Sunny Sebastian

Activists also opposed to use of JCB machines

Hundreds of protesting villagers march towards the Chief Minister’s residence

JAIPUR: The Gehlot government’s honeymoon with activist groups seems to be nearing its end with their growing frustration over the lackadaisical approach of authorities to the transparency clause in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).

Though among the best in the country in the implementation of the scheme, Rajasthan has seemingly gone back on its commitment — at least for the time being — to carry out regular social audits, for which the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has an inbuilt provision.

There are visible manifestations of the growing unease among the activist groups — whose activities, even though by default, once formed the mainstay of the Congress campaign against the BJP leadership in Rajasthan — over the government’s “soft” approach towards those who have ganged up on the process of social audits.

The breaking point appeared to be the government’s decision early this month to call off social audits in each of the selected single panchayats in 16 districts.

A rally by the ‘Rozgar Evum Suchana Ka Adhikar Abhiyan’ (the campaign for right to information and employment) against the official stand was held on Tuesday.

Hundreds of villagers, including a large number of women, tried to march towards the Civil Lines residence of the Chief Minister.

“This is an attempt to caution the government. If it chooses to listen to us, this is the time. Hereafter our ways will be different,” Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy said addressing the marchers. “Let us make it clear. We will not sit quiet on social audits. Streets do not deter us,” she said.

The rally was addressed by a number of social activists, besides Communist Party of India leaders Dushyant Ojha and Nisha Siddhu.

The speakers challenged Mr. Gehlot’s stand on the use of JCB machines and his insistence on permanent works; and the argument that there could be many ways other than social audits to end corruption. “The social audits are the best method to end corruption and bring in transparency,” said Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan.

The government did not implement its own April 20 order asking village functionaries to put up information boards on the job scheme. And there was no follow-up on the anomalies unearthed in last month’s model social audit carried out in Bhilwara, Mr. Dey noted.

“We are upset about the whole situation and that is the reason behind our protest rally in Jaipur,” noted an open letter by Mrs. Roy to Mr. Gehlot, written a day before the rally. The letter reminded him of the reference to “social dialogues” in the Hind Swaraj, written by Mahatma Gandhi a century ago.

“The authorities have invoked the name of Mahatma Gandhi to rename the scheme MGNREGA. Our request to you would be to ban the use of JCBs in NREGS in the light of the stand Gandhiji had on machines which replaced people,” she said.

The NREGS was essentially an employment scheme and JCB machines did not have any role in it. The letter reminded Mr. Gehlot that the works under the scheme could be either “kutcha” or “pucca” but they should be carried out in a transparent and accountable manner with the authorities showing administrative will power.

Both Mr. Gehlot and Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Bharat Singh met a delegation led by Mrs. Roy and Renuka Pamecha on the day of the protest.

“It is not the court which has stopped the social audit but the lathi-wielding anti-social elements. The paradox is that the crowds which attacked and chased away those engaged in social audits included government employees as well as elected representatives,” the delegation said in a memorandum submitted to Mr. Gehlot.

“Mr. Gehlot has promised to keep the dialogue on. While he is committed on social audits, he sounded less convinced on the need to avoid use of JCBs. We hope he will soon initiate steps to revive the social audit programme, left unfinished in 16 panchayats due to opposition from vested interests. There should be action against such elements,” Mrs. Roy told The Hindu after her meeting with Mr. Gehlot.