Tag Archives: Araria

No relief yet for Pellet Gun injured migrant worker of Araria

19 Jun

कश्मीर में पेलेट की बंदूक़ से चोटिल हुए अररिया के 17वर्षीय मज़दूर को एक महीने बाद भी कोई राहत नहीं

 

 

13 जून 2019 को जन जागरण शक्ति संगठन की एक चार सदस्यीय टीम शाहनवाज़ आलम के गाँव पथराहा, पंचायत घूरना, नरपतगंज प्रखंड (अररिया) गई. ज्ञात हो की अररिया जिला निवासी 17 वर्षीय शाहनवाज़ आलम कश्मीर के पुलवामा जिलामें काम करने गए थे और वहाँ 24 मई को वह स्थानीय लोगों और भारतीय सुरक्षाबलों में हुई एक झड़प में पेलेट गन फायरिंग का शिकार हो गए जिसमें उन्हें काफी चोट आई. टीम के सदस्यों की यह रिपोर्ट शाहनवाज और उनके परिवारजनों से हुई चर्चा के आधार पर लिखी गयी है :

24 मई 2019 को 17 वर्षीय शाहनवाज़ आलम की दुनिया अन्धकारमय हो गयी। बाक़ी दिनों की ही तरह शुक्रवार को दोपहर की नमाज़ के बाद शाहनवाज़ पास ही के बाज़ार से कुछ सामान लेने के लिए रुका। उसी समय कुछ शोर-शराबे की आवाज़ सुनाई दी। एक स्थानीय नेता की हत्या के विरोध में आए लोगों पर भारतीय आर्मी ने गोलीबारी शुरू कर दी। इसी दौरान गोलीबारी रुकने तक शाहनवाज़ पास ही एक गली में छुपा रहा। स्थिति शांत होने पर वह वहाँ से निकला, परंतु अचानक पेलेट की गोलियां फिर से चलने लगी. कुछ पेलेट शाहनवाज़ को भी लगे जिसके दर्द से वह वहीं बेहोश हो कर गिर पड़ा।

यहाँ यह उल्लेख कर दें कि कश्मीर में सुरक्षाबलों को छूट है कि हिंसात्मक तरीकों का इस्तमाल कर सकते हैं. केवल शक के बिनाह पर वह किसी के भी घर में छापा मार सकते हैं, किसी भी व्यक्ति को गिरफ्तार कर सकते हैं और यह इजाज़त उन्हें अफ्स्पा (AFSPA) जैसे कानूनों से मिलती है जो कश्मीर और भारत के कुछ गिने-चुने राज्यों में लागू है. कश्मीर में सुरक्षाबल जिन हिंसात्मक तरीकों का इस्तेमाल करते हैं उनमें से एक है पेलेट की बंदूक़. इस बन्दूक से छोटे-छोटे धातु के टुकड़े निकलते हैं और बन्दुक की एक गोली में करीब 500 टुकड़े होते हैं. जब बंदूक चलती है तो ये 500 टुकड़े हवा में छितर जाते हैं और आस पास की किसी भी वस्तु में छेद कर प्रवेश कर जाते हैं |  भारतीय सुरक्षाबलों द्वारा लगातार ये दावा किया जाता है कि ये बन्दूकें घातक नही हैं, परन्तु इन गोलियों से पिछले कुछ सालों में बहुत सारे लोगों की जाने गयी हैं और सैकड़ों घायल हुए हैं। मानव अधिकारों की जाँच व निगरानी करने वाले कई समूहों जैसे ऐम्नेस्टी इंटर्नैशनल द्वारा इन बंदूक़ों पर पूर्ण रोक लगाने की लगातार माँग की जाती रही है लेकिन भारतीय सुरक्षाबलों द्वारा इसके प्रयोग में कोई कमी नहीं आई है |

