It’s a quarter past seven in the morning in the small village of Khandapur in Latur district. In the small window of time before the pleasant morning sun turns into unforgiving heat, a small group of people are gathered in a street next to the gram panchayat office.
A group of volunteers from the Yogendra Yadav-led Swaraj Abhiyan, along with other fraternal organisations, are addressing the gathering. This is the second day of the Jal Har Padyatra, a 10-day march that started on Saturday from Sonwati village in Latur.
The judgment The yatra will cover the drought-hit regions of Marathwada and Bundelkhand to inform people about their rights, especially following the May 13 Supreme Court judgment that lays down directions for States on providing relief to those affected by drought.
In Khandapur, the Swaraj Abhiyan volunteers ask if the schools are continuing with the mid-day meal scheme through the summer holidays. The crowd says ‘no’. The volunteers then ask if they know that according to the SC, anyone, regardless of whether s/he has a ration card, is entitled to get wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and rice at Rs. 3 a kg. Many seem confused. Again, the volunteers ask how many people have work cards for employment in the MNREGA. Only a few hands tentatively go up, though by this time, the crowd has grown in size.
Each village presents its own picture of the ground realities of drought relief. “There seem to be gaps in the PDS system in many places but the one uniform thing throughout is that there is a huge failure of MNREGA,” Mr. Yadav says. “Which is a shame because Maharashtra’s scheme was what the MNREGA, was modelled on,” he adds.
Alerting stakeholders At another public meeting on Saturday night at Ganganagar village, Mr. Yadav asks the huge crowd if they were willing to work under MNREGA. “Many people tell me that you people are not willing to work because the pay is just Rs. 190 a day. Is that true?” he asks. The response is loud boos and protestations, especially by the women, who say they would indeed appreciate the work. “Then why do so few of you have MNREGA work cards when the official list says there are over 350 holders in this village?” continues Mr. Yadav. Again, there is a confused silence.
Following the public meeting in Khandapur the volunteers are faced with a deluge of complaints — from wanting to know how to get MNREGA cards to complaints of not getting rations at the promised rate.
Mr. Yadav and his team guide the villager towards a volunteer who takes down their names and helps with applications for MNREGA cards. He explains that once they have the card, it is the government’s responsibility to provide them employment within 14 days.
Social vigilance “We will keep vigil at Delhi and with the Supreme Court but it is your job to keep vigil here. If the government doesn’t deliver then inform us and we will go to the Supreme Court again,” he tells them.
Forming a group of concerned citizens is crucial not just to ensure delivery of services but also, Mr Yadav admits, to build a base for Swaraj Abhiyan in the Marathwada region.
Six months ago, Swaraj Abhiyan and its volunteers came to Latur as part of their journey from Karnataka to Haryana to assess the drought situation across the country. The team wrote letters to many State governments informing them of their findings. When that did not work, they filed a Public Interest Litigation that led to the May 13 verdict that Swaraj Abhiyan is now discussing with villagers.
“We try not to get too technical with what we discuss. We highlight the issues that matter to people,” Mr. Yadav says.
The padyatra, he explains, was timed to happen two weeks after the verdict to see if State governments had acted on any of the points.