“This government is trying to snatch away our rights, of both employment and land. We have come all the way to fight such injustice. Several people in my village voted for this government hoping they would improve our lives but they are doing just the opposite,” said Lal Singh from Rajsamand district in Rajasthan.
At a time when the NDA government’s proposals to bring changes to some key legislation like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the new Land Acquisition Act have come under criticism from various quarters, including economists, more than 15,000 protesters from across the country held a rally at Jantar Mantar on Tuesday to protest against such changes. Lal Singh, an MGNREGA beneficiary and activist, was among those present at the venue.
Gathered under the banner “Abki Baar, Hamara Adhikar”, the rally saw social activists Aruna Roy, Medha Patkar, and Nikhil Dey in the lead. The activists alleged that the way the new government had decided to “attack progressive Acts” meant for the common people was an indicator that the government was pushing a “clear pro-corporate agenda”.
“This (rally) has brought us back to the fore of the political discourse. There cannot be an India without us or without our issues. A legislation is not passed by a government, it is passed by Parliament. A new government cannot change what Parliament has passed,” said Roy, former member of the National Advisory Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
“With this we hope to create a strong people’s political force that will reach out to the government and to the corporate sector,” Patkar said.
Voices of protest against the alleged dilution of MGNREGA were perhaps the loudest. Reena Pandey, part of a pro-MGNREGA movement in UP’s Sitapur — one of the worst performing states under the Act — said it was important to retain the Act in its fundamental form while correcting shortcomings in its implementation. “There were problems with the Act but that does not mean one can restrict it. We need such a guaranteed scheme, especially for women who are the biggest beneficiaries. While there were problems even earlier, now they have become more acute — planning and availability of works is a huge problem and delays in wage payments have gone up,” she said.
Fears of possible adverse changes in the Right to Education Act brought many together. The RTE Act, 2011 introduced by the UPA government, was tweaked by Gujarat in 2012, when Narendra Modi was the CM. The rules framed by the Gujarat government granted some relaxations to schools in terms of infrastructure or teacher-student ratio.
Delhi-based RTE activist Shashi Kaur said, “The present (central) government has done nothing to ensure implementation of the RTE. There are schools without toilets or water. Students are being shunted from one school from another and no effort is being put into getting school drop-outs back to school.”
Patkar said the Congress too needs to come forward and stand up and protect the progressive legislation that the UPA government enforced. Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar and CPI leader D Raja also addressed the rally.
Many speakers also slammed the government’s move to “dilute” the Land Acquisition Act. Kailash Awasya from Madhya Pradesh, part of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, said, “We will launch a struggle on the ground. We will not allow any change that dilutes the farmers’ rights. This government is simply pursuing a corporate agenda.”
Members of the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Movement said they wanted to “show solidarity against attacks on free speech as well as information flow by the current central regime”.
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