उस दिन जब शाहनवाज़  दर्द से बेहोश हो कर सड़क पर गिरा पड़ा था तब कुछ कश्मीरी मज़दूरों ने उसे उठाकर स्थानीय अस्पताल में भर्ती करवा दिया। शाहनवाज़ के परिवार को उसी दिन सूचना दी गयी और उसके बड़े भाई शहवाज (उम्र 20 वर्ष) जो उस वक़्त अररिया, बिहार में थे तुरंत श्रीनगर के लिए रवाना हो गए। शाहवाज़ की शाहनवाज़  से मुलाक़ात श्रीनगर के महाराजा हरी सिंह अस्पताल में हुई। बिहार के एक मजदूर परिवार से आने वाले शाहवाज़ के पास इतने पैसे नहीं थे कि वे अपने भाई, शानावाज़ का ठीक से इलाज करा पाते और इन परिस्थितियों में कश्मीर में रह रहे मजदूर साथियों और मानवाधिकार संस्थानों ने उनकी मदद की. उन दिनों को दोहराते हुए वे बताते हैं*“जब हम कश्मीर में थे कई लोग हमारी मदद के लिए आगे आए। हमारे कश्मीरी भाई बहुत ही मेहरबान थे और उन्होंने हमारी बहुत देखभाल की। उन्होंने शाहनवाज़ को अस्पताल में भर्ती करवाया और इसकी सर्जरी के लिए कुछ रुपया इकट्ठा किया। इसके अलावा हमें कुछ मदद श्रीनगर जिले के कलेक्टर ऑफ़िस से आयी। एक और मदद हमें एक अनजान व्यक्ति द्वारा प्राप्त हुई जो अपनी तनख़्वाह का एक भाग ऐसे रोगियों की मददके लिए दान करते हैं। हमारी ख़ुशहाली पूछने के लिए कई पत्रकारों और सामाजिक कार्यकर्ताओं द्वारा फ़ोन किया गया।अंत में सामाजिक कार्यों के एक समूह द्वारा हमारी वापसी की टिकेट करवायी गयी”। कश्मीर में आँखों के विशेषज्ञों की कमी के कारण और पेलेट से चोटिल लोगों की भारी संख्या के चलते दोनों भाइयों को पहली सर्जरी के बाद वहाँ से निकलना पड़ा।
दोनों भाइयों की ईद ट्रेन में ही गुज़री. कहाँ तो  बड़े भाई शाहवाज़कि शादी इसी अप्रैल को हुई थी और अगर शाहनवाज़ के साथ यह हादसा नहीं हुआ होता तो वह बड़े धूम धाम से, जितना एक औसत मेहनतकश परिवार में संभव है,  अपने परिवार के साथ ईद मनाता. अररिया पहुँचने पर, घर जाने के बजाये,  दोनों भाई सीधा नेपाल के लिए रवाना हो गए. नेपाल में बिराट नगर स्थित आँखों के अस्पताल में शाहनवाज़ को भर्ती कराया गया. यह भी कितनी अजीब बात है कि भारत के सुरक्षाबलों द्वारा चोटिल व्यक्ति को भारत में इलाज कराने के लिए कोई जगह नहीं मिली. जिस इलाज की ज़िम्मेदारी भारत की सरकार की होने चाहिए,उन्होंने शाहनवाज़ की मौजूदा हालत में सुधार लाने के लिए कोई ठोस कदम नहीं उठाया. शाहनवाज़ के परिवार को पडोसी देश में उसका इलाज करवाना पड़ रहा है। नेपाल में शाहनवाज़ कीदूसरी सर्जरी हुई। लेकिन वहाँ भी डाक्टरों ने इन्हें आगाह कियाकि आँखों की रौशनी लौटने की सम्भावनाएँ बहुत ही कम हैं। निराशा के इस अँधियारे को साथ लेकर शाहनवाज़ अपने घर -अररिया जिले के नरपतगंज ब्लाक – वापस लौट आया। यहाँ उसका एक परिवार है जिसमें माँ बाप हैं, एक बड़ा भाई औरउसकी पत्नी, और तीन बहनें हैं |

शाहनवाज़ बताता है कि, “रोटी कमाने वाले हमारे घर में मैं और मेरा भाई ही हैं। और अब जब उसकी आँखों की रोशनी चलीगयी है तब घर चलाने की पूरी ज़िम्मेदारी उसके बड़े भाई शाहवाज़ के कंधों पर आ जाएगी.” कहाँ तो शाहनवाज़ पैसा कमाने दुसरे राज्य गया था, जो कि बिहार में, जहां रोज़गार के अवसर बहुत ही कम हैं, आम बात है और मजदूर रोज़गार की तलाश में बड़ी संख्या में दुसरे राज्य पलायन करते हैं, लेकिन इसबार जब वह घर लौट कर आया तो उसके हाथ में ना तो पैसा थाबल्कि वह शायद आगे पैसा कमाने की क्षमता भी खो चूका था.

