Aruna Roy to FM-on pre-budget consultations on social issues #UID


Aruna Roy at RTI Activist's National Conventio...

Aruna Roy at RTI Activist’s National Convention 12-13 May, 2007, Pune. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shri.H.A.C.Prasad
Senior Economic Adviser( Additional Secretary)
Ministry of Finance
Government of India                                           
Januray 2013
 
Dear Shri.Chidambaram,
 
Thank you for your invitation to the Consultation on Social Sector issues with reference to the Budget -2013  I tried to call the Additional Secretary’s office yesterday to let you know, that despite my best efforts, I will not be able to attend the meeting you have scheduled for 11 am today .I will be sending a note separately covering important concerns, which I
hope you will consider seriously.
 
The issues that need financial allocations as top priority, concern the extremely vulnerable unorganised sector whose contribution to the country is not recognised and who continue to be citizens only in name. The bulk of the working population is bereft of security of food, health, education and pension in old age. Even the MGNREGA, that has been such a lifeline for the rural poor is being deliberately undermined through poor implementation by a class that wants to live off the benefits of inhuman exploitation. The current “magic” of aadhar based cash payments as a substitute for resources
and misgovernance, might seem attractive to some people for whom it is an academic exercise. It will not fool those who are beginning to face the vagaries of this technocratic dictatorship.
 
I come from a sector that is shocked and baffled that you talk about the need to cut subsidies for the poor, but have no hesitation in funding a programme like Aadhaar that functions in a legislative vacuum; where the parliamentary standing committee has raised a series of fundamental objections. We also do not accept your contention that there isn’t enough money to look after the basic needs of people. In a country that has fuelled its economic growth through exploitation of common property resources and the labour of the poor, to not have a tax to GDP ratio that is substantially higher only makes it clear that for India’s unorganised sector the candle is burning on both ends. Enough has already been said about the undiminished tax subsidies to the corporate sector, which will I am sure be meeting you with increased demands.
 
My first suggestion to you is that these consultations be organised where these so called sectors hear each other, rather than be pigeon holed into unequal consultations. We would like to understand and listen to the demands of the corporate sector, and we would like them to hear our demands. Open consultations are surely the minimum democratic standard for
budget formulation.
 
I enclose a petition from the Pension Parishad on Universalisation of old age pensions. We feel that the elderly having to lead a life of destitution without even a bare minimum income, is a crime against humanity. They are a segment who have no alternative and are suffering and dying. Universalising old age pensions (with a rational exclusion criteria for those who have adequate income) is not a matter that can wait, and must be provided for in the budget for 2013-14. Petitions related to Universal Pensions for the elderly in the informal sector – and pensions  for widows, single women, the disabled etc,have  already been handed over in detail to your Ministry.
 
The former MOF Shri Pranab Mukherjea had this examined by a joint team of representatives of the MoRD, Ministry of Law, Social Welfare and Finance, in his room in May 2012. Some assurances were also made by a spate of Ministries that BPL targeting would not be part of the criteria. The Minister for Rural Development sent a letter to the Prime Minister at the time of an agitation of the Pension Parishad that is attached.
 
We are also extremely distressed that the  food security bill has been pushed into cold storage and the contrary path of cash transfers is being relentlessly pursued. Your assurances that the so called DBT is only being implemented in cash transfer schemes “for now” only makes us more apprehensive of what will follow.
 
The Government is making a huge mistake in pushing Aadhaar and making it mandatory, without ensuring its viability. Glaring mismatches have already begun at the grass root level and the system being imposed is  undemocratic and injudicious.  Any further investment without proper and complete examination will undoubtedly lead to confirmed disaster.
 
We are also in complete disagreement with the understanding that technology can be a substitute for failures in Governance. We strongly feel that you should hold an open consultation on the aadhar based cash transfer campaign of the government not just to discuss its potential applicability in social sector programmes, but also as a mechanism of governance reform. Yours was a government that empowered people to monitor government through the right to information act. Instead of showing the political will to act on demands for accountability, this government is proceeding on the assumption that technology will be the “game changer.” It is not that we oppose technology or even blindly oppose the use of technology for monitoring of welfare programmes.Many of us feel that it it not been adequately discussed, or rationally evaluated; instead all opposition and even questions are being steam rolled.
 
