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Struggle for ‘work for all’ and ‘pensions for all elderly’

16 Dec

Dear Saathis at the Kam Mango Abhiyan (KMA) and the Pension Parishad (PP),

I am writing this mail to you to point out a sad overlap in the struggle for ‘work for all’ and ‘pensions for all elderly’. While the Kam Mango Abhiyan padyatras were happening in Katihar, several of our pad yatra teams would call in saying that what do we do when elderly who get social security pension apply for work? With a meager pension of Rupees 200/300 and no other support system our elderly have no option but to work at MNREGA worksite. They really want this work and so we advised that irrespective of age we help people get work and job cards.

We are sharing stories of some of these elderly who applied for job cards and work, and do not even get the Rupees 200 because they are categorized as APL. These stories were put together by Shomira, a young student from Delhi University who was part of the KMA in Katihar (Bihar).

At this time having viable pensions for all elderly is much needed and it is in this context that over 200 elderly are sitting in the cold in Delhi on a dharna with these very relevant demands.

Best wishes

Kamayani

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[2013 update] Bringing justice to Ram Thakur

22 Oct

Ram Kumar Thakur, a lawyer and RTI activist was shot dead in Ratnauli village of Muzaffarpur district on 23rd March. No arrests have been made in well over three months. He had been actively raising the issue of corruption in his village, Ratnauli, for the last few years, including filing a number of RTI applications on the implementation of the MNREGA and IAY. Most recently, Ram Kumar had filed a case with the State Vigilance Commission on the installation of solar lights under the MNREGA raising questions on the allocation of money under the project and alleged mismanagement of funds by the Mukhiya, Raj Kumar Sahni.

Had the police and administration taken notice of Ram Kumar’s repeated appeal for protection, against perpetrators of violence that were well known to the police and the administration, Ram Kumar Thakur would still be alive. He is succeeded by his wife, two daughters and a son.

Ram Kumar was also an associate of the Bihar MNREGA Watch, which has been spear heading an unprecedented mobilization of workers in Ratnauli panchayat, and has in the past years spread to other blocks of Muzaffarpur district. JJSS has been actively supporting Sanjay Sahni and others of Bihar MNREGA Watch to raise their voices for securing entitlements under MNREGA and the national and state pension schemes for close to two years through public meetings, demonstrations and application filing. JJSS team members were part of the initial fact finding team and we have been actively bringing up the issue of delayed justice at various forums.

[2013 update] Compassion: Blanket drive in the winter and the disability certification camp in Araria

22 Oct

What is the relationship between sangathan and compassion? Vibhore, an active volunter, has been asking this question for a long time. Given the precarious financial situation of our saathis, we are inundated by the news of life-impacting situations everyday. From roofs in urgent need of repairs before the rainy season to life-threatening diseases, the list is endless and overwhelming. But we keep trying our best, and the stories below are two of many examples that show our spirit to help is as strong as the spirit to fight for our rights.

Blanket drive in the winter

Last winter, we distributed around 300 blankets to landless laborers in Araria district, primarily elderly men and women without anyone to look after. It was triggered by the observation of JJSS karyakarta Arvind who noticed that many of our saathis did not have any protection against the cold, which hit record lows last year. He had shared this with Anivesh, a Delhi University (DU) student and JJSS volunteer, who in-turn reached out to his family and arranged for 100 blankets to be shipped to Araria. When we started distributing the same using local committees to identify the neediest, we realized that there are many more. We raised additional funds and distributed 200 more. All our saathis stepped-up and went beyond their own needs to find the most deserving recipients with some paperwork to back the distribution. The cold harsh winter felt a bit warmer because of this act of compassion of all our saathis.

Participating in the disability certification camp in Araria

On 14th May 2013 there was a camp organized by the Araria block office for on-the-spot processing of disability certificates. Beneficiaries were being given a yellow card after examination by the orthopedic doctor in attendance, all free of cost. But the Primary Health Centre (PHC) worker responsible for issuing the cards decided to sell the blank cards for Rs. 50 each. This heart wrenching incident of making money from the weakest and disabled section of our society only stopped after the intervention of JJSS karyakartas. We made him apologize and return part of his ‘earnings’ as fine, but questions about who else was involved, what was their percentage cut (pc), and how there is no respite for the poor continued to remain with us.

So, on the 2nd day of the camp, we reached the block office at 10am, only to find a crowd and no PHC staff. For the next two hours, we helped complete the forms that people had purchased for Rs. 10 from the nearby shops. Not having any information other than what they had heard from the local panchayats and intermediaries, many had come for orthopedic disability, for which no doctor was available that day. The rest had come for eye, speech, hearing, and mental disabilities. Eventually, when the PHC staff came, they informed that only eye doctor was available. So, all the forms had to be rechecked and only eye related were retained. The rest were sent back with neither assurance nor any concern for their time and money wasted due to Government’s inefficiency.

