters. They want the state leaders to clear three points first. One, why has the Government failed to take action against officials and policemen responsible for the Nandigram firing. Two, what should they tell their Muslim voters about the Sachar Commission findings. And finally, why is the Government not taking action against the police officers in the Rizwanur case?

BURDWAN/MALDA, Oct. 7 – Statesman Report

An angry mob, protesting against corrupt rationing practices, ransacked the house of a ration dealer, looted food materials and launched an attack on a procession and office of the CPI-M in Nababhat in the outskirts of Burdwan town today. The ration dealer is reportedly a Trinamul Congress supporter and the attackers were allegedly backed by the RSP.

As protests and public outrage against corrupt rationing practices spread to the neighbouring districts, angry villagers in the Kandi sub-division area of Murshidabad ransacked houses and shops of five ration dealers, went on a looting spree and also set on fire their go-downs in a series of incidents since yesterday.In Burdwan, a mob broke into the house of ration dealer, Mr Sheikh Fakir Mohammed around 8.30 a.m., dragged him out of his house along with his sons and beat them up. Even the womenfolk of the house were not spared. The mob also torched a tractor, six motorbikes and a Tata Sumo while furniture worth Rs 12 lakh were set on fire as well. Ten television sets, ten VCDs, a sound system, two refrigerators were damaged when the house was ransacked.

Gold jewellery worth Rs 8 lakh and Rs 14 lakh in cash were also looted. Soon after this, a group of CPI-M activists and leaders were also attacked when they tried to defend the dealer and a local party office was ransacked. Twelve CPI-M supporters, including two of their leaders, Mr Ganesh Chowdhury and Mr Arabindo Panja were rushed to the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital.

The police resorted to lathicharge to disperse the mob and eight villagers were arrested. Later, around 2000 CPI-M supporters, took out a rally in the village brandishing sword, lathis and chains.
The ration dealer later alleged: “The intruders were headed by RSP activists. Yesterday they had demanded Rs 15 lakh to spare house of vandalism.” Reports say that the dealer, is also a rich farmer and according to the district administration, “there has been no complaint against him.”

Mr Amol Halder, district CPI-M secretary said: “The miscreants are taking advantage of the current turmoil surrounding the rationing system. This dealer is a supporter of TMC, but our men went to his rescue as we are not tackling the issue politically.”
Meanwhile, the Murshidabad SP, Mr. Rahul Srivastava said that 37 persons were arrested in connection with looting spree at shops of ration dealers’ and go-downs of distributors. “A large police contingent has been deployed in trouble prone areas to combat the situation,” Mr. Srivastava said.

Police said that violence spread to Murshidabad following rumours that dealers in the district would compensate Rs 1000 each to ration cardholders. When dealers refused to do so, angry villagers looted the houses of ration dealers located at Sherpur, Simulia in Khargram today.

At Sherpur, two vehicles and two go-downs of Mr. Nazir Khan, a ration dealer, were set on fire. 24 persons were arrested in this connection. At Simulia, villagers looted the house of Aleyara Bibi, a modified ration dealer, when her husband was away from home. It was alleged that villagers looted even ornaments from her house.

“We do not have such information, but will enquire into the ornament looting case, if any. In fact, we do not have complaints and we are initiating suo moto cases here,” the Murshidabad SP said.

Police said that distributors serving the Kandi sub-division area could not supply materials for this week and some dealers left their home after hanging a closure notice in front of their shops. This created further trouble.

