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NGOs Have to Unite.

India, July 13 -- The present government is pushing the poor, particularly the rural poor, to the margin. The Modi government has reduced the budget allocation for healthcare and education. It shows its dislike to MGNREGA, calling it a "living monument" of the previous government's failures, condemning millions of impoverished people to survive by 'digging ditches'. Modi does not spare precious little time to go deeper to see the reports which speak loud and clear about the magnificent outcome of MGNREGA wherever it is implemented well.

The poor are being edged out from the economic development and the political space. They are seen as indirect goals of development, as trickle-down effect of the economy. Commenting on trickle-down effect Pope Francis says, "The present neoliberal economic ideology tells us that at present the glass of development is half full. When it is completely full it will overflow and then the poor will get the benefits of development. But as time goes on the glass miraculously become bigger and bigger not allowing it to over flow."

Marginalization of the poor is accompanied by removing the space of the civil society organization working for the cause of the poor and for the protection of environment. The government has resorted to stop the flow of funds to the civil society organizations. There have been more than 9000 NGOs whose FCRA registration has been cancelled. If any NGO wishes to receive foreign donations they should give an undertaking that their activities will not go against the national interest, national security and development. The Green Peace has been penalised under the excuse that their work is against the national interests of development.

The government's view on the national interests, national security and development should be acceptable to all in the civil society. This is a denial of democratic rights of the people. The foreign funds that freely flow into the country in the form of foreign investment are per se seen as for the national interests and development. The foreign funds (investment) that caused Bhopal gas tragedy is not evaluated as against the national security and national interests. The foreign funds that destroys environment, displaces people from their habitat is not considered as against national interests and security.

In the name of national security the security forces can arrest anyone on suspicion and put his/her in jail without trial. More than 6000 adivasi youths are languishing in jails for several months and even years without trial.

Civil society is an important component of the socio, economic and political fabric of the society. Civil society's independence and freedom of speech is an essential component of a democratic society. Preventing civil society organizations from voluntary social action is like obliterating democracy. The essence of democracy is not just casting vote once in five years to elect the government. Democracy is civil society participating in the debate on development policies, making development process as relevant to the people.

In the name of development the state is becoming increasingly repressive. It is not just the BJP government that is so repressive. Even the UPA had been equally repressive. The military, the judiciary has been showing repressive face of the state. These are no signs of a healthy democracy.

Defending the rights of the poor is a beginning of the defence of the democracy. Anybody working to defend the civil rights of the society will have to start their struggle with defending the rights of the poor.

Today the state is governed by the logic of neoliberal capitalist ideology. It defends the rights of the corporate houses, industrialists and multinational companies. The country is governed to make it easy for them to do their business.

But when our nation was founded, the founding fathers adopted the constitution to guide the governance of our nation. What should govern our nation is not the logic of neo liberal capitalist ideology but the spirit and letter of the founding document, the constitution of our country. All the politicians take oath on the constitution of India. They promise to defend, uphold and implement the constitution of India. This constitution guarantees to its citizens democracy, socialism and secularism. It gives all its citizens right to life and livelihood, right to work. It gives its citizens the right to free and compulsory education, healthcare, and free speech.

There is a need to bring the goal of the governance and development back to its place. This is a process of struggle by the civil society and civil society organizations. This struggle must begin with fighting for the rights of the poor.

Praxis and Young India Project started the struggle for people's rights. In 1983 took up land struggles and freeing bonded labours under the bonded labour abolition Act. In 1986 we started our campaign for right to work. In 2005 this was finally legislated. From the 4th of April 2006 it came into effect and began to be implemented. Our work for the last 35 years has been to enable the poor to gain their rights.