Meanwhile, controlling the crowd full of middlemen was a difficult task, but by reading out names, proactively disseminating information, and forming queues, we were able to get them organized. The entire process was quite cumbersome and the staff routinely lost interest in the process. So, we kept pitching-in and by the end of the day, 163 applications had been fully processed and cards issued. Even the PHC staff remarked that they had never achieved more than 100 cards in a day, showing that a lot is possible with bit of organization. But the number of unnecessary applications with zero disability accounted for over 50% of the cards, which showed that government has managed to turn ordinary hard-working people into desperate and dependent benefit-seekers.

[2013 update] Accounts And Upcoming Events

22 Oct

Accounts

Audited accounts for the year ending 31st March 2013 (please see here)

Unaudited Accounts for 1st April, 2013 to 17th October, 2013:

Expenditure head Amount in Rs.
Travel 22459
communication 20559
office 9185
photocopy 5260
printing 33673
mazdoor mela 21610
food 16746
awareness 21466
honorarium 119615
pub meeting 1600
stationery 693
natak workshop 8048
loan returned from 2012-13 50000
rozgar sammelan, bhopal ** 34200
misc 365
ncpri state convention ** 17000
video and photo * 6500
honorarium for BMW saathi* 52000
Total Expenditure 440979
available funds (cash and in bank) 250,000

** donations for these events were raised seperately from those raised for the JJSS.
* these and other small expenses were covered for the Bihar MNREGA Watch (BMW), Muzaffarpur from the 60,000 rupees donation received specifically for the BMW.

Upcoming Events

  • Karyakarni meeting of the JJSS in Araria on 26th and 27th October, 2013. Please see invite here
  • 25th November 2013 – Pension Parishad one month sit-in to start in Jantar Mantar, Delhi.
  • November 2013 – Kam Maango Abhiyan in Katihar district as part of the initiative of the PAG (Programme Advisory Group), set up by the Central Government. The PAG has been set up to revive the NREGA across the country, Ashish and kamayani (of the JJSS) are part of National Resource Groups created as part of the PAG.
  • November-December 2013: Social Audit of Mid Day Meal scheme in Bihar. An initiative of the Central Government and SSAT (AP) of which JJSS is one of the support organisations in Bihar.
  • 2nd February, 2014 – Nation wide mobilisation of the Rashtriya Mazdoor Adhikar Morcha, in Delhi on the poor state of NREGA. The Morcha was formed after the first national convention of the Rozgar Guarantee Sangharsh manch in Bhopal from 18-20th September, 2013. JJSS has been active int he formation of the Manch and hopes that it will be able to build workers’ representatives to take up their own issues. An important slogan from the convention which also goes with the JJSS thinking was “jiska mudda uski ladai, jiski ladai uski aguvaee”.

[2013 update] Mobilization for universal pension

22 Oct
PP JJSS cultural team

JJSS cultural team at the Pnesion Parishad Dharna

The elderly from across the country have been assembling at Jantar Mantar during every parliament session since April 2012 to demand universal pension that would enable the elderly in our country to live with dignity. In a first for the JJSS, over 1000 JJSS members and supporters boarded 4 different trains to Delhi to join a national protest organised by the Pension Parishad on 6th March, 2013. Moving saathis in such large numbers from Araria and Katihar to Delhi required a lot of coordination at our end. Given the 24 hour journey and lack of adequate number of trains, four groups were created that traveled to/from Delhi in a batched mode. Necessary instructions and identity cards were distributed to all participants. While saathis carried their rations for the trip to Delhi and their stay there, 1000 dry ration packets were made in Delhi for their journey back, by local volunteers with the help of NAPM that arranged for dry ration contribution.

PP

Baba Adhav addressing the gathering of over fifteen thousand people.

Over 15000 elderly persons from 26 states assembled on this day at the Parliament Street to demand some assurance from the Government. Hon. Minister for Rural Development, Shri Jairam Ramesh responded to Comrade Raja’s and Shri Hussain Dalwai’s questions in parliament and assured the house that he would come back to parliament in five weeks with a restructured National Social Assistance Programme that includes pensions for the elderly, the differently-abled, and single women. Hon. Minister then came to Parliament Street and addressed the gathering.

last PP protest

A cross section of gathering. JJSS saathis made the gathering colourful with their flags !

During the budget session, on March 6, 2013 The ripples from Delhi reached Rajasthan where the Government issued a set of GRs on April 1, that made pensions near universal. The Rajasthan government commenced an enrolment campaign and many hundreds of thousands of the elderly have already started getting pension.  However, the Minister did not keep his promise! the promise and the restructured pension scheme has not yet been tabled in parliament. To remind him and also to send a message to the Hon. Members of Parliament from other states that they must Act to protect the weakest sections of the population, the elderly who have spent their working lives contributing to the economy, it has been decided that representatives from different states will sit on a indefinite sit-in from 25th November, a team of 30 to 40 members will be headed from Bihar.

[2013 update] The center takes shape

22 Oct
2013-05-24 16.56.36 JJSS centre

Ranjay and others mouting the roof of the hall. Tanveer and Ranjay, our long time saathis, have been instrumental in making it possible.