जब शाहनवाज़ से पूछा गया कि वह मजदूरी करने कश्मीर ही क्यूँगया तो उसने अपनी आँख से पानी पोंछते हुए, कहा: *“कश्मीर दूर है, लेकिन मुझे कश्मीर जाना पसंद था क्यूँकि एक तो वहाँ मज़दूरी ज़्यादा मिलती है, दूसरा लोग भी अच्छे हैं और तीसरा मौसम भी ठंडा है जिसके कारण काम करने में भी मन लगा रहता है। इसके अलावा मैं किसी ठेकेदार पर भी निर्भर नही हूँ।वहाँ एक चौक है जहाँ मैं दूसरे मज़दूरों के साथ इंतज़ार करता हूँ। जिसे काम करवाना होता है वो ख़ुद लेने आता है जिससे हमें किसी के सामने काम के लिए झुकना नही पड़ता।“*

नेपाल में सर्जरी कराने के बाद, जब शाहवाज़ अपने भाई के साथ गाँव लौटा, उसको लगा कि बिहार से भी सरकारी अफसर,मीडिया वाले एवं सामाजिक कार्यकर्ता हौसला बढाने आयेंगे,जैसे कश्मीर में आए थे. आखिर, शाहनवाज़ के साथ जो हुआ हैं,वोह मामूली हादसा नहीं, एक घोर अन्याय हैं.  शहवाज आलम अफ़सोस के साथ कहते हैं, *“ऐसा लगता है यहाँ बिहार में कोई हमारा दर्द नही समझता। कोई हमसे मिलने नहीं आया, ना तो सरकार की तरफ़ से ना ही कोई मीडिया वाला। कम से कम कश्मीर में लोग हालचाल पूछने और मदद के लिए आते थे.”* ये बहुत ही अजीब बात है की जिन कश्मीरियों को सब मीडिया वाले आतंकवादी कहते हैं, वही सबसे ज़्यादा मदद करने आगे आए।शाहनवाज़ और उसका भाई इसी आशा में हैं की एक दिन बिहारकी सरकार उनके दर्द को समझेगी और उन्हें कोई न्याय मिलेगी।

हमारा अररिया के सभी लोगों से आग्रह है कि:

1) आप शाहनवाज़ और उनके परिवार जनों के लिए कुछ समय निकालें, उनसे मुलाक़ात कर उनका हौसला बढायें

2) सभी मीडिया कर्मी इस खबर को अररिया के मुख्या पृष्ठ में जगह दें ताकि लोगों को हमारे यहाँ की इस त्रासदी के बारे में पता चले

3) प्रशासन और सरकार के प्रतिनिधियों का भी ध्यान इस ओर आकर्षित करें और शहनवाज़ को उचित इलाज की व्यवस्था दिलाने में सहयोग करें

4) शाहनवाज़ इस पारिवार के एक कमाऊ सदस्य हैं, पर पेलेट इंजरी के नतीजतन वह कोइ काम करने लायक नहीं हैं| उनको और उनके परिवार को आपके और हमारे सहयोग और समर्थन की ज़रुरत है.
जन जागरण शक्ति संगठन की ओर से रणजीत पासवान, कल्याणी, अमर मेहता और तन्मय(7283096612)

 

 

Does it matter who wins election in Araria?

22 Apr

By Ashish Ranjan and Kalyani B

This is where
the road ends
tarmac
of India shining
gives way
to gravel
and red dirt
of India whining…

(The End by Soibam Haripriya)

Sitting in Sudha Devi’s courtyard, one is immediately reminded of Haripriya’s poem, The End. Sudha is a resident of Bajraha village in Raniganj Block of Araria, which is one of the most backward districts in Bihar. Located on Indo-Nepal border, parts of Araria is witness to Kosi’s wrath each year. During monsoon season, one has to wade through knee-deep water to reach villages such as Bajraha. Sudha narrates, “During bhaado (monsoon) it becomes extremely difficult to move around and perform daily household chores as there is water everywhere. Every year after the flood water subsides, we reconstruct our kuchha houses made of mud and bamboo. Bamboo has also become very expensive now.” While Sudha was ‘whining’ about the situation prevalent in her part of India, two young men sitting nearby were watching a video on their phone showing images of ‘India shining’ – a super-fast, air-conditioned train which would cover the distance between Ahmedabad and Mumbai in just 2 hours.