There is no substitute for political will, and we want to register our fundamental objection to this commercial and centralised mode of governance. As grassroot activists, we also want to register the fact that our voices based on the experience so far are being pushed aside and ignored. Instead of pursuing people based monitoring like social audits,
controls are being taken away from the people through technological “fixes”
 
In so far as the MGNREGA is concerned, the sorry implementation of the programme through a reluctant bureaucracy, cannot be used as an excuse to reduce the effectiveness of the programme. We think that there can be no reduction in budgetary provisions for this programme. Despite it having shown it is a lifeline for the poor in areas where it is properly
implemented, basic entitlements are still to be effectively put into place in many parts of the country. The government has taken an untenable stand on issues like payment of minimum wages, where even the Supreme Court has expressed surprise that people have to come to court against government on an issue that violates both law and constitution.We hope you will sort this matter out in compliance with the minimum wages act before the next budget. 
 
 I would like to re-emphasise the need for a series of joint and open consultations organised in a fashion where we understand what the government is doing to implement or reject suggestions made from every “sector”. 
 
We hope you will accept this demand for minimum democratic standards in pre- budget consultations and democratic decision making.
 
Looking forward to hearing from you.
 
With regards,
 

To pass biometric ID, apply Vaseline or Boroplus on fingers overnight #WTFnews #UID #Aadhaar


ANUMEHA YADAV, Dec 16, 2012, The Hindu

The technical glitches that plague cash transfers in Jharkhand may not have arisen with a simpler system that does not need Internet connectivity

Pilot cash transfer projects taken up in Jharkhand for MGNREGA wages have achieved little success due to a variety of logistical, human and technological problems. A year after the launch of these projects, the problems remain unsolved.

In Ramgarh district, a majority of the beneficiaries are in Dohakatu and Marar panchayats of Ramgarh block. Over 63,000 people enrolled for Aadhaar numbers in the two panchayats in Ramgarh block. Of these, only 2,312 were “mapped”, i.e., their Aadhaar numbers and their welfare details were linked together. Of 4,791 “active” job-card holders in the two panchayats, only 469 received MGNREGA payments through Aadhar-Enabled Cash Transfers (AECTs). Fifty km away in Ratu block in Ranchi, of 8,231 “active” job-card holders in three panchayats, those paid through AECTs was even lower: 162.

Under strain

Ramgarh District Collector Amitabh Kaushal, who has been awarded the National Aadhaar Governance Award two years in a row, admits that the district’s administrative capacity is under strain and banks are not able to cope with the volume of transactions. Of eight banks on the Aadhaar platform, five got added only last month.

In Ramgarh and Ranchi, all accounts have so far been linked with the service area bank, Bank of India. “Initially many people turned up to enrol without their MGNREGA job-cards. So now we have to physically go house to house to find every job-card holder. In some places there was high enrolment but no BoI branch, in other places a branch existed but little enrolment,” says Mr. Kaushal. He rattles off a list of other concerns — bank technology upgrading, Internet connectivity in hilly areas, and availability, security and integrity of the cash-carrying Banking Correspondents (BCs).

At the Panchayat Bhavan at Dohakatu where most of the MGNREGA payments recorded were made, the BC, Rajesh Kumar, tries to rush through filling beneficiaries’ bank forms online — he has been asked to submit them by December 15 — but runs into many interruptions. “The line [power] came back only at noon. Last week two days there was no power and then there were server problems,” he says. But at three p.m., when he begins making payments to those who have queued up to collect wages for land-levelling work done under MGNREGA in November, there is anxiety but palpable excitement too.

Disappointments

Of the seven workers who take turns to scan their fingers, the micro-ATM Mr. Kumar operates recognises four. He pays them between Rs. 300-200 from the cash he withdrew at the bank that morning. For two workers the micro-ATM lists errors repeatedly. One worker’s account has still not been mapped. Of four pension beneficiaries who turn up, three collect their payments within an hour.

Dashay Bediya, a frail agricultural worker in a white shirt and dhoti, tries eight times, placing different fingers in the hope that one will work and then goes outside the office and scrubs his hands. He returns and tries five times more getting more anxious and disappointed each time. “Come after three to four days. Put Vaseline or Boroplus and rub your fingers before you go to sleep,” Mr. Kumar instructs before sending him back. And so the question, can the ease of payments at the household or panchayat level not be better achieved through smart cards that require neither real-time Internet connectivity, nor the creation of a massive centralised database like UIDAI’s that makes it harder to include those who missed enrolment the first time?

Dohakatu has had such a bevy of bureaucrats, officials and journalists visiting for months that the sarpanch, Kalawati Devi, now keeps a stock of mineral water bottles at the Panchayat Bhavan. At the site of the second pilot in Ratu block, however, things have not gone so smoothly even during officials’ visits. A few days before October 2 when the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand was to hand over pensions through AECTs at a function at Tigra panchayat, block officials and BCs tried frantically to make the fingerprints verification go through for 45 beneficiaries. It worked only in the case of nine.

