Guest Post by AMITAVA GUPTA
Concerned about the approach of the central government toward the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), 28 development economists wrote a letter to the PM, urging him to stop tampering with the scheme. The letter, as one might have suspected, did not go down well with Jagdish Bhagwati. He, along with his Man Friday Arvind Panagariya, was quick to put forward a rebuttal. Though Bhagwati’s credentials as a trade theorist cannot but be acknowledged even by his bitterest critics, he is hitherto not known for his contribution toward development economics. Panagariya would merit even lesser mention. But, that should not ideally deny their argument a fair scrutiny.
The central government announced a set of measures over the last couple of months or so. Those include restricting the scheme to the poorest 200 districts; reducing the labour to material ratio from 60:40 to 51:49; freezing the real wage rate; imposing cap to state expenditure on the scheme. Put together, those measures deliver a lethal blow to MNREGA. Bhagwati and Panagariya extend unconditional support to this rather brutal amputation. What they essentially do is to summarize the standard arguments against the scheme. The arguments can be clubbed under two heads— i) the scheme is marred in corruption; ii) it does not generate revenue to justify the spending from the exchequer and hence, it should be done away with. It is worthwhile to check whether any of these arguments has some merit or these are just political salvos packaged as economic wisdom.
Continue reading MNREGA’s Swan Song – Not everyone’s idea of ‘achche din’: Amitava Gupta
Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to express our deep concern about the future of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).
The NREGA was enacted in 2005 with unanimous support from all political parties. It is a far-reaching attempt to bring some much-needed economic security to the lives of millions of people who are on the margin of subsistence.
Despite numerous hurdles, the NREGA has achieved significant results. At a relatively small cost (currently 0.3% of India’s GDP), about 50 million households are getting some employment at NREGA worksites every year. A majority of NREGA workers are women, and close to half are Dalits or Adivasis. A large body of research shows that the NREGA has wide-ranging social benefits, including the creation of productive assets. Continue reading Letter to PM on NREGA from Development Economists
In the video above, Niyamat Ansari, NREGA/RTI activist in Jharkhand, speaks of the threats to his life. Ansari was murdered on 2 March 2011. You can watch more videos of him here.
Given below are facts of how and why Niyamat Ansari was killed, and the follow-up threafter. You can follow the campaign to get justice for Niyamat Ansari on this Facebook page set up in his memory and in pursuit of justice for him. Please share these links widely, because Your Channel will not organise a candle-light vigil at India Gate. See this statement calling for justice.
The struggle of the NREGA is regularly chronicled at Nrega.net.in. NREGA, the world’s largest rural employment guarantee scheme, recently completed five years.
Continue reading The Murder of Niyamat Ansari
Guest post by RUCHI GUPTA
Subverting Democracy 
It took 47 days of a protest sit-in in Jaipur to make the State budge. It’s notable that the objective of this protracted protest wasn’t to coerce the government for an extra share of State resources but to hold the government accountable to the Constitution and its own laws. The protest, “mazdoor haq satyagraha” was staged by workers employed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to demand enforcement of their constitutional right to earn minimum wage. Even now after some initial encouraging signs, the matter seems to have stalled. Continue reading Democracy and the Politics Around NREGA: Ruchi Gupta
Current media discussions about Lalgarh seem to miss out one crucial fact: Till less than a month ago, it was not a Maoist fortress, but a place where a fascinating experiment with a new kind of democratic politics was being undertaken. Maoists were certainly present, but they were constrained to go along with the mood inside Lalgarh, as earlier posts on Kafila have pointed out. This mood was certainly not one of forming ‘dalams’ or squads of roving Maoist guerillas. In fact, as People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) leader Chhatradhar Mahato told Times of India a couple of days ago, ‘if the state government had done even 10 percent of what we have done, the situation would have been very different.’ Continue reading Requiem for a Movement
At the heart of all peoples’ rights work is the individual – as the person at risk of human rights abuses, as the survivor, as the partner in the defense of rights, and as the activist speaking out, and working with and for other individuals. Individuals, as part of the political, social and cultural collective and spread over the length and breadth of the country, lie behind much of the activism of Indian social-political groups, working at local, grassroots and community levels in India today. They try to change lives by acting on their own or with other people and political groups making the same demand – an end to injustice in all its forms.
These individuals are increasingly at risk in India today. We have witnessed the killings at regular intervals of activists like Safdar Hashmi, Shankar Guha Niyogi, Satyendra Dubey, Sarita and Mahesh, S. Manjunath, Mahendra Singh and Chandra Shekhar in the past two decades. We have had a series of cases of arrest and detention of people like Dr. Binayak Sen and T. G. Ajay. At a time when the patterns of human rights abuses against rights activists are becoming widespread and showing signs of further deterioration, with the governments showing their apathy, we need to draw attention to the situation, point to the concrete failures of the governments to live up to their obligations, and plan on some concrete actions, so that the human rights activists can carry out their important work free from attacks, fear or reprisals. Continue reading Individuals at Risk