Sudha’s narration is not just hers but that of hundreds of Sudha belonging to rural, Dalit working-class households in Araria. Conditions in which Dalit communities live, is pitiable. A large proportion of Dalit population is landless. Those who have struggled against oppressive forces such as local zamindars, corrupt government officials to get the 3 decimel homestead land in their name as per a land redistribution scheme of the Government of Bihar, have unfortunately been allocated areas such as Bajraha where each year flood waters create havoc, making everyday life and livelihood, miserable for the poor. Along with landlessness, Dalit working-class families grapple with rampant unemployment. There are very few employment opportunities in the area which would fetch them living wages because of which a large section of working-class men migrates to places such as Delhi, Punjab, Bangalore, Chennai, to name a few. Women work in farms and barely earn 150-200 rupees per day during sowing and reaping seasons. The public education system in these villages is in shambles. Private coaching centres can be found in every nook and corner of Araria. Those who can afford private coaching, send their children to these centres. Likewise, private clinics have mushroomed everywhere given the wretched state of the public health system. Poor families spend large sums of money to seek care and treatment.

This abysmal state of affairs in the peripheral areas such as Araria is not going to change any time soon, no matter which political party wins election.  Issues such as – low wages, diminishing employment opportunities in rural areas, denial of land rights to Dalits, collapsing public systems – whether it is health system, education system or public distribution system – cannot be fundamentally addressed as long as neo-liberal forces coupled with feudal relations continue to dominate and govern people’s lives. When a vast majority of the Dalit-Bahujan working-class population in Araria is uneducated, the false promise of 2 crore jobs per year, means nothing to them.  A young Rishidev boy – musahar by caste and one of the most marginalised sections even amongst the Dalits- of Farhi village in Narpatganj Block said that only ‘educated’ people will get jobs and this promise was not applicable to him. Similarly, the 6000 rupees that the Modi government has promised farmers, holds no meaning for numerous landless workers in these areas.

Absence of counter-hegemonic narratives at grassroots might prevent people from immediately seeing the linkages between global push for privatization of education along with systemic disdain for marginalized communities, and appalling learning levels of Dalit students in government run schools but people know very well that the status quo is not going to change no matter which neta or political party wins the election. They will not get any respite from misery. Kallu Rishi of Koshkapur, another village in Raniganj Block narrates, “Just before elections, all netas will come and touch our feet, promising to give us land, a Pradhan Mantri Awas house, pensions, etc. but as soon as the casting of vote is over, they will not return. Their car wheels slip on our dirt roads.”

Despite being aware of the hollowness of the grand speeches delivered by political leaders, people will cast their vote. They will cast their vote on the basis of several push and pull factors such as “what the tola (part of a village with usually a homogeneous caste composition) decides”, “which candidate has a better chance of winning”, “what one hears at chowk-chaurahas”, “what the elders or the important people will say”, “who had won elections last time”, etc. Interestingly, spaces such as satsang and jeevika meetings, which are frequented by the working-class women, are also being used for election campaigning. These spaces have emerged as sites which is used by the ruling class to perpetuate its ideas or in Gramscian term, ‘manufacture consent’.

Caste affinity interspersed with local power dynamics based on feudal relations continue to play an important role in the selection process of a candidate or a party to be voted for. A landless Rishidev who faces exploitation at the hands of a local zamindar belonging to Yadav caste, is not inclined to vote for Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) which is seen as a party of Yadavs. Weakening of Yadavs’ political power would mean less trouble for Rishidevs in their struggle for homestead land or in a land dispute leading to police intervention.  In everyday life, a landless peasant are exploitated by local zamindars whether regarding ownership of land, passage to their tola, forced labour, or other such forms of exploitation. The face of the immediate oppressor is etched in their memory. But with Jiten Ram Manjhi (ex-chief minister of Bihar who also comes from the musahar community) joining the MahaGathbandhan, Rishidevs who had earlier voted for Nitish Kumar because of the ‘Mahadalit’ card and also to oppose Yadavs, are also seen inclining towards Mahagathbandhan. This might lead to a split in Rishidev’s votes between Mahagathbandhan and NDA.  However, in a Paswan tola, one can see a clear inclination towards Ram Vilas Paswan and NDA.