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Oct 6, 2007 Invisible Genocide Of The Poor – PDS, NREGA, MDM and their implementation

By Parshuram Rai, Countercurrents

More than 24,000 people die of hunger every day, nearly 78 % of them women and children. More than 1.4 billion people in the world face chronic hunger and over 13 million die of hunger every year. They die of hunger not because world does not have enough food for the entire population of the world, but because of an insensitive and callous world where profit of market seems to be the final arbiter of human destiny. The number of people who fell prey to Hitler’s insanity was 6 million and the “silent holocaust of hunger” is killing over 13 million people every year. Every year more than two genocides of Nazi scale. But unlike the victims of Nazi gas chambers, the victims of hunger die unnoticed, unmourned and in the backyards of vibrant democracies. If we believe in Gandhian dictum that poverty is the worst form of violence, then we are still inflicting this violence on over 1.4 billion poorest people of the world. While the U S can spend over $ 80 billion per year in Iraq alone, the entire wealth and generosity of the world can not generate just 13 billion dollors which is the only amount required to prevent the “invisible genocide by hunger”.

More than 340 million of Indians still go to bed without food every night .Over 10,000 Indians die of hunger every day and about 40 lakh every year. In other words, every 18 months we are inflicting an “invisible genocide” of Nazi scale on our poor and hungry compatriots. Every third hungry person in the world is an Indian and every third Indian goes to bed without food. The number of hungry people in India is always more than the number of people below official poverty line. While around 37% of rural households were below the poverty line in 1993-94, 80% of households suffered undernutrition. Evidence on the consumption of food, on calorie-intake and on nutritional outcomes clearly prove that chronic hunger persists on a mass scale in India .
Shall we still call it hunger deaths or “ invisible genocide” of poor Indians ? This scale of hunger and abject poverty is unconscionable in a fast growing economy with rising number of dollor millionaires. What are the main reasons behind this dehumanizing level of poverty? After 15 years of my research and activism on the issue of hunger and poverty , I find the traditional explanation of poverty in terms of income poverty and poor economy becoming increasingly irrelevant . I find it difficult to disagree with Lord Meghnath Desai when he says that economic poverty in India in inextricably linked to the poverty of politics( read bad governance and corruption ).

I have done some back of the envelope calculations about the amount of money required to prevent any Indian going to bed without food .The required amount is not huge. In fact, no Indian should go to bed without food even at the current level of budgetary allocations made under heads of various anti-poverty programmes , if we could just ensure the leakage-proof delivery of the allocated funds to their targeted population.

There are currently four major schemes in operation that essentially aim at fighting hunger and food insecurity; namely,PDS(public distribution system),ICDS (integrated child development scheme), MDM ( mid-day meal scheme) and most importantly NREGS(national rural employment guarantee scheme).There would be very few Indians who would have to skip meals if we could just make these four schemes corruption- free. Therefore, now it is not the poor state of economy or lack of funds that is killing about 40 lakh Indians every year , it is the cancer of corruption that is killing and crippling millions of our compatriots every year. The colonial character of Indian bureaucracy is the single biggest factor behind the epidemic of poverty. The Indian bureaucracy is virtually accountable to none , especially when it comes to the implementation of anti-poverty programmes.

PDS and NREGS are two most important schemes to fight hunger and ensure food security. But , what is the actual performance of these schemes on the ground ? According to a recent report of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution , “In the last three years, Rs 31,585.98 crore worth of wheat and rice meant for the poorest of the poor was siphoned off from the public distribution system(PDS). Last year alone, Rs 11,336.98 crore worth of food grain that the government is supposed to distribute to the needy at subsidised prices found its way into the market illegally. Every year, India’s poor are cheated out of 53.3% of wheat and 39% of rice meant for them…There is largescale diversion of PDS grain across India… Exceptions apart, the poor in India simply can’t trust the government to deliver them food supplies. ”(Times of India, Sept. 17, 2007)

During last two months, hundreds of poor Adivasis in Rayagada,Koraput and Kalahandi districts of Orissa have died due to “consumption of contaminated water and rotten food” and “hunger and severe food insecurity ”.On the basis of my research in 100 villages of Orissa, I firmly believe that it is not the epidemic of cholera but cancer of corruption that is killing hundreds of Adivasis in Orissa’s KBK(Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) region.

