Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Labor Lost in NREGA

Let me take the story further from my visit to Chak-Bhabanipur. Take the case of Sushil Tudu. His Job Card number is: WB-18-008-008-015/80815152. If we check his card in the website of NREGA (www.nrega.nic.in) it shows that he worked from 18 June 2007 for 6 days and from 27 June for 5 days in 2009. The site shows that he had been paid for those 11 days. Check his Job Card. It tells different story. He had worked only for 6 days from 18 June 2009, and had been paid for 6 days.  Now, can anyone explain me what happened to the salary for other five days. Similar stores are on for Budhni Murmu and Lakshi Murmu. As I mentioned in my previous blog, these people had not worked since 2009 because neither the Job Card nor the bank account is with them! I instructed the local NGO partner to check in the internet if their accounts with the post office are still operational and if the people can go with that number to start a fight with the post master. (Photos : Above the payment page of the Job Card of Sushil Tudu, and below, the tattered page from the Job Card of Lakshi Murmu)

I also sat down with the staff of the local NGO to explain that indeed people can apply for job under NREGA online! Me moved into Jagtala where we met a few more tribal and scheduled caste families. The situation wasn't much different. But the only marked difference was some of these Scheduled caste families had done work as recently as last month. We went to the local government office. And we saw large write ups on a wall explaining the NREGA program. The first said about rights and duties of the people, except that item 2 and five were almost wiped out. A clear reading of it said: "The Job Card must be with the family and no one else must keep them", and "At the place of work there must be facility for water, rest, shade and facility for taking care of children". Well, you can understand why these were not clearly written.

The second writing on the wall gave very complicated detail on how the job (purely relating to digging) will be measured. I just couldn't understand it. Neither anyone in the vicinity. I called a friend of mine who works with the government in the NREGA cell of the district. But he did not respond to my call. Can anyone make sense of it? I have attached a photo of the same. Would be happy if someone can explain this to me.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jobless tribals

Since morning a team of five of us (Tamagna, Shampa, Akbar, Shubhra and me - the first three being staff of SMOKUS, a local NGO) spent a lot of  time in Chak-Bhabanipur, a tribal village beyond Dalimgaon, about 15 kms from Kaliyaganj town in West Bengal India. After that we visited two other villages Uttar Jagtala and a hamlet in Dhankail and returned late in the evening to  Raiganj for stay. The visit was mainly to see how people of these villages, mostly tribals, are utilizing the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act for their benefit. As we got into the Chak-Bhabanipur village we saw a freshly dug pond, completed under the scheme initiated by the government against the act. We asked the people how many of them worked in it. They said, "None". Why? These people had not worked for more than three years. Reasons were mind-boggling. (a) The tribals of   the village had given their job cards to the local government officials (panchayat) years before, and they were told that the people will lose the Job Cards if it is with them, when the jobs are available they will be informed! (b) About three years ago, the local post master took their Pass Books since their accounts into which their job money was being transferred was in the local post master saying that he needs these books to update the books! They never got back the books. Meanwhile the post master died ! Ha...ha..ha.. Now the new postmaster says that he has no knowledge of the Pass Books of these poor tribals. But he needs the old Pass Books to update their account numbers as the Post Office has to issue new account numbers. 

Since the time the local NGO workers started visiting the villages after I and Shubhra gave the last training in early January, on 28 / 29 Jan 2012, the local government officials gave the Job Cards back to a community leader. And we were able to see some of their Job Cards. These people, with instigation from the NGO staff went to ask for works. The government officials are saying that unless they show the new account number they cannot give these people work, because they cannot transfer the money!  

So, should we blame it on the dead postmaster! Damn it, let him go to hell! But what about the living ones? I have taken photos of some of their Job Cards. Will write in my next blog on the discrepancies found in the records of NREGA website and the records found in Job Cards.

Before closing: Who dug the pond? The people of higher caste from neighboring village!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Amazing Mohit

I reached Raiganj on 24th to train some village women in Right to Information Act and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). I spent the evening in the company of Dr. Prabir Chatterjee and his family, and when I was reaching the hotel it was about 9.30 pm. I saw Mr. Mohit Sengupta, the Raiganj Municipality Chairman getting into his car. I walked up to him and wished him, and shared a few moments with him and returned back to the hotel. 