Since October 2, even these nine have not been paid through AECTs even once, their payments still going to their old post-office accounts. The only reason they are still able to get their pensions is that the government kept open the option to withdraw the money at the post-office using their old passbooks.

“Half of MGNREGA workers’ fingerprints do not match. Maybe their fingerprints keep changing? In March I gave pension beneficiaries ID proofs to BoI so they open accounts and give passbooks. Then the bank manager changed in June and bank officials say they lost the documents. I gave the documents again in September but everyone is still waiting for passbooks,” says Tulsi Koeri, the BC in Puriyo panchayat, Ranchi.

The BC in nearby Tigra panchayat, Mahmood Alam, says of 383 whose MGNREGA accounts were mapped with Aadhaar since last December, only 102 have got passbooks, making it difficult for them to withdraw wages if they run into authentication or Internet connectivity problems.

Missing wages

Neither Mr. Koeri, nor Mr. Alam has been paid their monthly salary of Rs. 2,100 since they were hired as BCs last November by United Telecoms Limited (UTL) that BoI outsourced the work to. Mr. Kumar, Ramgarh’s BC, got paid for four months after the Collector, Mr. Kaushal, intervened in June. Even he has not been paid the last six months.

“I spend at least Rs. 400 per month on fuel for this work. In October at the PM’s video conference three of us were sent from Ratu, we paid over Rs. 2 lakh those three days. There have been 18-20 functions with officials from Delhi, Bangalore, even America. But if I ask for wages, UTL says if you do not like the work you can quit. Could you ask them about our wages please?” asks Mr Koeri.

anumeha.y@thehindu.co.in

 

MGNREGA Worker Jagu Bhuiyan’s Suicide case


(Report of the 4 member Fact Finding team from Jharkhand NREGA Watch)

 

Karmatand, Panchayat Hotai, Block Panki, Dist. Palamau, Jharkhand. A 55 year old Dalit man, Jagu Bhuiyan hung himself from a tree in his farm on the night of the 6th of January, 2012. He was a beneficiary of a Well Construction scheme sanctioned under MGNREGA. A well was being constructed on Jagu’s land under scheme number 11/2010-11 in the financial year 2010-11. The labourers who had worked for the well before monsoon, were continuously demanding their wages.

A team of Jharkhand NREGA Watch went to Karmatand on 9th January, 2012 for immediate fact finding of the main reasons for suicide. The team talked to the family members of Jagu Bhuiyaan and other villagers. The salient points of the fact-finding are as under: Jagu’s wife, Kabootri Devi informed that on the night of 6th January, 2012, like every day, Jagu went to sleep at the shed on their farmland. When his children went to the farm on the morning of 7th January, 2012, they saw their father’s body hanging from the Palash tree and then informed the villagers about it immediately. The villagers informed the Panchayat representatives about it, who then informed the Paanki police station through the local guard. His body was then lifted by the police. Jagu’s wife Kabootri Devi, Son Doman Bhuiyan (30), Anu Bhuiyan, Nandev Bhuiyan, Bhola Uraon, Ward member Pratima Devi (ward number 5), labourers and villagers informed in the formal meeting that they had got an order from the block for a well construction.

Work was commenced in April, 2011. 10 labourers had worked continuously till 15th June, 2011 but in the Well Construction Scheme of Jagu Bhuiyan, the labourers got Rs. 14200 in one installment. He sold off one Ox for paying the labourers and distributed the money he got from selling the ox, to the labourers. Despite this, there was Rs. 1720 as pending wages, of Anu Bhuiyan and his wife. 400 boulders and sand has been lifted to the worksite. There is no entry in the Measurement Book for the material and no payment has been made against the above mentioned material. If the labourers who were working on the Well digging are to be believed, the well was dug 28 feet into the ground. According to the model rate, the cost of this is Rs. 43920.

The Nodal Officer found the depth to be 20 feet on 9th of January in his investigation. That the wells constructed before monsoons have been crushed down/damaged by rains is a well known fact, both with the District and State Administration. Even if the costing of the well is to be done at the current depth, it comes to Rs. 18445. Add to that, the cost of the boulders and sand that was lifted to the site. If the total pending wages are calculated, even by the strictest standards, they add up to Rs. 10000. The actual situation in the Hotai Panchayat is worse. All the people working on MGNREGA in Jharkhand must be knowing that the Chief Secretary, Jharkhand state had ordered in March 2011 for construction of 50 wells in every Panchayat. The well construction scheme in Jharkhand has faced controversy since then. Because, under the provisions of MGNREGA, the right to choose schemes rests with the Gram Sabha and not with any minister or political leader.