Cholera is only a symptom and by-product, the root cause is the cancer of corruption which has colonized and crippled all the vital organs of Orissa administration. Abject poverty and chronic hunger manufactured by corrupt bureaucracy are the main reasons behind these tragic deaths of Adivasis. The PDS(public distribution system) is in a shambles and ICDS(integrated child development scheme) is virtually defunct in the KBK region. The PDS,ICDS and all other anti-poverty programmes have been hijacked and converted into money minting machines for Orissa’s sarkari babus.

Most of these Adivasis live a life of semi-starvation which cripples their immune system and their bodies become vulnerable to a host of diseases .In KBK region, for better part of the rainy season, majority of Adivasis have hardly any food to eat and they survive on mango kernel gruel, wild leaves and vegetables. This tragedy repeats every year. The historic anti-poverty programme NREGS(National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) was launched to stop precisely this kind of tragedy. Unfortunately, sarkari babus of Orissa have converted even this historic employment guarantee scheme into income guarantee scheme for themselves.

Delhi- based CEFS(Centre for Environment and Food Security) has carried out a survey in 100 villages of Orissa and found that of Rs 733 crore spent under NREGS during 2006-7, over Rs 500 crore has been siphoned off and misappropriated by the government officials of executing agencies. Moreover, as against the claims of Orissa Government that no needy household in 19 NREGS districts of the state was denied wage employment and each needy household was given an average 57 days of wage employment under NREGS, CEFS study has revealed that large number of needy households were denied not only jobs but even job cards, and not more than 5 days of average wage employment has been given to each needy family in these 19 NREGS districts. We have found that more than 75 per cent of the NREGS funds spent during last year have been siphoned off. However, we are absolutely certain that there are thousands of villages in Orissa where scale of misappropriation is 80-90 per cent. It is distressing to note that there has been open and participatory loot of NREGS funds in Orissa. We have reasons to believe that the entire state administration is party to this loot.

Is there any linkage between misappropriation of Rs 500 crore of NREGS funds and cholera deaths of hundreds of Adivasis in Orissa? On the surface, the link is tenuous. Scratch a little deeper and the linkage is direct.

To put Rs 500 crore of siphoned NREGS fund in perspective , this amount of money would have given about 90 days of wage employment to about 10 lakh poor families of Orissa. In other words, each of these 10 lakh poorest families would have got Rs 5000 as wages. This amount of Rs 5000 in the context of these poor and hungry families would have given 4-6 months of two subsistence meals or one meal for the whole year. Therefore, it is not just another financial scam , callous bureaucracy of Orissa has robbed 10 lakh hungry families of one meal for the whole year . Who is real killer of Orissa’s Adivasis ?

Consumption of contaminated water and rotten food by the people is suspected to have led to the epidemic,(BBC News, August 27, 2007).Life will never be the same for Chintamani Nayak of Naugaon village( Kashipur block). His dream of becoming a father was shattered when his pregnant wife died of diaorrhea. “I lost my pregnant wife because of food scarcity.Now I am helpless”, laments Chintamani. Chintamani is one of many villagers grappling with poverty, food scarcity and forced to drink contaminated water….With starvation deaths already on the rise and now this epidemic, the Orissa government has its task cut out.(CNN-IBN ,August 30, 2007)

