Our work on the Right to Food Campaign and ensuring the smooth functioning of the PDS in Mokhada led us to ask a very basic question – why should people have to migrate for work in the first place?
Migration is one of the core causes for the incidence of malnutrition in Mokhada. When people migrate, they either leave their children in the care of someone else or take them along with them. In the process, children are denied access to nutrition and parents too are unable to claim their quota of food under the PDS. While we were able to address the latter (by ensuring that families who have migrated can either collect 3 months of ration in advance or get their names registered at the place they have migrated to) the core issue of migration still remained.
People in Mokhada migrate because of lack of work opportunities – in order to survive and earn a decent livelihood families migrate to neighbouring tehsils and cities.
We decided to demand for what people are entitled to –work.
The NREGA was introduced in the year 2006 and in Thane district in 2008. After a thorough reading of the Act we began mobilising people to demand for work under the NREGA. In 2009-10 Mokhada registered the highest number of jobs taken up under the Act!
Demanding for work under the NREGA is a lengthy process. After understanding it ourselves, we began training people to ensure they received what was due to them. Right from Registration of names, getting a job card, ensuring that full wages are paid after the muster is closed, reading of the muster after a work has been completed, ensuring that unemployment allowance is paid in case of no works taken up – the people were mobilised to do it all with our support. But muster reading came with its own set of problems.
The people realised that the muster had names of deceased people, names of teachers, anganwadi workers etc – lakhs of rupees would be siphoned off under these false names. The reading of the muster brought to light the gross corruption in the distribution of wages. We thus began a close monitoring of the implementation of the NREGA in Mokhada. A joint muster reading was done along with the Tehsildar for a period of 45 days. This is where we went head long into conflict with the authorities. Things were all good till we were seen as a an organisation that brought money into the taluka, but there was severe discontent when we started questioning where this money went!
But we were relentless in our pursuit of justice. In Beriste , during a muster reading it was realised that the names of 496 people were not on the muster! Vivek Pandit ( Member of Legislative Assembly and founder of Shamajeevi Sanghatana and Vidhayak Sansad has worked tirelessly on issues related to bonded labor, marginal farmers, tribals and many other issued related to the empowerment of the marginalised) helped raise this issue in the State Legislative Assembly. This created a stir, a Committee of 20 MLAs was formed which visited Mokhada and reviewed the situation. The culprits were identified and suspended. The payment however, is yet to be made.
But this incident made the local authorities realise one thing – that we were capable of taking up issues till the highest authority in the state. They were now wary of us.
People of Mokhada now had faith in us. They realised their power and worth. A gradual power shift began. People started questioning authorities who they never had the courage to even talk to. Groups of people would go to the Tehsildars office to demand their rights. For the past two years, groups of people have been going on their own… with very limited support from us just in the form of drafting letters.
A major outcome of our work on the NREGA was Aroehan being recognised as an authority on the Act. The Government of Maharashtra appointed Aroehan as one of the agencies to facilitate the Social Audit process in the state. CTARA (Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas – IIT, Bombay) assisted Aroehan in actual measurement of works completed as well as provided related technical support during the audits. The Aroehan team was allocated Raigad, Wardha, Buldhana, Jalna and Sangli to conduct the Audit. We covered 15 Zillas spread from Vidarbha to the Kokan.
We realised that it was not enough just working on the NREGA – a more holistic approach needed to be employed. Governance is an overarching issue that cuts through all aspects of our work, be it Health, livelihood, Education etc. Detailed study of the existing schemes was conducted and the information was shared at the ground level. People were made aware of what they were entitled to.
Access to information is a big challenge not just for us but even the local government in Mokhada. We had to keep ourselves updated of all the latest General Resolutions (GRs) so that people would benefit from their appropriate implementation. Very often , Aroehan staff had latest GRs with them even before the tehsildars office !
During one such study of the Gram Panchayat Act 2004 we came across the provision of the formation of Pada Samitis and the power of the Gram Panchayat to add names of people omitted in the BPL list. We began work on the activation and formation of Pada Samities and other statutory committees – that gave voice to the people. The strengthening of these committees has led to us exiting from 3 villages in Mokhada !! The ultimate goal of community organisation.
Our work on Governance in Mokhada is really clear cut – we are merely bringing to light existing laws of the land, making people aware of their basic rights and supporting them in all possible ways to attain these rights.