A Message of Hope

People who have been following employment programmes in Rajasthan are convinced that corruption in relief works has gone down over the years. Given the strong emphasis on checking ‘muster rolls’[1], there has been a particularly sharp decline in the earlier practice of fudging muster rolls and appropriating the wages of fictitious workers.. This if of course not to say that all forms of corruption in relief works have been eliminated, or for that matter that the impact has been feltall over Rajasthan. Regions where the campaign has been most active have seen the greatest changes. For example, according Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), it is now difficult to find even one fake name on the muster rolls in areas where MKSS is active.

The campaign has also focused enormous political and bureaucratic attention on the management of drought relief. Senior bureaucrats say that ‘they were always kept on their toes’ because of the campaign. Each district was personally monitored by a minister or a secretary level officer. Every fortnight there was a state-level review of relief works by the Chief Minister and senior officers. Platforms were created for people to air their grievances before such meetings. Kavita Srivastava of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, who has been in the thick of action, says that there are clear indications of improved management as a result of this public pressure. Typically she used to receive scores of complaints about relief works each month. This year there were much fewer complaints. For example, there was a remarkable improvement in the timeliness of wage payments. The worksites were well spread, making them accessible to all. Regular monitoring by the highest levels acted as a further brake on corruption.

The drought relief programme in Rajasthan was by no means flawless. Employment generation was inadequate in many areas. People often had difficulties in accessing muster rolls and other records. There were many management problems including the choice of relief projects and the quality of the work. Notwithstanding these problems, the relief programme was remarkable, and stands in sharp contrast with other states in the country. Much of this is due to the pressure generated by the campaign in the state. There is a strong message of hope that public action can indeed help to highlight the concerns of disadvantaged people and strengthen their bargaining power. It is also inspiring to see that we can tackle problems like corruption, which seemed intractable not so long ago.

India has several inspiring campaigns on several issues like environment, displacement, food, health, etc. If you are a youngster looking forward to socially relevant activities, I strongly suggest that you consider participating in one of these people’s campaigns. Campaigns offer hectic, meaningful activity that you would be looking for. At the same time chances are that you would add much value to the work involved.

[1] “Muster roll” is the register on employment, wages and other details relating to labour maintained at worksites.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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