The Current level of hunger, poverty and deprivation in Orissa’s KBK region is as deep, demeaning and dehumanising as ever despite the so- called successful implementation of the NREGS with the highest per capita allocation of funds anywhere in the country. The Rural Employment Scheme has made virtually zero impact on the livelihood security of Orissa’s rural poor.There is no let up in the level of distress migration of Adivasis and Dalits from Orissa’s KBK reason in search of livelihood in other parts of the country. On Human Development Index, many of the Sub-Saharan villages would fare better than most of the KBK villages. Hunger and abject poverty are widespread in all the 100 villages of KBK region we visited. Large numbers of children in these villages are suffering from severe malnutrition. Hunger and abject poverty are apparent and writ large on the hollowed cheeks, sunken eyes and distended bellies of emaciated children.
We had also visited Panasguda(Kasipur Gram Panchayat),Gottigudda(Kasipur Gram Panchayat) and Bilamal (Tikari Gram Panchayat) in Kasipur block of Rayagada district .Many starvation deaths were reported from these three villages during 2001 and the Chief Minister had personally visited these villages to offer relief. Most households in these villages are still living a life of semi-starvation and chronic hunger. For better part of the rainy season they still have to make a choice between starvation or eating mango kernel gruel. Panasgudda and Gottigudda villages have not received even job cards. Some households have been given job cards in Bilamal but even those households have got only 2-3 days of work under NREGS. The family in Bilamal which had lost 4 members to starvation in 2001 has not received job card as yet. More than 8 persons are reported to have died in Bilamal during last two months. Most of these deaths are essentially hunger-deaths, but it is convenient for bureaucrats to declare them as “cholera deaths.”

Where has Orissa Government spent Rs 733 crore of NREGS funds? These hungry Adivasis of Orissa deserve at least an answer in the Platinum Jubille year of India’s Independence.

The largest number of cholera deaths have been reported from Kashipur block of Rayagada district. We had surveyed 30 villages of this block and found that there had been proverbial open loot of NREGS funds in all the villages where this job scheme was executed. We had found similar loot of NREGS funds in Laxmipur and Nandpur blocks of Koraput district and Thuamulrampur block of Kalahandi district. All these blocks are now witness to a naked dance of death scripted and choreographed by callous and corrupt bureaucracy of Orissa.

The CEFS survey report was formally released on 17 th August 2007 in New Delhi and all the News Papers of Orissa carried news stories about the shocking findings of this survey, most of them on their front pages. However, the Government of Orissa has maintained studied silence on the damning findings of the CEFS survey. To neutralize the impact of bad publicity and to deflect public attention from the NREGS Scam ,on 20th August 2007 , the Chief Minister called a high level meeting and ordered survey of NREGS work in the state by Hyderabad-based NIRD( National Institute of Rural Development). I firmly believe that the objective of the NIRD survey is not to probe the irregularities or misappropriation of Rs 500 crore NREGS funds, but to cover up all this. It is a pure eye wash.

More shocking is the silence of the main opposition party of Orissa – Congress. Except Congress, all other opposition parties have demanded a special session of Orissa Assembly to discuss Rs 500 crore NREGS scam unearthed by CEFS survey . Even the BJP, a partner in the ruling coalition of Orissa, has said on record that there have been serious irregularities and the NREGS in Orissa had miserably failed. It defies all logic as how the main Opposition Party of Orissa (Congress) did not bother to utter a single word about the NREGS scam . It is bizarre to read in the Newspapers that the same Party is now busy counting dead bodies of Orissa’s Adivasis. Some one rightly said that we are a country of fire fighters. We begin digging well only after the fire has broken out. The silence about misappropriation of Rs 500 crore NREGS funds on the part of the oldest political Party of the largest democracy in the world is more shocking to me than Rs 500 crore NREGS scam as such .

Adivasis and Dalits may have first charge on the resources of the country in the speeches of politicians, but in the reality sarkari babus have first charge on them. The main beneficiaries of all the anti-poverty programmes are self-serving government officials and only left-overs do reach the targeted beneficiaries. Will these poor Adivasis and Dalits ever get freedom from hunger ? It is impossible to achieve freedom from hunger without achieving freedom from corruption. Only vigilant citizenry can shake up the corrupt bureaucracy by making it accountable for their acts of omission and commision. Unless the public servants are made afraid of being prosecuted, they shall never improve and corruption shall continue to thrive ; and poor adivasis and dalits will continue to die like flies, unnoticed and unmourned by a “rising India”.

