Sunday, February 27, 2011

Envisioning India—The Potential of Aadhaar

Centre for Media Studies (CMS, in collaboration with Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML, organized the National Lecture Series on ‘Analysing and Envisioning India’ on 25 February, 2011 at Auditorium, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti House. In this occasion, a lecture titled Envisioning India—The Potential of Aadhaar was delivered by Information and Technology czar Nandan Nilekani, who is presently the Chairperson of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI, The programme was chaired by Dr. Rajesh Tandon, President, Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA,

Dr. Mridula Mukherjee, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library welcomed her guests and explained the reasons behind and the nature of collaboration between CMS and NMML. She informed that CMS is a premier and unique institution (non government organization) founded by N Bhaskar Rao. It has produced some of the best quality public work. PRIA is another unique organization, added Mukherjee. It has made policy intervention in the area of governance. While talking about the UID project, she said that Nandan Nilekani is trying to give the citizens an identity. There are criticisms regarding how the UID project could be used and misused. The main objective is how the technology can be used for the greater good. Nilekani who is coming from the private sector is trying to promote larger social good. She explained that NMML’s partnership with CMS is part of the effort to build linkages in the society. Exposure to the public is a vital objective. There is no gap in the perceptions of NMML and CMS. NMML has undertaken digitization of archives as well as news reports. Microfilms of newspaper reports are available. However, television reports have not been archived. CMS has analysed archived news and reports. Doordarshan and NDTV must think about archiving news reports. Finally, Mridula Mukherjee presented the souvenirs to the chief guests.

PN Vasanti, Director, CMS informed that CMS is fast becoming favorite among the elderly and the youth. It has started to think beyond history. CMS’ mission include: advocacy, planning, sensitization (on issues of national concern) etc. Multidisciplinary approach to research is followed and areas of research include both market and social research. CMS also organizes a film festival on biodiversity and environment titled ‘Vatavaran’. Understanding current issues is important. Nandan Nilekani is much spoken about, she said. He has written the book Imagining India. He is the Chairperson of UIDAI, which is going to cover 600 million population in the next 4 years. Security and reliability are major issues before Aadhaar. Nilekani was also the Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Infosys ( In the year 2009, Time magazine placed Nilekani in the Time 100 list of 'World's Most Influential People' (see: The 2009 TIME 100,,28804,1894410_1893837_1894177,00.html).

Dr. Rajesh Tandon congratulated CMS for organizing the lecture. He asked for independent public issue focused institutions who can provide leadership. He said that media accountability is important. He informed that the civil society is afraid of too much technology and intervention made by the State. When things get more organized, the civil society becomes suspicious. Data protection and privacy laws are important in the context of the Aadhaar project. Due to the Government providing escape routes, urban poor do not have birth or death certificates. Escape routes can be blocked by the National UID Bill. There are problems with the BPL list, Voter’s ID card, ration cards as they can be faked. In India, old age pensions are siphoned off by faking identity. We have multiple cards but we don’t have multiple identities. Aadhaar is one way to solve the problem. Other Government agencies have to act and all the duties cannot be performed by Aadhaar.

Nandan Nilekani congratulated CMS for completing its 20th anniversary. While discussing the UID project, he explained the 3 key challenges faced by India, which are as follows:

* There are a large number of residents whose existence the Indian State do not acknowledge. A major chunk of the population does not possess birth or death certificates. There are not enough birth records. The identity number can connect these people to the State. The purpose of the UID project is to make development more inclusive.
* The purpose behind the UID project is to address the problem of mobility and encourage mobility of the people. Rate of migration is quite high in India. Migration will go up in the coming years (20-30 years) due to urbanization and climate change. Demographic dividends can push up migration, which was explained earlier by Ashish Bose. Migration compounds identity problem. Those who reside in villages or remote rural areas do not have proper identity records. When they migrate, they will face the problem of portable identity.
* The UID project will address the problem of public service delivery. The government is facing the challenge of making public spending direct and transparent. The aim is to make the money reach to the actual beneficiary. Since social welfare spending is going up, so there is need for transparency in delivery mechanism. Diversion or duplication must be avoided. Public service delivery must be made efficient, effective and convenient. Public services can reach the beneficiaries in 3 modes: panchayats, post offices and banks. There exists low density of post offices and banks in rural areas. These are poorly equipped. Post offices generally have no computers and are single employee branches. There exists inadequate staff at the Gram Panchayat and Block-levels.