The larger communal discourse and ‘othering’ of Muslims that has happened in the country since the demolition of Babri Mosque, will also guide the election result in Araria. Araria falls in the Seemanchal region of Bihar which has a substantial Muslim population. Four parliamentary constituencies in Seemanchal, namely Purnea, Katihar, Kishanganj and Araria, have around 40 % or more Muslim population. The communal narrative has also made in-roads into Seemanchal. Sanskritisation amongst Dalit communities in the area has led to beliefs such as consumption of animal meat is sinful, which has further distanced these communities from Muslims. Politics of RSS-BJP has painted Muslims as Pakistanis and have put a question mark in the minds of Hindus about their loyalty to the country. Given such a context, with a strong Muslim candidate in fray in the district, polarisation is easy to do and has been one of the dominant features of the election in Araria. Polarisation of votes based on religion coupled with split in Muslim votes because of the caste rivalry between ‘Kulhaiyas’ (Kulhaiyas belong to OBC category and are high in numbers only in this region) and other castes, has resulted into the victory of BJP candidates like Pradeep Singh, in the past. However, Modi’s overtly anti-Muslim politics have helped consolidate Muslim votes in favour of candidates that can defeat BJP and its allies. Sarfaraj Alam, the sitting MP and son of late strongmen of the area Md. Taslimuddin, knows that his best chance is in consolidation of Muslim and Yadav votes in his favour. However, with Lalu Prasad Yadav missing in action, this election year, along with heightened communal sentiments playing their role and BJP hoping to cash in Pulwama, Yadav vote is something that cannot be taken for granted. In 2018 by-elections, Sarfaraz Alam had won by 61,988 votes but this one is too close to call.

Millions will be spent on election campaign before the casting of vote in Araria on the 23rd April. By the end of May there will be a victor and a vanquished but democracy would have failed Sudha Devi who will again wade through knee-deep water during the early showers of Monsoon in June.

(Ashish Ranjan and Kalyani B work with Jan Jagran Shakti Snagathan, a local trade union of unorganised sector workers)

 

28 Feb, 2017: Massive Protest Against Killings in Rahariya and Public hearing on Police accountability

22 Feb

Raharia

On First January, 2017, as the world rejoiced at the coming of the new year, two social-political activists in Araria district (Bihar) were killed by local landlords and their paid mercenaries as they were mobilising Dalits for their land rights. The two activists Kamleshwari Rishidev and Satnarayan Yadav, were affiliated to the CPI(ML). Houses of dalits were looted and the women were beaten and sexually assaulted. A three member fact finding team of the Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS*) visited Rahariya, the village where the killings took place. The reports of the fact finding can be seen at twocircles.netsabrangindia and youth ki awaaz.

 

It was shocking to hear that not only could the local police not prevent the murder of the two activists, they were also silent witnesses to four Dalits being tied to a pole and mercilessly beaten at the “bathan” (farm house) of the landlord in full public view. Dalits who were assaulted told the fact team team that the landlords stopped the police from acting by openly reminding them of the bribes they had been paid for their inaction. It was only later when Police from the adjoining police station came that they rescued those tied to the pole, or else the death toll could have been higher on that fateful day.

