Civil society organizations have repeatedly highlighted instances where panchayats have discriminated against the marginalized while providing work under MGNREGA schemes.

Civil society in association with Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) released a review report assessing the performance of the nine-year-long UPA government and principal opposition party on Wednesday.

Assessing the Centre’s rights based approach, the report reiterates the need to empower beneficiaries of the flagship scheme NREGA.

The Civil Society Review is a collective effort to expedite the development process and decide the future agenda keeping the welfare, priorities and aspirations of the poor and the marginalized in mind.

“For an ambitious demand-driven program such as the MGNREGA to be successful, the intended beneficiaries must have adequate information. This has not happened. Many studies have pointed out that people often do not register for work because they are not aware about the Act’s provisions,” the report stated.

According to the report, by locating decision making for planning and implementation of MGNREGA with Gram Panchayat, the Act ‘intends to promote decentralized democracy’. However, civil society organizations have repeatedly highlighted instances where Panchayats have discriminated against the marginalized while providing work: they have not been provided information and have not been included in the planning process.

Other forms of exclusion include lower wage rates and delays in providing jobs and payment of wages. Women’s participation has been hobbled by inadequate work place facilities.

Additionally, several studies have shown how panchayats become the locus of powerful and dominant groups. These studies show how Dalits, tribals and women are actively discriminated against, their participation in panchayats rendered meaningless, and developmental goods and services appropriated by those at the helm of decision making.

The report recommends that since lack of information and awareness at the village level frustrate the rights-based approach of the Act, it becomes imperative to equip people especially the marginalized with such information.   Gram panchayats should be provided the technical and human resource support they need so that they can play their role in planning and implementing the Act.

More specifically, practices must be evolved at the Panchayat level; ensuring excluded communities can participate in Gram Sabha meetings. Special attention needs to be provided to vulnerable pockets where MNREGA work appears to be the only possible source of employment and income — such as those with high migration or acute landlessness.  

The report was released by Jagadananda, former Information Commissioner of Odisha, Biraj Patnaik, Advisor to Supreme Court Commission on Right to Food, Venkatesh Nayak, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Paul Divakar, Convener, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan and Richa Singh, Co-Convener, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan.

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