The JJSS has been talking about the need to politicise its members, to talk about issues other than NREGA and other survival issues which would help us understand and form a common articulation on the issues of caste, class, gender and religion. Each such effort has been in the form of meetings, held in rented spaces, sometimes with the rent reduced or written off. The plan to have a space of our own finally has taken some shape with our centre, in Araria. Built on 5 katthas (abt 4000 sq feet of land) the centre has three hutments, one being a kaccha hall that can accommodate about 200 people.

2013-05-17 17.40.09 JJSS centre

Local “Mistri” building the roof. Material as well as the labour is all local.

It all started with Madhulika and Ashutosh Swami giving us the right to use 50% of their land to build a centre, till we find better options, without having to pay rent. Ashish, a key supporter and volunteer of the JJSS put in another 3 lakh 15 thousand rupees for the construction and Vibhore pitched in with 30000 rupees, and we now have a physical space to further strengthen our nirmaan and sangharsh work.

Details of construction expenditure:

Expense category Amount
Hand Pump 6799
Boundary 66990
Machaan 17425
Hall 161690
Rasoi and Room 10590
Toilet 29810
Bathroom foundation 11225
Mitti Bharai 28950
miscellaneoous use of bricks 3000
500 bricks lying on campus
 Total Expenditure 336479
JJSScentre-1

Center is situated about 3 Km from the main town and sometime you can get a view of the Himalayas if you look up north.

[2013 update] Fight for minimum wage in Bihar

22 Oct

On 26th March, the Bihar government released a circular lowering the MNREGA wage from Rs 144 to Rs 138 per day with effect from 1st April 2013. Workers and peasants, who were already facing the blow of delayed payments in MNREGA, were shocked. It was beyond comprehension. How can any Government reduce wages? Nonetheless, it had happened. Bihar Government blamed the Central Government and pleaded innocence for paying Rs. 138.

JJSS started its struggle against this anti-poor measure in three pronged way:

  1. Mobilisation of workers against the reduction
  2. Petition and meeting with all political parties demanding their attention including the ministers and senior officials
  3. Challenging the decision in the Patna High Court
minimumwage_1

Vinay Kantha, Sudha Varghese, Kapileshwar Ram and other supporters at the Minimum Wage meeting in Patna

2nd May mobilization in Patna: JJSS and NAPM organised a one day discussion in Patna on 2nd May. The idea was to highlight the issue in Patna amongst political parties, trade unions and civil society and to register a strong protest against the move.  A strong contingent of more than 250 workers from Araria, Katihar and Muzaffarpur (MNREGA watch saathis) joined us and made the discussion extremely fruitful and relevant. The meeting was well attended by Left Party Unions. Other political parties promised to attend, but did not turn up. Jiten Paswan of JJSS set the tone of the meeting by his moving song “rahiye na mazoor na mangihe mazdoori, chalwa da ye nitish gardaniye pe choori” (Nitish, slit throat of all the workers with knife – once dead they will not ask for their wages”). Dhirendra Jha of AIALA, Com. Mishra of CPI were prominent representatives of the left unions.

mayday_2013_2

Ranjit Paswan, Secretary, JJSS, talking about the importance of minimum wage

Meeting with Political Parties: JJSS, NAPM, and PAEG started the campaign against the lowering of wages by first sending a letter to the Chief Minister and the Rural Development Minister. Ashish of JJSS had found out that the decision to lower the wage was taken at the highest level (through the use of the RTI) and it could be overturned only by the Chief Minister. We came to know through people in the government that the chief minister was not willing to take back the decision. Thus, we decided to meet representatives of all political parties to make them aware of the issue and ask them to support this struggle. Most sympathised with the cause and assured us that they will make it a political issue. We also invited them to the 2nd meeting. Most agreed to come, but only Left party leaders attended the meeting on 2nd.

Meeting with the Chief Minister: On July 2nd, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey were part of an NCPRI meeting organised to initiate the state level processes to build a vibrant network for the RTI. We took this opportunity to meet Nitish Kumar. Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Kamayani Swami, and Ashish Ranjan met the chief minister and talked about various issues groups were facing  in MNREGA, murder of RTI activist Ram Kumar Thakur, Social Audit directorate etc. We heard from the chief minister that the decision to increase the MNREGA wages had been taken and the govt will pay Minimum wage to MNREGA workers.  We were thrilled to know this and thanked for a very progressive decision.  We appreciated the fact that Bihar is the first state to take this principled stand of paying minimum wage in MNREGA.

Bihar went through a political turmoil in between as the alliance between JD(U) and BJP broke. We were apprehensive if the decision would come through. However, we were glad to hear the announcement that NREGA wage rate would be made Rs. 162 in the assembly by the CM  on 19th June, 2013 . In fact, the CM compared the minimum wage of Bihar with other states, particularly Gujarat, and stated that Bihar was much ahead! The final notice of the wage rate was however issued on 24th July, 2013. JJSS rejoiced and said that victories in such battles makes us feel that we  are part of this democracy!