 

Other than this, the JJSS members and ordinary people of Araria district face constant harassment by the Police, who hardly have any accountability towards the public. There are many cases of bribes being openly demanded to register cases, false cases are being registered against activists as deterrents to their work, no receipts are being given for applications filed at the police station, indecent behavior towards the complainant is rampant and so on. The range of treatment ordinarily expected by people from the police here is anything ranging from indifference to intimidation, a reason why people would rather resort to local panchayats than approach a system set up by the State specifically for ensuring public safety, security and peace. There are countless cases of women survivors, complainants and accused at police stations, having to deal with sexist stereotyping, character assassination, victim blaming – all amounting to sexual harrassment, stigma and added trauma for those already suffering. Other marginalised communities also continue living in inhibition and fear of the force. In the process, the one or two honest sincere, responsive members within the police also get their reputation maligned. All across the country just now, people are protesting draconian laws – whether it be AFSPA in Kashmir and parts of the North East or the Special Public Security Acts of Chattisgarh or Maharashtra because they all give State institutions like the police and army unchecked powers over the lives of ordinary citizens – powers that they are increasingly bent on abusing. Given this grim situation we have decided it is high time we responded to this slacking attitude of the police machinery and held them accountable to their duties and responsibilities. To this end we look forward to organizing a public hearing, along with the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in Araria, Bihar on 28thFebruary, 2017 (Tuesday).

 

Public Hearing on Police Accountability and Police reforms

Date and Time : 28th February 2017 (11 am)

Venue : Town Hall, Araria, Bihar

 

Given your active interest in the field of social change, and focus on transparency and accountability in governance, we would like to invite you for this programme. We hope to start at 11 am and spend two to three hours on the public hearing, hearing those who have faced corruption and lack of accountability in the Police administration and also the opinion of the expert panelists. We would be inviting the police and civil administration, for this hearing. This public hearing would be followed by a massive rally in the town, to protest the Rahariya killings and establish the need for the Police Administration to be more accountable to ordinary citizens.

 

We sincerely hope you will be able to join us on the 28th of February, 2017 in this programme. We eagerly await your confirmation.

 

Thank you

 

Regards

Ranjit Paswan, Deepnarayan Paswan, Krishna Kumar Singh, Arun Yadav, Shivnarayan, Ashish Ranjan, Phool Kumari, Brahmanand Rishidev, Shivni Devi, Deepnarayan (Sikti), Asha Devi, Jitendra Paswan, Tanveer Alam, Sohini, Tanmay, Vijay, kamayani swami and all saathis at the JJSS

Untangling the web of Government’s failures in Lachha Bita by Vibhore Vardhan

6 Jul

Lachha, which means tangled in Hindi, is an apt description for the current state of affairs in Lachha Bita, a group of remote habitations in Parihari gram panchayat of Raniganj block in Araria district. Even in the era of improved connectivity, Lachha Bita remains inaccessible from the outside world for 3-4 months during the monsoon season. There are no roads, mud or otherwise, and the only access for two of the hamlets is through the fields. Maybe this remoteness is Government’s excuse for repeatedly failing to stand-up and provide support to a community of hard working but shockingly marginalized community of mahadalits and adivasis.

Where does one start to untangle the web of failures around Lachha Bita? How about the fact that even six years after getting job cards under MGNREGA, most wage seekers in Rami Rishidev ka tola and mandal tola in ward number 14 have not been able to get work and paid as provisioned under the law. The constant shift of policies around MGNREGA has made it a very unstable system. First, it was cash payments at the Gram Panchayats, followed by the drive to open and pay through post office accounts. This was quickly updated to provide work and payment only to the account holder, in conjunction with the push for online demand entry and e-muster roll. And finally the recent push for payment through bank accounts. In their efforts to stem corruption through increased digitization, both the central and state governments have forgotten about the countless workers in Lachha Bita’s of India that still don’t have post office accounts, thereby taking away their right to work.

Lachha Bita’s problems can be traced to its feudal history. Here the tiny but powerful landlord class also took control over the elected panchayats and effectively controlled all Government schemes. Until last year, all work under MGNREGA in Parihari was overseen by the ward members and the middlemen belonging to the ruling classes. Most workers were never made aware of their rights or informed that job cards and post office accounts had been opened in their names. They were forced to work for cash payments as contractual labor on MGNREGA projects. These and many more practices started changing only after the intervention of Jan Jagaran Shakti Jangathan (JJSS), a trade union of unorganized-sector workers based in Araria.

