Lives and Lifelines
Making MGNREGA work
for the last person

The world's largest job guarantee intervention, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which came into force in 2006, mandates that every rural household gets 100 days of work in a year. It was designed to address chronic poverty by creating productive assets on the ground and empowering the rural poor, the majority of whom belong to socially excluded communities.
The actual implementation of this intervention, however, is fraught with challenges of discrimination, lack of accountability and poor planning. For Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme (PACS), the MGNREGA is one of its key thematic areas. PACS is working on this issue in partnership with civil society organisations in 25 districts of Bihar and Jharkhand in terms of generating work demand, helping community organisations conduct social audits and building a process of community resource mapping. In this special series, Women's Feature Service brings you fascinating stories of change and challenge from these districts.

Tharu Tribal Women Discover Change Through MGNREGA

When about a dozen Tharu tribal women of Manguraha village in West Champaran district of Bihar did not get their wages for work done under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), they did the unthinkable – they got the local Panchayat Rozgar Sahayak (PRS) official transferred, albeit just for one day. Their dues had been pending for over a year-and-a-half as the officer under whom they had done the canal de-silting job was transferred and there was no one to follow up on their dues. Faced with official apathy, the women sought help from the Samagra Shikshan Evam Vikas Sansthan (SSEVS), a local civil society organisation. For a bureaucratic tangle, a bureaucratic solution was worked out. The PRS official was transferred for one day to complete the records enabling her successor to process the payments. This problem would never have come to light or addressed if the Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme (PACS) had not taken the lead in organising a social audit – along with SSEVS – of the world’s largest employment guarantee scheme. Click to read full story

Despite the delay in wages, the Tharu women are ready for more work because, “we find that it leads to village development as a lot of work gets done. Also, we are able to find jobs within the village itself”.

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A Guarantee That Turned Daily Wager Jamna Das's Life Around
By Rahul Kumar

For a long time, Jamna Das from Ferozi village in Bihar's Jehanabad district had lived in penury, barely able to make ends meet as a daily wager toiling on the lands of others. His hard work often went unpaid or underpaid, as he did not even have the confidence to demand the money that was due to him. Life changed for him when he got access to work under the government's Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), thanks to the concerted activism by CADAM, a local organisation. Things have slowly been looking up for both him and his family. Last year, CADAM joined hands with the Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) programme, which had launched a campaign that brought together civil society organisations, elected representatives, district officials and socially excluded communities to understand the workings of MGNREGA and get work under it. Das, who belongs to the deprived Musahar community, now has a job card, knows how to demand work, can calculate his wages and has a bank account where his money is credited. Click to read full story

"I can measure the digging that I have done, calculate it on the basis of the rates that have been fixed and ask for the money that is due to me."

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Learning To Demand MGNREGA Work: Bhil Tribals Show The Way
By Naseeb Khan and Sonal Kellogg

Madhya Pradesh's Jhabua district is home to a sizeable population of Bhil adivasis even though their large numbers have never given this community a strong voice when it comes to demanding their basic rights or accessing government schemes. In the remote rural pockets of the district, these tribals continue to face rough times plagued by extreme poverty, illiteracy and the ill-effects of forced migration. Until a few months back, a visit to Nad village, which falls in the Kalapan Gram Panchayat of Ranapur block in Jhabua, would have clearly reflected this unfortunate reality. Today, however, it is an altogether different scenario because of the proper implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in the area. And it all started when the Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme (PACS) joined hands with the Adivasi Chetna Shikshan Seva Samiti, a local civil society organisation, for an awareness campaign to empower the people of this largely inaccessible hamlet. Click to read full story

"We gave them all the necessary information regarding MGNREGA and explained to them that they had every right to demand work. We also told them that in case work was not given they could ask for an unemployment allowance."

