Jan Jagaran Abhiyan uses the MGNREGS to mobilize and empower villagers in Bihar

The following note is an update on and appeal for support for the Jan Jagran Abhiyan's work on awareness building around NREGA, amongst laborers in Araria district, Bihar

The Jan Jagaran Abhiyan (JJA) is a nascent group working in Araria, towards creating a just and equitable society. It is led by young, committed professionals who are looking to work in the challenging socio-economic context of the state of Bihar.

In it’s endeavour to reach out to the last person, the Abhiyan has found the NREGA a useful tool for mobilization. For a high out-migration district like Araria, the NREGA also promises work within the village and thus saves workers from hazards of an unknown land, gives them a chance to stay back in their village and plan for its development.

GP Kismat Khawaspur (28-12-2008)

  • 2nd February 2009: JJA supporters threatened subtly and not so subtly to stay out of panchayat level mobilizations for NREGA by an assorted group of block and panchayat level elected representatives. Before this on visits to Jamua panchayat similar threats were meted out to them by the local Mukhiya, her husband and supporters. The Jan Jagaran Abhiyan (JJA) a nascent group working in Araria, believes in a just and equitous society. In it’s endeavour to reach out to the last person it has found the NREGA a useful tool for mobilization. For a high out-migration district like Araria the NREGA also promises work in the village and thus saving workers from hazards of an unknown land and giving them a chance to stay back in their village and plan for it’s development.  
  • November 17-21st: Abhiyan carried out it’s first padyatra, focusing on spreading awareness about the NREGA and also motivating workers to apply for work.
  • December 12th, 2008: Post Padyatra workers tried getting their applications received at the GP level, failing which a collective meeting with the PO was conducted on December 12th, 2008. The PO received work and job card applications.
  • December 28th –29th, 2008: Even when the NREGA states that workers demanding work should be given work within 15 days of their demand no works were opened even when the 15 days were over. Given this scenario workers and JJA supporters gathered at the 4 panchayats where they had asked for works with the slogan “kaam nahin to bhatta do”. Rozgar diwas, workers ask for work at GP Sharanpur (29-12-2008)The Rozgar diwas threw up the same results in all 4 panchayats, there was no work to be opened at the GP level. In the meanwhile Abhiyan karyakartas and supporters held panchayat level meetings in three neighbouring panchayats (Bangama, Chikni and Rampur Kodarkatti) where the same twin policy of spreading awareness and motivating workers to ask for work was adopted. Another 15 days passed and still nothing. Feeling that nothing would happen if we kept waiting a large mobilization was planned for 29th January, 2009. Abiyan supporters went around the 8 panchayats where contacts had been made and workers had applied for work.
  • 29th January 2009 - Block level protest: Our primary demands for this block level protest were: 1- Ensuring that work is given to people who demand work. 2- Pay unemployment allowances due to workers. 3- Ensuring that bank/post office accounts are opened in a speedy manner. 4- Till accounts are opened cash payments should be continued and orders issued in this regard. 5- Availability of the PRS at the GP level should be made known to GP residents through public notices. Along with the Rozgar diwas (to be held weekly on Wednesdays in every GP) GP offices need to be open on a daily basis to address the issues related to NREGA at the GP level. 6- Making job cards available with all workers and that the cards are not hoarded by representatives and middlemen. PO (NREGA, Araria block) addressing the gathering The entire proceedings of the event started at around 12 noon. After sharing the contents of the memorandum and presenting the same to the PO, the PO was invited by a delegation of worker representatives from each panchayat, to address the gathered workers and address their demands. To our first demand for work, the PO assured the gathering that even when the PRS were on strike, he would make alternative arrangements and start works, by February 5th, in Panchayats where demand for work was raised. He was however reluctant to receive unemployment allowance applications and refused to do so. To the other demands there were clear assurances but we reached a stalemate since the PO refused to receive the unemployment allowance applications. After hours of negotiations, with failures the PO finally accepted to receive applications for unemployment allowance. A small but significant victory! Since the 29th the events have gone in following manner:
  • 31st January 2009: Work started in Jamua GP, but disrupted by Mukhiya and Mukhiya pati, with their supporters. Next 5 days works opened but each day a new problem is faced like work venue is shifted almost daily, no muster roll is kept on site, workers report for work but are asked to come the next day. Work also started in GP Chikni but stopped after 5 days.
  • 2nd February 2009: A few elected representatives of Araria block convened a meeting, in Araria Dak Bangla, at which a one sided discourse against the activities of the JJA was made by the Jamua Mukhiya.
  • 7th February 2009: So far works proportionate to demand have not been opened in any of the 6 panchayats from where demand has been made and no communication on the unemployment allowance has been received from the administration. We were able to raise this issue of Araria block at a Jan Sunwai on NREGA held in Patna on February 9th, 2009, also attended by the Principal Secretary, Rural Development, Bihar Government. We were disappointed to hear the Principal Secretary say that the district administration had informed him that workers who had applied for work don’t turn up for work when notified. However the silver lining to this dark cloud is that the Secretary also informed us that he did not believe the reporting and would send a team from Patna to look into the matter. So far things look well, given the MP, UP and Jharkhand experience where workers struggles have resulted in granting of unemployment allowance we are optimistic that our struggle will also meet a positive result. But at the same time our priority is to get work, a dire need in this high migration area. Once works open we are also planning to see how quality of works can be improved and useful works done and gram sabhas made functional to ensure this.

About the JJA

The JJA, Araria grew from our involvement in coordinating an intensive survey on National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) initiated by the G.B. Pant Institute (Allahabad University) and Prof. Jean Dreze. The survey was conducted by and focused on assessing the ground realities of in two districts of Bihar, namely Kaimur and Araria. The survey also had related campaign activities like awareness generation, checking if transparency safeguards were in place to check corruption and documentation of irregularities and cases of corruption. Lack of awareness about NREGA entitlements amongst workers is very high and so the survey was a good way to generate awareness to ensure that people know that 100 days of work is a right. As part of checking the transparency safeguards we also did some muster roll verification exercises (kind of social audit) and found a leakage of about 50 % in wages that have been paid. These activities generated a lot of interest amongst local groups and people who are genuinely interested in issues of social change. This interest became the basis of the formation of the 'Jan Jagaran Abhiyan, Araria' which is focusing on NREGA, Right to Information (RTI) and issues of justice.

The Abhiyan does not take institutional funds, for the past six months it has been running on individual donations from friends, supporters and well wishers, if you feel you would like to support our activities, you could send us your contribution in Indian Rupees. The Abhiyan is not a registered organization but we maintain our accounts and issue receipts for the donations we receive.

Our expenses from 5th October to 5th December were given in our last update before this all expenses were voluntary and the Abhiyan made no reimbursements, though for flood relief work we took institutional and individual support (budget for which has already been sent). We will send future accounts updates like the last one from time to time.

You can contact us at:

Ashish and Kamayani

A-5, Siddharth Apartment,
Jagdeo Path,
Off bailey Road, Patna,
Bihar- 14.
ph: 9771950248, 9973363664
Kamayani02@yahoo.com, ashish.ranjanjha@gmail.com

Download the report as a PDF file here - JJA Bihar update & Appeal for support 12.02.09

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