National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme Failure Devours a Child

National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was implemented in Madhya Pradesh on 2nd February2006 in 18 most backward districts. The core objective of the scheme is to provide 100 days of guaranteed employment to the rural households. The scheme framed according to the provisions of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is a means to provide right to work to the wage earners as their legal entitlements.

The NREG scheme ongoing in tribal dominated Khalwa Block of Khandwa district has many lessons to learn with regard to what it can cost if the employment is not guaranteed in letter and spirit. The scheme launched in February 2006, was tortoise paced and in lack of adequate foresight forced hundreds of tribal families to distress migration. During the months of March and April 2006 the families migrated to neighboring districts in search of employment despite NREG scheme launched a month back. The process of job cards distribution was partly done and tribal families had no idea of what was now their legal entitlement to work.  Not to wonder couple of families carried the card to the ration shop! When we raised the issue and tried to inform the administration that the Employment Guarantee has been denied to hundreds of tribal families thereby forced to distress migration and exposed to manifold exploitation, the response was amazing. The politicians termed it a tradition and claimed that people earn more than what they would have at earned at home and so the migration is justified.

The administration vouched the view.  To authenticate our view we Conducted a rapid survey in the neighboring district of Harda. The migrant families were met and interviewed and the information gathered on their living conditions, the wages they actually earn, the status of social security, the status of children and so on. A comprehensive report was compiled that revealed the horrible conditions the families are forced during migration that by no stretch of imagination can be termed human and substitute the provisions of NREG scheme leave aside the employment guarantee.  The statistics of the study had a sorry story to tell. About 3% of the total population was projected to have migrated. The rates of migration were almost equal for the men and women: 51.6% and 48.4% respectively. The migration rate for underfives was   about 7%. Weighing and grading them showed that 37% of them were malnourished with 20% severely malnourished. We found that the average daily wages tantamount to around 30 rupees a day but when the expenses on food alone is counted the wage earners are left with mere 10 rupees a day. The families live in open with barely any facilities and privacy and fearing reptiles and thieves and so on.

The situation is worse than the wanderers and it hits the vulnerable women and child the most. The inhumane conditions the migrant families are forced to face is no substitute for provisions, legal entitlements and worksite facilities envisaged in NREGS.  The matter was referred to the Supreme Court Commissioners and Advisor (under writ petition PUCL vs GOI & ors 196/2001) and the State and District Administration has been asked to explain the large-scale distress migration despite NREG scheme in Place. The response is awaited. The Advisor has sent a reminder letter as well.

How horrifying could be the pain and what great could be the cost of migration can be realized by the Jhirpa case.  Jhirpa is a small remote forest village in Khalwa block of Khandwa district. Lacking local employment opportunities and having no inkling of the employment guarantee a large number of tribal families migrated around the Holi festival. On 30th April 2006 17 men and women along with their 15 children (with the youngest one of 11 months) were returning form migration from the village Piplya Bharat in Harda district. The families were carrying 22 bags of wheat; it was what they could save during three months of migration. They wage earned @ 64 kilograms for an acre. They had a deal with the tractor owner to pay fare @ 50 rupees per bag and 25 rupees for a person. In addition to grains, things and persons the trolley had 17 bags of onions that the tractor owner carried for sale. It's a matter of simple calculation that the tractor trolley was overloaded as compared to permissible load of 30 quintals. The tractor trolley on its way to Jhirpa overturned around 8.30 PM. As the trolley tilted the men folk jumped in panic and hurt themselves hitting on the stones and boulders. The women most of them in attempt to protect their children could not escape.  The grain bags falling on them trampled them. Almost all of them were injured and some of them very seriously.

The condition of Rahul Shyamlal barely 11 months became most critical. The child was senseless with no obvious wounds. The child was carried to the nearby health post at village Rosni about 7-8 kilometers on tractor while others limped their way to Rosni.   The police case was registered but there was no doctor at Rosni hospital to attend to this emergency. He injured were referred to Primary Health Center at Khalwa, the Block Headquarter situated about 40 kilometers away. It was amazing that the faintly breathing for life Rahul was transported to Khalwa on the tractor despite the Ambulance service available at Rosni hospital. The long, bumpy and tiring journey could not save Rahul from succumbing to death minutes after reaching the hospital.

