Chhindwada told candidates
thirty-odd villages in Madhya Pradesh used the recent assembly elections to press an unusual demand: increase the number of employment days under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (nrega) from 100 to 150.
Twenty-eight villages in Saunsar tehsil in Chhindwada district asked the candidates vying for assembly seats to include the demand in their election manifesto, while two villages--Maidi and Mogra--threatened to boycott the polls unless they received an assurance from candidates. They cast votes only after the sitting mla, Nana Mohod, said nrega is a Central issue and could not be handled at his level. An outcome of the demand was that all candidates discussed the issue with villagers, instead of mouthing platitudes.
The demand was first raised by five villages--Partapur, Bairagadh, Bhilapar, Sardoni and Sawarni--in July 2008 following a spurt in food prices. This year, the wage under nrega was raised from Rs 79 to Rs 85 per day, but due to rising food price people's purchasing power fell, said Sangeeta Patil of Sardoni. Each of the five villages calculated a family's food requirements, prices of commodities, quantities required and the minimum wage needed to meet the needs, said Chandrakala Parteti of Swarni. Then they compared notes. "We found that guaranteed employment for 100 days, if properly implemented, earns a family Rs 8,500 a year. But the survival need of a family of five is Rs 14,000-15,000," said Padmakar Thakre of Bairagadh. To meet this requirement, 150 days of guaranteed employment to one member of a family is a must, decided the villagers.
A resolution to this effect was passed by the gram sabhas in August 2008. The demand was subsequently submitted to the tehsil panchayat samiti and the district collectorate, but neither responded.
According to J S Bhadoria, assistant project officer, nrega, Chhindwada, employment under the act is a policy matter. "Even in a labour crunch situation, over 100 days of employment cannot be provided to one family unless there is a policy change at the Centre," said Bhadoria. But the villagers are upbeat and say they will continue to campaign. Saunsar tehsil residents already have a feather in their cap for bringing the entire district under the nrega cover.
"Our demand is based on a realistic need analysis. People in the state have realized this," said Thakre. "Today, 25 villages in one tehsil have backed us, and we are receiving inquiries from other tehsils. The campaign will certainly receive widespread support. It may take time, but we will succeed."
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