The author is director of Delhi-based Centre for Environment and Food Security(CEFS). He can be reached at : parshuramray@yahoo.com

http://sanhati.com/front-page/388/

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18 June 2007

UPDATE ON INDEFINITE MASS DHARNA BY THE MEMBERS OF PASCHIM BANGA KHET MAJOOR SAMITY AT KAKDWIP DEMANDING UNEMPLOYMENT ALLOWANCE UNDER NREGA

Today an indefinite “Gana dharna” (sit-in demonstration) has began in front of Kakdwip S.D.O office under South 24 Paraganas district of West Bengal. About one thousand activists are taking part in the agitation demanding Unemployment Allowance, immediate payment of due wages, compensation for delay in the payment of pending wages along with other demands under the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) programme.

The concerned Sub-divisional Officer has shown absolutely indifferent attitude towards the demands raised by the deprived rural workers.

The District Magistrate of South 24 Paraganas and Shri Sunil Gupta, Member Secretary, West Bengal State Employment Guarantee Council, were also contacted and they stated that it would take some more time to fulfill the demands as it is still in process. However, PBKMS has been raising the issues for the last six months to different sections of the government from state level to National level. Earlier, PBKMS met the Secretary, Panchayat and Rural Development, Govt. of West Bengal, Shri Sekhar Sengupta, Deputy Secretary, in charge of NREGA programme in the state, and also Honourable Governor Shri Gopal Krishna Gandhi for the redressal of grievances. Even a letter was sent to Shri Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Central Minister of Rural Development and Chairman, Central Employment Guarantee Council informing him about the flouting of NREGA by the local administration in West Bengal.

So, we earnestly appeal to you to send the protest letters to the Sub-Divisional Officer, Kakdwip South 24 Paraganas, West Bengal, DM, South 24 Paraganas, West Bengal and Shri Sunil Gupta, Member Secretary, West Bengal State Employment Guarantee Council or directly talk to them to put pressure on them for immediate fulfillment of the demands raised by the rural workers.

Our demands:

1. Immediate payment of unemployment allowance;
2. Immediate provision of work for at least 14 days at a stretch and for more, if more days are applied for;
3. Immediate payment of all pending wages;
4. Immediate payment of compensation for late payment of wages;
5. Immediate punishment for all officials and Panchayat representatives involved in falsification of muster rolls and job cards;
6. Provision of all facilities as per the Act at the work site along with display of information of the Scheme.
7. Immediate punishment for all officials and Panchayat representatives involved in illegal retention of job cards.

§ Sub-Divisional Officer, Kakdwip, South 24 Paraganas, West Bengal Phone: (03210) 255200, 256607, Fax: (03210) 255696,
§ DM, South 24 Paraganas, West Bengal Phone: 2479-3713, 2479-1774 (Res) Fax: (033) 2479-3456
§ Shri Sunil Gupta, Member Secretary, West Bengal State Employment Guarantee Council Phone: 2243-0366, 2231-9190 Fax: 2248-4522

With warm Regards,

In solidarity
(Swapan Ganguly)
General Secretary

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NREGA implementation in Bengal – a PBKMS report and rally, 2 February, 2007

Rally, Deputation by PBKMS Demanding Proper Implementation Of NREGA,2005 And Against Acquisition Of Agricultural Land

One year has been completed on 2nd February, 2007 of implementation of the NREGA, 2005. It was started exactly a year ago on 2nd February, 2006 in 10 districts of West Bengal along with the 200 districts of whole country.

In 9 months (April 2006 to December 2006) of financial year 2006-07 the performance of the State Government in 10 selected districts has been shocking to say the least. According to the district wise report of the Panchyat and Rural Development Department of the West Bengal Government, in Purulia, a district that reports starvation deaths and is one of the poorest, only 14% of the funds have been spent. In Maldah, only 24% has been spent and on the whole less than half (48%) the money allocated has been spent.

In terms of employment, where it was supposed to create 100 days of work by 31st March 2007, till 31st December, 2006, only 12 days of work have been created for each applicant family. Even in Jalpaiguri and Uttar Dinajpur, where 77% of the money has been spent, only 8 to 9 days of work per applicant has been created. The state government has therefore not been able to give people the employment it could have if it had demanded and used central funds properly.