Rahul's parents Shyamlal and Bhagwati have been working at a framer's house at Bharat Piplya in Harda district as "Barsoodia" (a form of bonded labor where the rich farmers provide loan in advance to the poor wage earners who in turn are obliged to work as errands at their homes at a wage rate of 4 kgs of wheat a day out of which a part has to be returned as loan repayment). Shyamlal and his wife were coming back to their native village to   perform the birth rites (Dora –Dasi). He had to return back to work as the loan remained unpaid.

The remaining injured didn't find the proposal of the health staff of Rosni hospital viable  to go all the way to Khalwa for treatment at their own expense. They preferred to be treated by the private medical practitioners. Most of the injured families have spent from 200 to 600 rupees on treatment. Some have improved but most of them were ailing till 14th May the day we met them. For instance the pregnant Shanta Jhinge 25 years had arms and back injured and still has unexplainable swelling in legs and has spent about 250 rupees in treatment. A day before our visit the people informed that the police had suggested few seriously injured to go to district hospital for treatment. The details of injuries are as follows:

Name Injury Money spent 
Jhinga /Asharam  Minor injury   
Shantabai / Jhinga  Arm and back  200
Phoolwati /Maniram  Minor injuries  
Gaurichand/Maniram  Cheek and chest  
Kamla /maniram  Arm   
Pilkoo / Maniram Lower leg injury   
Sumanbai/Jeeralal Head and back 600 
Premlal/Balu Back  210 
Salim /jeeralal Head  
Aapibai / Champalal  Feet   
Seetaram /Sabulal Feet   
Pinai bai /Bansilal  Head and Face   
Kalaibai/shobalal Hand   
Rahul Shyam lal  Died   
Manju /shyam lal  Head   

As reported these families had no idea of NREG scheme nor had job cards. Jhirpa village has many disadvantages that tell the problems the residents face. The nearest bus stop is about 8-9 kilometers with just two buses in a day that carry them to Rosni village where basic facilities are available but consumes a day traveling to and fro. One can just imagine the problems one can face in emergency. The ration shop too is situated at village Deedamda around 10 kilometers away. During the visit the people informed us that many of them have not yet received job cards and no work has begun yet. They also testified that they have to pay 50 rupees for the photographs to be affixed on the job cards and couple of poor families has shirked from being photographed.

The prima facie investigation in this episode has following issues and questions demanding explanation:

  1. Despite the flagging off of NREG scheme in February 2006, the families were forced to migrate in search of livelihood in March 2006. Who is to be held responsible for depriving these families of employment guarantee that now is their legal entitlement?
  2. Migration during certain months corresponding to sowing, harvesting or other farm activities is not a recent phenomenon. With the basic objective of NREG act to check migration and provide employment at doorsteps, the families having to migrate has obviously defeated this objective. Was there any preventive measures planned leave aside the fact of how much awareness these families had about NREG scheme.  
  3. The employment guarantee is not a scheme or dole out now but a legal entitlement under an Act. What is the jurisprudence for those failed in discharging heir inherent responsibility.  
  4. The death of innocent 11 months old Rahul/Shaymlal is the net consequence of the failure of the system that could not provide employment guarantee and hold back the families to get their Right to Work. Who is to be convicted for this tragedy and who can compensate this irreversible loss and at what cost.
  5. One must appreciate the resilience of young Rahul who struggled with death till he reached Khalwa. The travel from the accident spot to Rosni village and then to Khalwa by tractor must have taken not less than 3-4 hours. The unavailability of the doctor, the transportation of the dying child by tractor despite ambulance service cast a question on the empathy and effective functioning of the system. Some people still hold that if the child had reached a bit early to PHC it could have survived as it continued breathing for long.

The looming question before us is: Who is to be convicted for Rahul's death or better-termed murder? And who should compensate for this irreversible tragedy?

The NREGA provisions that have been violated includes:

  1. Majority of migrants had no awareness on the NREGA and most of them were not provided job cards for more than a month since the implementation of the NREG scheme MP.
  2. During the period of migration that they were forced to had no substitute for the wages, provisions, security or work site facilities at place of migration.
  3. The charges collected for the photos in the job card are totally illegal.
  4. Failing to check migration and ensure employment guarantee defeats the very objective of NREGA.
  5. There seems to be no foresight or solid plan in place to check the massive distress migration that is not a new phenomenon. It should have been the priority that evidently could not be fixed by the local administration.
  6. The death of 11 months old Rahul is the manifestation of the pain and cost that the family had to bear because of being deprived of their legal entitlement to work.

         Seema Prakash

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