APNA: Andhra job scheme

Andhra Pradesh NGOs Alliance (APNA) has made the Government to work in partnership with NGOs.0 This arrangement gave the NGOs the responsibilities of organizing and training MGNREGA workers on their rights and enabling them to access their rights. Today there are 235 NGOs working in 425 out of 625 mandals. Generally government would be extremely averse to the idea of organizing the people, particularly the working people. But we have claimed this right. The government has decided that we organize the rural poor. In every Panchayat we have organised MGNREGA workers at the Gram Panchayat Samakhyas (GPS). The NGOs of Andhra conduct monthly meetings of the GPS.

APNA works for making MGNREGA workers to understand their rights, accessing these rights and improving their quality of life.

When Sridevi, an MGNREGA worker who received 80 days of work from Chinna Kotha Palli Mandal, was asked about the rights she accesses under the MGNREGA Act, she replied, "We don't allow contractors or machineries to be used for MGNREGA work. We receive travel when the work is located over 5 km away; we have first aid medical kit, drinking water." Ramakrishnaiah, another MGNREGA worker from CKPalli mandal, who was able to work for 100 days, narrated how MGNREGA has changed the life of his family, "Before, we did not have enough work and the wages were low. Now, apart from agricultural and other works we have guaranteed 100 days of work at higher wages. We were travelling to distant places to seek work; we don't do that anymore. Our children are going to high school, we are buying them new clothes, weekly once we are eating meat and we have bought a mobile phone." We wish that all MGNREGA workers throughout the country could say what these two workers have said.

At a meeting with Commissioner Rural Development (CRD) Andhra, the CRD expressed tremendous satisfaction with the APNA NGOs. As a result it was decided that the workers' organizations (GPSs) should be created in all 625 mandals of Andhra. Through the creation of Samakhyas and the work done by NGOs with each GPS, the working poor are able to access all the rights given under the MGNREGA Act. This partnership has helped put Andhra on the map as the best State in implementing MGNREGA, and the only State in which job card holders have been organised into GPSs in order to demand their rights.

Under the APNA, the NGOs appoint two Community Resource Persons (CRPs) per Mandal to support the work. Ramakrishtaiah, the MGNREGA worker from CKPalli mandal, said, "The CRPs, identify the problems of each Shramik Shakti Sanghatana group in the monthly meetings conducted by them and represent our problems to the Assistant Project Officer . We are very happy with them. We need them to motivate our Samakhya."

We would like to go a step further through the GPSs formed by NGOs, by making each GPS responsible for enabling the rural poor to access all the pro-poor rights and benefits, such as right to food security, right to education and health care. Furthermore, we are proposing that the salaries of the two mandal workers (CRPs) appointed by the NGO be paid by the right holders. This will also ensure that the NGOs are fully accountable to the working poor. The majority NGOs support this idea. We would like to ask the government to pass a Government Order (GO) to officially start the implementation of the new system.

On 30th and 31st of May 2015, we had called for a meeting of 20 rights based NGOs: 8 from Andhra, 8 from Telengana, and 4 from Karnataka to discuss the experience of APNA. The meeting resulted in a path breaking decision to promote this movement of helping MGNREGA worker access all rights legislated for them through the GPSs formed across all the three States. The next step towards this is a meeting of over 35 APNA NGOs from Andhra with the purpose of building unity of rights based NGOs, which will take place on the 4th and 5th of July in Kadapa. At this meeting we will initiate a signature campaign demanding a GO on the two proposals.

If we want to change the society through the unity of the rural poor, the voluntary organizations (NGOs) must first unite themselves. Rights-based NGOs of Andhra, Karnataka, and Telengana have learnt this. There is need for all the rights based NGOs of the North and South India to unite first, to defend the MGNREGA from being diluted and to organise the poor who need work under MGNREGA and enable them to get work. The unity of the NGOs will prevent contractors form depriving the workers of their work and prevent all forms of corruptions. It is the NGOs and the organizations of the rural poor which will make possible for the poor to get all rights legislated for them.

(The writer is associated with Praxis and Young India Project.)

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jul 13, 2015
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