(NREGS stands for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. It promises 100 days worth work to anyone who approaches the state for work. Payment is made at the minimum wage — 162 rupees for a full day’s work)
Our oldest battle is to ensure that corruption is rooted out in the NREGS and labourers get work under the scheme.
Over the last year alone, we have ensured that 25,000 days worth work has been provided under the NREGS in our 10 core Panchayats. About 32.4 lakhs worth payments have been made to over 2000 households.
We are proud to have achieved these numbers, but prouder still because we guarantee that these numbers are perfectly legitimate. In our Panchayats, we ensure — using the internet, mobile radio and the sheer strength of our numbers — that no one indulges in corruption of any sort.
We have learnt the hard way: three years ago, when we began, corruption was rampant. Sanjay Sahni, then still an electrician in Delhi, met Mr Mathew, Principal Secretary, Patna Secretariat and showed evidence worth hundreds of pages — all fake records entered online. The first audit created a storm within the Panchayat: people were aware for the first time that their rights could be bargained for and won. It struck fear in the hearts of the Mukhiya and his cronies.
Our first “clean” work organized under Bihar MNREGA Watch (BMW) was the earth-work done near the Mahadev Math at Mahant Maniyari. Over 400 labourers were employed. We kept our own attendance sheets (muster rolls) to ensure we knew exactly who was working and how much. We wanted to keep a tab.
However, corruption is not an easy beast to slay. Soon, the Mukhiya and the corrupt bureaucracy began delaying payments and, even when payments were made, gave out amounts well below the stipulated wage. This was done in collaboration with the Junior Engineer, who fudged measurements to show lesser work had been done.
We petitioned the Mukhiya, the Project Officer (PO) at the Kurhani Block. We showed them our actual attendance sheets and the fake ones. Some payments were made, some still pending. By the end of 2012, we had spread across Panchayats: BMW was a presence in at least 5 other Panchayats.
In August 2013, faced with many small battles across 20-odd Panchayats, we sat on an indefinite strike in the District Collector’s office for 21 days. Our demands were simple: pay us our dues and pay us on time. The Collector relented and our payments were finally approved.
From 400 labourers in one Panchayat for one work in 2011 to over 10000 labourers across 25 Panchayats and two districts: our story is first and foremost the story of the NREGS.