In Hotai Panchayat, construction had begun on 44 wells around the 15th of April.We also remember that the transfer of funds from the District to the Panchayats accounts took place on 24thJune, 2011, only after the intervention of the MGNREGA Commissioner. The Hotai Panchayat received only one installment, that of Rs. 9,90,000 in the financial year 2011-12. Under the Wage Payment head of Hotai Panchayat’s account for the labourers who worked before monsoons, the balance is only Rs. 500 since July 2011. For all the well construction schemes only that commenced before monsoons, the Panchayat needs Rs. 5,00,000 from the government. The situation is that there have been no efforts since July 2011 to provide any employment to the MGNREGA labourers in Hotai.

The major irregularities in implementation of MGNREGA in Hotai Panchayat

  • There was a dearth of funds since June 2011 in the Panchayat. The Mukhiya (Sarpanch/Pradhan) of the Panchayat sent 5 written requests to the Administration for allocation for NREGA between 2nd June 2011 and 16th December 2011.
  • The labourers have been paid at a rate of Rs. 100 which is lower than the minimum wage in Jharkhand, Rs. 120. And this has been paid “in cash”.
  • None of the labourers have their pass-books, either of the bank or the post office.
  • Rs. 500000 is pending as wages since the past six months in 44 well construction schemes, work on which started in April 2011.
  • Muster Rolls haven’t been maintained properly for any scheme or worksite.
  • None of the labourers’ job cards have been renewed despite the fact that their job cards were valid only till 31st March, 2010.
  • Most of the families dependent upon labour have migrated to other states in search of work.

Be it the beneficiaries of NREGA or the activists struggling against the corruption in welfare schemes, the instances of their suicide and gruesome murder are continuously being reported in Jharkhand. The police haven’t yet solved the case of an RTI activist, Pradeep Prasad’s murder that took place in Pandeypura village of Latehar district of the state on 29thDecember 2011, just a fortnight back. The suicide of Jagu Bhuiyan has proved that the administration is totally insensitive about the situation of NREGA. It should be remembered that after the murder of Subal Mahto in Bokaro district and Niyamat Ansari in Latehar district of Jharkhand, the Central Government had appealed the State Government to prevent such events in future. Also, it had been ordered by the Central Government that under the Pilot Action Research programme, 12 districts of Jharkhand will focus on special thematic areas for better implementation of NREGA. But the District administration of Palamau has been unresponsive to the programme and hence satisfactory results haven’t been achieved. For assistance of the people who were financially dependent upon Jagu Bhuiyan and for the punishment of the people who are responsible for this, we have the following demands from the Palamau District Administration:

  1. According to the order of the Jharkhand government, reference number 4-1010(NREGA)/10/Rural Development-4716 Ranchi/dated 1/8/2011, a compensation of Rs. 75000 should be provided to Jagu bhuiyan’s wife, Kabootri Devi, within the next three days.
  2. A case should be filed against the officers responsible for Jagu Bhuiyan’s suicide under the section 306.
  3. The family should get Rs. 5 lakhs as compensation and a Government job of the 4th grade to one member of the family.
  4. Other social security benefits (under the National Family Benefit Scheme, Widow pension scheme, Indira Awas Yojana and free education for the children) should be provided to the members of the family within a specified time.
  5. To avoid any such event in the future, camps should be organized in every block of the Palamau district and all the cases of pending wages should be solved.
  6. The Government should protect and guarantee the security of the activists and individuals who take up pro-poor causes with the help of RTI or in MGNREGA.

Names of the members of the fact-finding team of Jharkhand NREGA Watch are:

  1. Virendra Paswan
  2. Mithlesh Kumar
  3. Jitendra Singh
  4. James Herenj


The Jharkhand NREGA Watch team met Ms. Pooja Singhal, the Deputy Commisioner, Palamau district on 11thJanuary, 2012 presenting her their fact finding report about Jagu Bhuiyan’s suicide case. They also demanded for essential benefits for the family. The DC discussed and decided action on the following major points:

  1. There are significant similarities between the report submitted by the Jharkhand NREGA Watch team and the administrative team that visited the village. But there are certain things in the case that require further inquiry.
  2. The family of Jagu Bhuiyaan will be provided the following social security benefits: Rs. 10000 under the National Family Benefit Scheme, Rs. 75000 under the scheme for NREGA labourers by Jharkhand Government, Widow Pension and food entitlements.
  3. A strategy will be made for a long-term solution of the institutional problems in the administration for better implementation of NREGA.

A video has been prepared on this suicide case which can be accessed on YouTube through the following link