ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Struggle for the Right to Employment

Official hostility to social audits of the rural employment guarantee scheme takes an ugly turn in Jharkhand.

 The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) promised the empowerment of the rural masses to demand work as a constitutional right, a ban on contractors and capital-intensive machinery for carrying out works, administra-tive transparency and, most importantly, people’s right to carry out open social audits. But the contractor-official nexus, incensed by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme’s (NREGS) emphasis on people’s rights to demand accountability from such a powerful lobby, has resorted to violence and intimidation. In Jharkhand, this has led to two murders and one suicide in the past three months alone.

On May 14, Lalit Mehta, an activist of the Vikas Sahyog Kendra, was murdered in the Kandra forest a day before a major social audit that he was working on was to take place. Instead of tracking down his killers, the Palamau police and the district administration made every effort to discredit Mehta’s colleagues and the social audits they had done, describing the exercise as a deliberate effort to malign the state government. On June 7, another NREGS activist, Kameshwar Yadav, active in exposing official irregularities, was gunned down in Giridh district. Then on July 8, a tribal, Tapas Soren, impover-ished by the persistent demands of local officials for bribes and un-able to deal with the injustice of it all, committed self-immolation. Local officials constantly demanded bribes to let him have the money sanctioned for a well on his land under the NREGS. Forced to meet their demands, he was unable to pay the workers who were constructing the well, many of them his neighbours andrelatives.

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