Nandan Nilekani explained how the UID project is going to address these issues, which are as follows:

* There will be one number for one person. A second number cannot be assigned for the same person. Duplication of ration cards is rampant in India. There should be a reliable and robust way. Advances in biometrics ensure unique fingerprints and iris scan. A massive computational task is there to be accomplished.
* What to do with the unique numbers? The numbers will be used for identification and authentication after which services will be delivered to the beneficiaries. The identification process will address the question ‘Who are you?’. A database which is online will provide the answer whether the person carrying the UID number is authentic or genuine. The UID number is portable nationally, which can be verified anywhere.
* How to solve the problem in the real world? The first problem is regarding the scale of the project as 1 billion people have to be covered. The other problems are: a. speed as there is a time limit; b. the quality of the data needs to be accurate; and c. cost of the project. Several states already have collected data on individuals when they rolled out NREGS and PDS. There is a need to make partnership with registrars, who already have their own databases. 60 registrars have been identified so far.
* How do you make sure that the data quality from different source remains the same? The enrolment technology applied in the UID project is standardized across the country. Enrolment of individuals is based on the same and standardized technology.
* When partnering is done by ecosystem of organizations, the data collection process speeds up. Rs. 50 is paid per enrolment to the registrar. Outcome based approach is followed in the enrolment. Rs. 100 is the enrolment cost of one individual. The backend activity includes parallel processing (cost Rs. 50 per enrolment) and frontend activity takes place in the enrolment stations (cost Rs. 50 per enrolment). Using this architecture, the scale is created. Almost 2 million persons have been enrolled so far. It is a scalable model where enrolment stations can be added.
* There is high level of instrumentation in the data analytics.
* Online authentication is a big deal. A lot of persons do not have bank accounts. Their savings is vulnerable. Moneylenders can exploit people if they have no access to banks. Verification process to own bank account is more onerous after 9/11 (because of the problem of money laundering and terror funding). KYC (know your customer) policy is adversely affecting the poor to open up bank accounts. The Aadhaar number will entitle one to open a bank account, thus helping in financial inclusion. Hence, the transaction cost to open the bank account will go down. Bank accounts can be opened up electronically. Out of the 2 million enrolments till now, 80 percent have said that they want to open bank account.
* How to make banking services more accessible? Business correspondents like village level shopkeepers will be provided micro-ATMs (handheld devices) through which they can offer the villagers having the UID no., the money needed by them (after verification). Decentralized banking via business correspondents can help in financial inclusion. Mobile inclusion is another example of financial inclusion. The Department of Telecommunications is saying that Aadhaar number is sufficient to get a mobile connection.
* The UID system can be used for giving direct subsidy on food, fuel (kerosene) and fertilizers. The Aadhaar system will electronically maintain the monetary transactions in the case of subsidy. The Government has set up an inter-ministerial task force under Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Chairman Nandan Nilekani, which will work out a suitable mechanism to provide direct subsidies on kerosene, cooking gas (LPG) and fertilizers for the intended beneficiaries.
* The identity infrastructure is based on open programming interface. It is an open identity infrastructure. More applications can be built. More innovation is possible. Enrolling everybody is important. Those who have no identity at all, there is a need for an introducer. The introducer will introduce the person’s name, address, and possible date of birth.

Nandan Nilekani told that there is not much personal information collected/ available in the UID project, whose dissemination can affect privacy of the individual. There are enough checks and balances. There exists distributive database. Many organizations have to come together to share data. Legal infrastructure is planned for privacy and data protection.

Answering to the questions posed by the audience, Nilekani said that the Aadhaar scheme will provide welfare that far outweighs the risks anticipated. There is no obligation to enroll. Data sharing is protected. Software and enrolment process is standardized. So, the data quality remains good. The number provided under the UID project is not to prove one’s nationality but to provide one person a unique identity. Passports, voter’s ID card, PAN cards and bank accounts cannot be replaced by UID number as they are the responsibilities of various individual departments. The UID is a 12 digit number. If a person is not using the number for a long duration, then that person can be considered dead. UIDAI is an attached office of the Planning Commission. Physical presence is need for biometric data collection. Non-biometric information can be collected from other databases. The UIDAI is considering whether the databases of Election Commission, National Population Registrar and Telecom data (of customers) can be utilized. UIDAI is providing identity infrastructure. Its role is to enroll and provide authentication services. Aadhaar’s definition of residences is same that of the National Population Registrar. There is no card given under the UID project. Only a number is provided. Geographical identity is needed to send the numbers via post and not to expose somebody’s identity or to harass. The idea is to include and not to exclude. The database collected by the UIDAI is also there with the mobile companies. If one is not questioning the mobile companies, then how can one say that a rogue state will misuse individual information collected.

Finally, the ‘Role model Award’ was presented to Nandan Nilekani by Bhaskar Rao of CMS.