This man has made several changes and improvements in Raiganj. He was on the road checking that a road repair work got started on time at 9.00 pm. Since he took over, most road repairs take place only at night to avoid inconvenience to people during the day. The roads are cleaner than most towns in West Bengal. On every day when he is in Raiganj, he reaches the Municipality office at 6.00 am, checks that all staff entrusted with sweeping the streets have gone on duty, and then he goes home around 7.45, gets ready and comes back to the office. Many roads have been widened and beautified. He has managed the several factionalism within the party and waded through several opposition. He was loved by Mr. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. This man can do well if given an opportunity in State or National politics. Someone must find the quality in him.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Clean and Unclean

Banjara Basti is a small little slum housing about 400 families along the drain that flows along the railway tracks next to Tikiapara station in Howrah, West Bengal. Since our team works among these people too I get to go through some of the places on this route. Yesterday, 18 Feb, I told Ruby and Meena, two social mobilisers to take me into the slum to speak to the men and women there. The houses were practically floating on the filthy water that was flowing out of the drain and each house was raised about 2 to 3 feet above the ground to let the filth flow below them. I wouldn't call this "disaster preparedness" in any way, because they were living on hazards, with no means and way. There were scores of children. About a 100 of them below 5 years. I found none of them wearing any footwear to protect them from the germs. I even found children dropping and picking up things from the two feet wide small narrow raised "road" (probably the raised portion of the tubed drain) with bare hands. Women and children were sitting on filth with no care. I got to speak to children, older ladies and a few young and old men. There was a old man who was sitting and spitting all along. His teeth were sparkling red...green....blue...black, due to many years of chewing tobacco and betel leaves. Hygiene, Water and Sanitation are never heard off in these families. I saw some young girls and boys going to school. That was the only comforting point of life. 

Just a stone throw away I saw the Big Bazaar on the Belilious Road, big and mighty, with large space to park tens of cars, and for the affluent to walk, shop, eat and make merry, oblivious to the other world that exists in filth, discomfort and with no means to live on. Who is clean? And who is not?

Friday, February 17, 2012

People's Joy, My Joy

On 11 Feb, I managed to drag myself into the Sunderbans, in spite of so many works hanging around my shoulders. It was time to meet the people. It was also an occasion to meet some of the senior officials from ECHO who were on a trip to the Sunderbans to review one of the projects they were supporting. Since, in Brajabhallavpur, Patharpratima Block, South 24 Parganas district, we have initiated the Manually Operated Display Boards (MODB) that display the wind speed, rainfall prediction and tide height in some of their partner areas, I went there to support and enable better understanding of the system. So, in stead of me explaining the system, I was asking the men, "Can you tell me what is all these?" They explained so well that it put me to understand that the extra mile I as a person and what CKS as an organization has taken is a step in the right direction. I asked the women, "Can you explain what these red, yellow and green stand for? And what will you do practically if you see these signs?" Amazingly, some of the women explained it very beautifully. Then came my poser, "Do you think that the information given here is actually matching with reality as experienced by you?" The women said, "Yes, one day the board read that there would be 4 mm rainfall. And there was lots of clouds throughout the day, and there was some mild shower in the evening." The men joined the chorus, " The information on tide is absolutely correct. We have verified it by placing a bamboo inside the water and testing the height. It was absolutely fine. And the wind speed too changes as it is mentioned in the board."

I can recall the joy of the people on their face. I know that this time, if another cyclone like Aila comes, people know that they would be alerted early, and they know what to do. One simple step is a big leap for the mankind. I am satisfied. The joy of the people is my own joy as well.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Failing Nation

I spent nearly eight days in the government-less country of Nepal. I reached there on 29 Jan evening and was there till the 6th Feb. Since the internet was too slow it was not possible to write my feelings and experiences immediately. One thing is sure about this country: the country is in disarray. There is no elected government. There is a group of oligarchy belonging to the elite of various political parties trying to discover a constitution that would keep the people segregated. I heard of proposals to divide that mountainous country from between 6 to 65 different divisions based on caste, religion, language, and you think of anything....based on that. I stayed for few days in Thamel - the place where all action is, in Kathmandu. The entire city has three major crisis: (a) Huge power shortage. We had nearly 20 hours of power cuts on many days. (b) There is no diesel or petrol for vehicles. Cars and trucks were standing in unending beeline to collect diesel or petrol from the gas stations. I was told that the gas stations were rationing out to private car owners : roughly about 5 liters at a time! (c) There is shortage of cooking gas across the nation. Newspapers were reporting of people blocking trucks carrying gas cylinders and taking away! (One good thing was, the people paid the driver, and returned empty cylinders.) Sincerity of the poor and simple people of the hills always outshines the filthy  politics of the nation.

The country as a whole needs to take a big leap forward. It needs to improve its infrastructure. Roads are crumbling. Population is growing in cities and towns. No rules seem to be enforced in building construction in this country that is highly vulnerable to earthquakes. The problem doesn't end there. When I visited some villages away from the bustling Kathmandu, I saw the people are drunk in the morning, tired of living, smoking out their lungs with cigarettes continuously. There is a real need on the part of world nations to step in and guide this country that has just got rid of its monarchy and is trying to set up its own democracy. All eyes are on the Middle East. But this beautiful naturally rich nation has not received its due attention.