Job seekers are not getting any cooperation from Panchyat and Block level officials. Following are the experiences of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity on NREGA:

• Not getting job cards, work or unemployment allowance even when people ask for them, in gross violation of the law.

• Not getting receipts from Pradhans and other officials for application of work or unemployment allowance.

• Giving only one or two days of work for each application when the law says that 14 days of work at a stretch must be given.

• Non payment of wages for even three months after work, though the law says wages must be paid every week or not later than a fortnight.

• Cheating in wages due to improper measurement.

• Non provision of drinking water, creches, first aid and shade at work site, though the law has provision for the same.

Instead of creating job under the NREGA the State Government is now reducing existing employment by grabbing the agricultural land for big and foreign capital in the name of ‘Industrialisation”.

In this context, to draw the public attention and that of the administration Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity has organised several rallies and submitted deputation to the concerned District Magistrate in different districts of the state. District wise programmes were as follows:

South 24 Parganas:

Near about 6000 members of the organisation from different places of the districts like, Namkhana, Sagar, Patharpratima, Kakdwip, Roydighi, Mathurapur, Kulpi were assembled in Ballyganj rail station area. About 01-30 p.m. they started the rally with colourful posters, banners and a Band Party towards Alipur. There was a stage near Alipur post office. Participants of the rally sited down in front of the stage. There were representatives from different political parties to support the rally and gathering. All the speakers critisized the State Governments policy of agricultural land acquisition in the name of “Industrialisation”.

Samir Pututundu, State Secretary of PDS criticised the government for violating the law of NREGA and policy of land acquisition. Indrajit Sen, Jt. Secretary of Youth Trinamool Congress also criticised the government policy of land acquisition. Debashis Das from Hawkers Sangram Committee also speaks on the land issue. Shaktiman Ghosh of the same organisation was also present there. Swapan Ganguly, General Secretary of PBKMS said that there is a lack of political will of the state government to enact the law for agricultural and daily labourers Anuradha Talwar, President of PBKMS along with other members met the District Magistrate. She gave assurance to the team that she will take steps so that complaint register immediately be opened at all levels- Panchyat, Block, Subdivision and the District Headquarters. She has also issued letter to the SDOs of Canning/ Baruipur/ Dimond Harbour/ Kakdwip/ Sadar, Alipur for finalise the hearing schedule on complaints. (A photocopy of the letter enclosed herewith). Anuradha Talwar speaks about the conversation with the District Magistrate regarding their demands.

Bankura:

Almost 500 agricultural workers from Chhatna, Saltora and Bankura 1 No. Block were gathered at Bankura Bus stand and organised a rally towards the DM office.
They have oraganised a street corner meeting in front of the DM office. Suchitra Mondal, Swapan Halder, Sukumar Gaine and others speakers alleged the district administration for not implementing the NREGA law properly. They stated the present status of the NREGA in district which is very poor. Only 15 man days has been created per family so far instead of 100 days per year.

They have submitted a deputation to the Addl. District Magistrate (Dev.). He admitted that there are lacking into implementation of the NREGA. They have started NREGA from the month of August instead of February 02. He has also given assurance he will take steps against specific complain.

Jalpaiguri:

On behalf of “Uttaran” Debashis Chakraborty and Sharmista Biswas along with the tea garden workers of Roypur and Shikarpur met with the District Magistrate and discussed the present status of NREGA in the district. Fifteen days earlier they had submitted a report on the present status of the district, particularly about the closed tea gardens. He admitted that due to lack of amount in time they can’t able to give work to the job seekers. DM assured that he will take steps for complain book in each block.
On the same day workers of closed tea gardens of Kalchini, Rajganj, Jalpaiguri sadar and Madarihat block submitted deputation to the concerned Block office.

