Anar Patel, the daughter of Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel, Tuesday criticised the UPA government’s flagship rural employment scheme National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, now called Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA ), as it “spoiled” artisans by giving them “freebies”.
She was speaking at her crafts store after a design roadshow called ‘Design Yatra’, which was attended by leading architects and designers from Ahmedabad. It was organised by the Institute of Indian Interior Designers (IIID) to promote good design aesthetics in the city.
Stating that MGNREGA “weaned away artisans” from practising their traditional crafts, Patel said, “While the government gives a lot of freebies and spoils the industry, I feel certain projects should not have government involvement. Having worked closely with artisans, one wonders whether there should be projects like the NREGA and MNREGA where people get freebies? Why are people being made beggars? They need support, they don’t need help. We are helping them by giving them (money) for free. Even the artisans don’t want this kind of freebies. If one looks into the grassroot level functioning of NREGA, then work is happening, but what is the kind of work that’s happening, that needs to be seen… It is mindless labour in which there is no freedom. It’s not enough simply to generate income, but they (rural artisans) should be helped to stand on their own feet so that they don’t become dependent. I don’t say that NREGA and MNREGA should not be there as they are in place, but it is not a project that relates to Gujarat. We have not seen conditions in other states, so maybe in Bihar or the northeast it may work best as there is a labour crunch there, but not here.”
Her views were echoed by noted architect Parul Zaveri, who said, “They (craftsmen) should be paid for what work is done by them. Currently, there are a lot of labour problems arising out of this (MNREGA) We have seen this even among the mirror work artisans in Rajasthan, who have been associated with NREGA label and don’t do the craft work anymore. Even designers from the fraternity are responsible for this as we don’t use our traditional craft in our work,” said Zaveri.
Patel also cited lack of water resources as the reason behind migration, the need for rain water harvesting and water recycling, the need for craft certification, fair trade practices, especially with respect to the leather industry, and the need for fair wages for master artisans and down the labour hierarchy.