Major political parties have supported demand for immediate adoption of the Employment Guarantee Act (EGA) sans any dilutions.
Addressing a �Jan Mach� at the Constitution Club here on July 02, the CPI (M) general secretary, Mr. Prakash Karat, asked the UPA government to pass the EGA in the monsoon session of Parliament without any dilutions and only after incorporating the �very good recommendations� made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.
Indicating that the recommendations enjoyed the support of all political parties, Karat stressed on effective implementation of Food-for-Work (FFW) programmes.
The Jan Manch was organized by the People�s Action for Employment Guarantee, a countrywide network of over 150 mass organizations, to welcome the participants of the Rozgar Adhikar Yatra on their return to Delhi on 1st July after touring for 52 days in ten States.
Expressing solidarity with the campaign for employment guarantee, former President Mr. Narayanan said, �Any movement that has greater representation of the women in its fold cannot but be genuine and hence, is bound to succeed�.
Women participation in the Yatra was spontaneous and tremendous. Annie Raja, national secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, had taken the lead.
The Bill pending before the Parliament breaths restriction of employment guarantee to only one member of a household, which, the women apprehend, in a patriarchal society, would keep women bereft of benefits. So they have been demanding, among other things, to make this Act open to all adults.
Arguing for the right to work to be made a fundamental right, CPI leader D. Raja said, �No government can succeed without addressing issues of unemployment, poverty and other concerns in rural areas.� Raja added that the success of EGA depended on effective mass movements and people�s intervention.
Declaring Samajwadi Party�s �total support� to the Act, Dr. Sunilam hoped that the Standing Committee�s suggestions would be accepted in full and the EGA would be passed only after incorporating them.
The Congress Party made its presence felt through Madhusudan Mistry, an MP from Gujarat. Mistry assured that his party was committed to get the EGA passed in the monsoon session of Parliament. He, however, did not say whether the recommendation of the standing committee would be accepted- in part or full.
Among others, Ramdas Athavale of the Republican Party of India, pledged support to the EGA. �We are not content with a guarantee of 100 days. Out of 365 days, at least 300 days� job availability should be guaranteed,� he stressed.
Professor Jean Dr�ze, who led the Yatra, presented some findings on massive corruption and irregularities in FFW programmes. �The government is making no serious effort to implement its own guidelines,� he observed. Dreze further said that with an Act in place, officials would be bound to implement norms and prevent corruption.
Eminent economists like Prof. Prabhat Patnaik, Prof. Jayati Ghosh and Prof. Abhijit Sen, who is a Planning Commission member, also addressed the gathering. They said there was no justification in questioning the feasibility of the Act by citing the �huge financial burden� the Act would entail.
�The notion that the only way you can give to the poor is by first snatching away from the poor is simply not acceptable,� said social activist and Magasasay winner Aruna Roy, warning the government not to use the EGA as an excuse to push anti-people fiscal reforms like withdrawing subsidies or disinvesting from PSUs.
Testimonies on Rural Distress
The occasion witnessed testimonies by ordinary people on the general state of affairs in rural areas. Speaker after speaker, many of them women, dalits and adivasis, gave striking revelations of how government sponsored programmes end up benefiting contractors and the local powerful without actually reaching the poor and the needy.
�Hardly 10-15 percent of the funds reach the poor. The rest go the pockets of the contractors and officials,� said Gangaram Paikray, an adivasis who came on the Yatra from Chhatishgarh. �They displace us from our land and forests without rehabilitating us. How are we supposed to live? If the Act is passed, then at least we can demand work and earn our living,� said an adivasi woman from Gujarat.
Minister for Rural Development, Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad, who attended the entire second session listening to numerous testimonies and demands, denied any dillydallying in processing the Bill or any attempt to dilute it. The EGA would be passed in the monsoon session, he assured.
In his concluding remarks, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh gave a detailed analysis of the flaws of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill 2004, and outlined the essential requirements of an effective EGA. On the failure of the Food-For-Work, he reiterated: �If the experiment fails, it is a failure of the government. You cannot punish the poor for this failure.�
The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, was conspicuous by its absence, although invited to the programme. Incidentally, BJP leader and former U.P. Chief Minister Mr. Kalyan Singh was heading the Standing Committee to which the Bill had been referred
Cautioning that testimonies on the failure of FFWs do not mean that an EGA will also meet the same fate, Nikhil Dey, a member of the Rajasthan-based Mazdoor Kishan Shakti Sangathan sought to clarify the matter.
Talking to Orissamatters, Dey said that these testimonies, in fact, strengthened the need for EGA because �effective implementation of such programmes can be ensured only if there is a law so that the violators can be punished�. He added: �There is a need to expand the FFWs with strict vigilance which the EGA can only ensure.�
The Jan Manch ended with a unanimous pledge to �struggle together until the right to work is reflected in a full-fledged Employment Guarantee Act�.
Meanwhile, the People�s Action for Employment Guarantee has decided to further step up its campaign. Prof. Jean Dreze and Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy told Orissamatters that the People�s Action would now mobilize support for the Act at local levels by bringing more and more mass organizations into its fold.