Purulia:

Uttam Gaine along with the other members of PBKMS met the DM and discussed about the problems of getting job card, work, unemployment allowance and non payment of minimum wages. DM admitted that due to lack of proper schemes they can’t able to create man days. He also asked the representatives of the organisation for schemes and also assured to investigate about less payment of wages instead of minimum wages.

Nadia:

Though Nadia is not a NREGA district, members of the PBKMS organised a rally with 600 people demanding inclusion of the same district for NREGA and to stop the land acquisition on 5th February. They have organised dharna in front of the Collector’s office. Bela Adak along with other members submitted deputation to the Addl. District Magistrate (G). ADM(G) said that Nadia District has included as NREGA. Work under this act will be started in the district from 1st April, 2007.

North 24 Parganas:

North 24 Parganas is not a NREGA district, though migration problem is existing here due to lack of employment. Hence, district committee of PBKMS organised a rally of 600 people from Barasat Court to Barasat Station on 2nd February. Ashis Kanti Bhattacharya, Mijanur Rahaman and Khusilal Sarder of PBKMS, Pritthis Basu of Shramajivee Samannaya Committee, Sanjay Ganguly of Jana Sanskriti Kendra and Archana Mondal of Shramajivee Mahila Samity met the Addl. District Magistrate (G) and submitted a deputation to stop the acquisition of agricultural land in the name of so called Industrialisation and for inclusion of the district under NREGA.

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November 1, 2006 : 9 months later, they are still jobless

Over 500 landless labourers gathered at a convention in the city to discuss how their search for 100 days of work per year under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has met with opposition. They complained of assaults, threats and intimidation — mostly by the ruling party cadres and leaders at the grassroots

Maheshwar Charan is a landless labourer, working for others in the remote village of Sorrong in West Midnapore’s Danton-1 block. In the normal course of things, the 35-year-old gets 22-25 days of work in a year, earning Rs 30-40 per day. Total annual income: Rs 1,200.

It was for people like him that the Left Front Government took upon itself the role of pushing through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) on February 2 this year. But the CPI(M) cadres do not want people like Charan to benefit in any way from the NREGA.

So, when Charan sought to register himself under the Act in February, attracted by the promise of at least 100 days or work a year at Rs 68 per day (annual income: Rs 6,800), CPI(M) cadres allegedly beat him up brutally. Charan filed a First Information Report (FIR) at the Danton police station on February 13. Since then, he hasn’t secured a single day’s work under the Act.

In Srinagar village in Kakdwip block of South 24-Parganas, Arati Pal, a 21-year-old woman, and Lakshmi Sardar, a 40-year-old Scheduled Caste woman, face regular threats to their lives. (The Act enjoins upon the State Governments to ensure that one-third of those given work are women.) After being shunted from office to office, Pal and Sardar dared to submit their applications with the block development officer. Since then, CPI(M) cadres have been warning them of dire consequences.

Charan, Pal and Sardar were among the 500-odd landless labourers who assembled in the city yesterday. The meet, organised by an NGO, emphasised the fact that NREGA may have been implemented in the State, but the benefits are yet to trickle down.

Observers said the CPI(M) cadres in remote villages are loath to allow the implementation of the Act on two counts. First, West Bengal has no mechanism to enforce minimum wages in rural areas. In fact, there are no official statistics relating to the minimum wages paid in the unorganised sector, especially in agriculture. So the rural elite, or CPI(M) leaders who rule the roost, get away by paying Rs 20-30 a day for labourers who are “lucky” enough to get work with them.

The NREGA, by promising Rs 68 a day, will lure away the workers or push up the costs of the rural power elite. Arati Pal pointed out that her annual income would shoot up to Rs 6,800. “The babus don’t want this to happen as our higher income would give us a stronger say in local affairs,” Pal said.

“We work for these people, on their land, in their houses,” said Charan. “They are alarmed by the prospect of having to pay us a minimum wage which is several times the current levels.”

