Right from the word go combating corruption in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has been a major agenda of activists of the Right to Food Campaign. Needless to say, it brings activists into conflict with the vested interests that are deeply rooted in India today. This week in Palamu, a young and committed activist – Lalit Kumar – was murdered, perhaps a result of his actions to secure the poorest of people their rights. I am reproducing an appeal below from the website of the right to food campaign on this issue:
We are deeply disturbed by the recent murder of Lalit Kumar Mehta, member of Vikas Sahyog Kendra (Palamau District), who was brutally killed on 14 May 2008 as he was returning from Daltonganj to Chhattarpur on a motorcycle.
The circumstances of this murder are disturbing. Lalit (aged 36), an active member of the right to food campaign and Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, has been working in this area for more than 15 years on issues related to the right to food and the right to work. He was a very gentle person and his work was widely appreciated. However he was also fearless in exposing corruption and exploitation, and often came in the way of vested interests.
At the time of this incident, Lalit was helping a team of volunteers from Delhi and elsewhere to conduct a social audit of NREGA works in Chainpur and Chhattarpur Blocks of Palamau District. Attempts had already been made to dissuade the team from conducting this investigation, particularly in Chainpur Block. Is it a coincidence that Lalit was murdered just one day after the investigation began?
If this murder was an act of intimidation, it did not succeed. Friends and supporters from all over Jharkhand gathered at Vikas Sahyog Kendra on 17 May. They unanimously resolved to continue the campaign against corruption and exploitation in this area.
A public hearing of NREGA will be held in Chhattarpur on 26 May. We appeal to all those who stand in solidarity with Lalit and his work to participate in this event.
Our immediate demands: (1) CBI enquiry into this incident; (2) strict action on all the complaints and irregularities emerging from this social audit of NREGA.
Balram (Right to Food Campaign), Jean Drèze (Allahabad University), Jawahar (Vikas Sahyog Kendra), Meghnath (Akhra, Ranchi), Vinoy Ohdar (ActionAid) and others including all members of Gram Swaraj Abhiyan.
Local contact: 06566-290013 (Vikas Sahyog Kendra) or email@example.com