When JJSS was made aware of the non-availability of post office accounts for a majority of Lachha Bita workers in October 2012, it promptly brought the same to Raniganj Program Officer’s attention. But before any remedial action could be taken (partly delayed due to the month long PRS strike), the state Government carried-out the advertisement in local newspaper informing all about the switch-to bank accounts on Feb 1st 2013. This advertisement became an excuse for the local post master to start deferring opening of new accounts. When the Feb 1st deadline was not met, the state government carried out another such advertisement announcing June 1st 2013 deadline for entirely switching to bank accounts, and now August 1st, 2013. One has to ask whether the state government is living in denial of the rate of opening of bank accounts, which is averaging under 3% as reported on Bihar’s NREGA portal? Maybe they should wake up to the fact that in three years after introducing post office payments, only 37% of the registered households and 24% of the individual wage seekers have been able to open post office accounts.

There are fewer than 50 banks in Araria district; nearest one for Parihari being one-hour and sixty rupees roundtrip-fare away. So the responsibility of making payments to workers of Lachha Bitha has been off-loaded to micro or ultra-small branches (USBs). These are often run by local middlemen who were in the money lending business. For Parihari, there are two USBs operated by Allahabad Bank on paper, but they have not done a single transaction in over nine months of their existence. The local staff (CSVs) said that they have submitted over 1000 account opening applications, but have received only 25 banking cards till date. Upon following-up with the bank officials in Raniganj, it was found that a private company based in Bangalore is responsible for providing the equipment, cards, and training to the CSVs. When the PO Raniganj and PRS could not get any definite answers about account opening, illiterate workers have reasons to be less optimistic about the situation.

But it is not only the payments that are hard for the Lachha Bita workers. To get their demand for work registered into the system, Arun Rishidev had to give written work demand on four different occasions. Even his name kept being dropped for over one month, as his job card and most others that have been opened after 2011 have not been entered into the MIS system. Finally, when his demand was entered with PO Ranigunj’s help, Arun did not get assigned to the project that he was running as a mate. This situation is not limited to Parihari GP or Raniganj block. Online job card register for most GPs of Araria and other districts show very few entries after 2011. And the complaints of names being dropped or being switched between projects are very commonly heard by JJSS.

These problems can be attributed to the elaborate online process of giving work through NREGASoft. First, demand has to be entered, but full 100 days demand cannot be entered at once as it ties the worker to a specific project. Then, work has to be allocated to the group of workers whose demand has been entered. Finally, an eMuster-Roll has to be generated and printed for the allocated project. These four steps have to happen in tandem or it leads to incorrect work assignment. And given the state of network connectivity and electricity in Araria, expecting continuous online sessions is quite unrealistic. It is not an uncommon sight at Raniganj program office to see the printer being physically carried to a nearby office with better voltage phase for printing eMusters!

But the need for employment in Lachha Bita is so high that all workers are willing to put-up with these systemic issues. For the first time, they are working on a project (bhutakan kamat se mitti bharai karya) led by one of their own. But the state Government seems to have other plans. In has recently passed an order that spells out 10 point selection process for mates and an elaborate list of 25 different responsibilities for them, while removing the higher wage rate that used to be offered in the past! Only the landless laborers are expected to do more for less…

Recently, Arun has been asked to furnish passbook account numbers of all wage seekers as a large percentage of online entries have been found to be incorrect requiring extremely time consuming and often impossible changes to the pay advice. But with the recent push for eWagelist, which added two more steps to the online process, the window of making these corrections closes after e-Wagelist generation. There is no clarity or training provided on how these changes, which are bound to crop-up, can be made in the system. It is not the computerization that is the primary issue here, it is the absolute lack of infrastructure and training that is grounding NREGA’s e-flight before it can even take-off.

As for the workers in Lachha Bita, they have already worked for over one and half months without getting a single rupee as payment. Maybe the new Panchayat Technical Assistant (PTA) can untangle one knot by recording the Measurement Book with measurements that he carried-out nearly three weeks ago. And then, hopefully the muster rolls would get entered into the system with correct post office account numbers without any further delays. Meanwhile, maybe the policy makers in Patna can stop issuing these unrealistic deadlines and decide on a reasonable timeline for opening worker’s bank accounts, while providing adequate training to the NREGA data-entry operators. One can only hope that someone will take the responsibility and untangle the web of Government’s failure around Lachha Bita…

Vibhore Vardhan is a volunteer with the JJSS. This article is based on his experience in a remote village (parihari) of Raniganj block in Araria.