After 25 years of sustained struggle that yielded key legislations such as the Right to Information, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and social audits, Bhim in Rajsamand district, which has been the crucible for the movements, is all set to embark upon a new journey to mobilize workers unions in the unorganized sector.
The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, a workers and peasants organization, set up in Bhim in 1990 by three like-minded activists – Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh – now at the turn of its 25th year is poised to push for a ‘mazdoor union’ apart from unachieved legislations such as the Right to Food, Right to Hearing, Right to Healthcare.
As workers, peasants and activists that have been associated with the organization since its inception gathered in Bhim on Friday to observe its 25th anniversary on May Day, it chalked out its way forward with a clear vision of coming up with a workers union in the unorganized sector, a proposal that the previous Ashok Gehlot government had turned down and has so far found no taker in the new Vasundhara Raje government either.
Former National Advisory Council member and social activist, Aruna Roy, said, “About 93 percent of the country’s workforce is in the unorganized sector and they have no workers’ union. Be it the domestic worker, masons, daily wagers, they have no collective voice. In the coming year, we will focus on a cohesive mazdoor union, where several smaller organizations can come together. Whether it will have a new separate identity or the smaller organizations will continue to work as independent entities, we will decide in due course of time. But the idea is clear in our minds.”
The organization that fought for RTI, MNREGA and social audit apart from their land struggle, today finds the rights based legislations being threatened. “After so many years of struggle to get rights based legislation, now the present government is summarily dismissing it. They are attempting to dilute the NREGA, trying to avoid accountability and therefore not maintaining minutes of meetings that can be accessed through the RTI. For years we strove to increase people’s engagement with the government and this new BJP government is closing off this very engagement. They cannot deny us consultation. Say for example the land ordinance, which was drafted without any consultation with farmers or activists working on the ground,” said Roy.
“It is frustrating to hear the Prime Minister say that NREGA is a monument of failure. It is ironical that recently when the state witnessed unseasonal rain and hailstorm and there was a major crisis, it had to fall back on NREGA jobs in the crisis-hit areas, that too when this very state government had written to the Center to dilute the norms of the Act,” added Nikhil Dey. “On our part we are continuing to use these rights based legislations as a tool to implement other legislations. For example we are filing RTIs in all government schools across the state to see their compliance to the Right to Education norms.”
The state has also seen opposition from sitting sarpanches to social audits of the NREGA recently. Speaking to the Indian Express, Saumya Kidambi, Director, Society of Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, said, “It is ironical that the state that has been the birthplace of social audits is yet to see it institutionalize and is instead meeting with opposition from the state government and also sarpanches. Undivided Andhra Pradesh and now both Telangana and AP have about four to five schemes that have social audits being done by the Society. There has been great political will that has enabled its implementation. In the process we have detected fraud of upto Rs. 250 crores in both the states out of which so far we have managed to retrieve Rs. 25 crores.”