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Eight Years After MGNREGA, Ratni Village Wakes Up To Its Benefits

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) may have enabled many villages across India to deal with chronic poverty by ensuring 100 days of paid work to every rural household in a year, but in Ratni - a small hamlet of 150 households located in the border district of West Champaran, Bihar - the levels of destitution and illiteracy were so high that the local people, the majority of whom are tribals, had only heard of MGNREGA but had no idea of how to go about seeking work under the scheme. Change came to Ratni in the form of the MGNREGA Abhiyan initiated by the Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme (PACS) to create awareness about the employment programme. Last year, PACS's partner in the region, the Samagra Shikshan Evam Vikas Sansthan (SSEVS), began raising awareness about the MGNREGA by visiting every household in Ratni. Today, the scenario is entirely different. Armed with their newly acquired job cards, the people of Ratni - led by women - are preparing development plans and building assets like ponds and a crucial bridge in the village.
Click to read full story

Says Ward Panch and Lok Sangharsh Samiti head, Bahuniya Devi, "This is a very good development. We are all working for our own welfare and also getting paid for it."

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Santhal Tribals Put Khijri On The National Map
By Sonal Kellogg

One tribal village in Jharkhand has been able to prevent delays in getting MGNREGA job cards, work and wages, thanks to a unique campaign, the MGNREGA Abhiyan, launched by the Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) programme, in partnership with local civil society organisations, in the two states of Bihar and Jharkhand. This is the story of Khijri Panchayat, whose Mukhiya Nandlal Hansda was recently awarded the President’s medal for running an effective rural job guarantee programme. Click to read full story

“We ensured that all those who worked under MGNREGA were promptly paid as per the work they had undertaken.”

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Jobs Plus Assets Equals A Brighter Future
By Pranav P. Das

What is striking about the rural jobs guarantee intervention in rural Jharkhand is that most people here are using it not just to gain employment but to create permanent assets for themselves. In fact, according to the MGNREGA ombudsman in the state, 90 per cent of work undertaken under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act is in digging wells. These wells, in turn, have been transforming local farming practices. Whereas earlier farmers would wait for the monsoon to irrigate their fields - often with disastrous results if the rains fail - now with a permanent source of water they can consider going in for multiple crops. This also means that local farmers like Somra Oraon and Mura Khariya can now be more optimistic about the future. Click to read full story

" All those, including me, who had worked to dig the well got remuneration under MGNREGA. Now that the well is dug, I have plenty of water to grow any crop or vegetable I feel like. "

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A Well Of One's Own: Job Guarantee As Life Guarantee
By Pranav P. Das

In Gumla, a small district in Jharkhand, ordinary tribal villagers are now demonstrating how the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) can be made into an instrument of economic as well as social transformation through awareness raising and information delivery. People like Dhuran Oraon and Sita Devi, who joined forces with other families in their Suwargurha village to construct a well that everyone in the village could access, including tribals and the scheduled castes. Then there's also young Budhnath Khariya, who has just realised that the job guarantee intervention can also be a way of mobilising the community to assert its rights. Click to read full story

" What I earned was not a big amount but it gave me the satisfaction of being an earning member in the family, apart from my husband! "

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On MGNREGA, One Panchayat Proves That More Eyes Means Better Vision
By Sonal Kellogg

How is the world's largest rural jobs guarantee programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MGNREGA) faring? Not so well, if we are to go by the evidence that surfaced at a recent public meeting and social audit conducted in the Berama panchayat of Bihar's conflict prone Jehanabad district. Not being paid wages was a very common complaint that surfaced. Money was being made by vested interests on things as trivial as the photograph that was needed to be fixed on a job card. Every MGNREGA site in the Berama panchayat lacked facilities like drinking water and shelter, both of which are legal requirements. Not surprisingly, not one of these sites had a crèche - a provision that is vital for women workers with small children. What did emerge through this exercise, however, was that for the poorest of the poor, for India's most marginalised communities, the MGNREGA continues to be of immense importance. Click to read full story

So deep was their involvement that when the skies opened up and it started to rain no one moved away. The shamiana proved to be poor protection against the elements and it collapsed, but the testimonies carried on.

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