Talit Mahato, a landless labourer in Purulia’s Tatari village in Puncha block, alleged corruption in the implementation of the Act. “I got work for only two days, but they forced me to put my thumb impression on the job card for four days. I got paid only for two days,” claimed Mahato.

Baidyanath Murmu of Chhotopathor village of Purulia said another reason for the CPI(M) cadres’ reluctance to allow the NREGA is plain old politics. “The CPI(M) is now using the benefits of the scheme to play favourites by denying cards to those who are not their supporters,” said Murmu.

Murmu said he was made to run around from office to office before being given work at a place more than five kilometres away from his house. There, he was asked to dig 117 cubic feet of earth in one day, much above the 40 cubic feet that is normally possible within that period.

“I worked for three days till my body ached and completed the job. But at the end, I was paid for one day only,” said Murmu. “But the CPI(M) supporters who were allotted the work just took it easy and got their wages for three days’ work,” he added.

Benoy Konar, CPI(M) central committee member who looks after the party’s peasant wing — the All India Krishak Sabha maintained: “I am not aware of any resistance against the scheme at the grassroots level. Our party’s policy is to promote the scheme but I will definitely look into complaints, if there is any.”

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March 31, 2006

More starvation deaths, more lies in Murshidabad, West Bengal INDIA: Starvation death; abject poverty; government neglect and inaction

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) regrets to inform you of two more starvation deaths that recently occurred in Jalangi, Murshidabad, West Bengal. Mr. Jayram Singh, aged 62, passed away on 15 March 2006 after a long bout of hunger. Deepali Singh, aged 8, died on 6 March 2006, also from the acute lack of food. Starvation deaths have become rampant in Jalangi, however the government continues to do little to address the hunger concerns of the villagers.

Mr. Jayram Singh, from the Pakurdiar Village, had been suffering from severe malnutrition and was in critical condition when his wife, Ms. Bisni Mal, died in late January from starvation. His son, Bhadu Singh, had been away from the home when Bisni passed away. Bhadu returned home a few days later to find his father rapidly deteriorating in health. In an attempt to get help for his father, Bhadu approached the Block Development Office (BDO) in Jalangi and the head of the village administration for some food assistance and a Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration card. However, he received no help and his father died from the lack of food three days later.

Deepali Singh, also from Pakurdiar Village, had also been suffering from malnutrition for a long period of time before her death. As per her medical report, dated 20 March 2006, she was suffering from acute anemia and hepatomegaly, an enlargement of the liver that is a common disease related to hunger, especially in children.

Meanwhile, human rights defenders continue to press on the local administration to provide assistance and long-term rehabilitation to the starving villagers who have lost their land and livelihoods to the Padma River. On 20 March 2006, members from the Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) met the Governor of West Bengal and was assured by his Secretary, Mr. D Rath, that some kind of relief would be distributed to the victims. However, due to the lack of cooperation from the district administration, nothing has been provided to the villagers. Mr. Rath also called Mr. Narayan Manjunath Prasad, District Magistrate (DM) of Murishidabad, during MASUM’s visit, and questioned the DM as to why the Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards had not been issued to hundreds of villagers.

In addition, the Public Distribution System (PDS) in Jalangi continues to fail on every level in providing the basic food assistance of 35 kg of rice and wheat per family per month. It has been six months since a group of almost 500 people had been acknowledge as suffering from hunger and promised BPL ration cards. However, despite the efforts and pleas from victims and activists alike, no action has been taken by the local government to address any of the hunger problems, or other needs of the victims.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the relevant officials below, in particular the District Magistrate (DM) of Murshidabad, urging them to put direct pressure on the local administration in Jalangi to provide assistance to the starving villagers. The local administration must be condemned for allowing starvation deaths to continue, and for deliberately ignoring the needs of its community. They must further be condemned for not upholding laws put in place to protect the right to life of all Indian citizens, including the provision of jobs under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards under the Public Distribution System.