Key concerns regarding the UID project and the Aadhar number:

* More number of bank accounts got opened under NREGA as compared to the UID project. Hence, the claim that Aadhaar number will lead to financial inclusion of the poor is too much rhetorical.
* Proponents of UID project can use the system to stop illegal migration from Bangladesh (by abusing human rights) whereas the same won’t be done in case of Nepalese, Bhutanese, Tibetan and Burmese. This is because of the existing anti-Muslim feeling among the officials.
* Issues of privacy and data protection are still unanswered.
* The UID project has been mooted to undermine schemes like NREGS and PDS and to encourage direct cash transfers.

For a critique of the UID project read: A Campaign for No UID-Till Complete Transparency, Accountability and People’s Participation,

Further readings:

UID and Public Health: Specious Claims by Mohan Rao,, 21 February, 2011,

One step forward, The Business Standard, 22 February, 2011,

Bihar as model? UID rollout within 3 years by Mahendra Kumar Singh, The Times of India, 16 February, 2011,

Team Nilekani to shape model for direct susbidy transfer, The Economic Times, 15 February, 2011,

Nilekani to head task force on direct subsidies, The Hindu, 15 February, 2011,

UID to be Punjab’s ‘adhaar’ to take on oil, LPG mafia by Sukhdeep Kaur. The Indian Express, 7 February, 2011,

Tracking Nilekani by Latha Jishnu, Down to Earth, 15 February, 2011,

UID boss Nilekani for pvt identity, public access, The Times of India, 4 February, 2011,

Mohali to take lead in UID, The Times of India, 2 February, 2011,

Fool-proof UID system for Indians? Blah!,, 1 February, 2011,

Census 2011 will begin on February 9 by Vinay Kumar, The Hindu, 3 February, 2011,

Kind to cash by Richard Mahapatra, Down to Earth, 15 February, 2011,

A platter of blather by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Indian Express, 21 January, 2011,

Several questions on UID unanswered, say experts, The Hindu, 24 January, 2011,

UID launched in Gumla, The Times of India, 21 January, 2011,

Activists, researchers doubts security of UID data, DNA, 22 January, 2011,

UIDAI chairman leaves simple questions unanswered at lecture for students by Samir Kelekar,, 10 January, 2011,

Master card: The UID faces opposition by Udit Misra, Money Control, 12 January, 2011,

Resolving the identity crisis by Malia Politzer, Live Mint, 10 January, 2011,

100 days on, development a non-starter in UID’s first stop by Santosh Andhale, DNA, 6 January, 2010,

UID set to replace PF account number, The Times of India, 4 January, 2011,

UID can now be your official ID proof by Arunoday Mukharji, IBN, 2 January, 2011,

Unique Identity, Leakages and Development by Jayati Ghosh,, 16 December, 2010,

MasterCard Develops Payment Solution for ‘Aadhaar’ in India, WebWire, 7 December, 2010,

Right to privacy or the right to do business with UID database?,, 3 December, 2010,

Panel proposes UID-linked direct subsidy by Utpal Bhaskar, Live Mint, 5 December, 2010,

Govt urged not to link UID, NREGA by Jaideep Deogharia, The Times of India, 2 December, 2010,

Each Unique ID number costs Rs.100: Nilekani, IANS, 2 December, 2010,

Will Unique Identity Number derail NREGA? by Alok Pandey and Tanima Biswas, NDTV, 2 December, 2010,

‘Keep UID out of MGNREGA', The Hindu, 1 December, 2010,

Aadhaar will plug leakages in welfare delivery mechanism by Surabhi Agarwal, Live Mint, 24 November, 2010,

Unique facility, or recipe for trouble? by Jean Dr├Ęze, The Hindu, 25 November, 2010,

"Basic procedures not followed before project was launched”, The Hindu, 29 September, 2010,

Why the UID number project must be scrapped by Gopal Krishna,, 2 June, 2010,

High-cost, high-risk by R Ramakumar, Frontline, Volume 26, Issue 16, 1-14 August, 2009,

Why Indians should fear the UID by Praful Bidwai,, 12 October, 2010,

The personal is the personal by Usha Ramanathan, 6 January, 2010, The Indian Express,

Questionable link by Praful Bidwai, Frontline, Volume 27, Issue 12, 5-18 June, 2010,

Not all that unique by Reetika Khera, The Hindustan Times, 30 August, 2010,

NREGA gets 'smart' by Arvind Mayaram, The Financial Express, 24 September, 2010,

Unique ID pilot project in a week, The Telegraph, 30 July, 2010,

Govt allocates Rs 10 cr to UIDAI, The Indian Express, 22 July, 2010,

Plugging the leaks, The Business Standard, 15 July, 2010,

Govt slashes UIDAI budget by over 50 per cent,, 11 July, 2010,

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is Indian agriculture performing really well?

There could not have been a better timing for the release of the Advance Estimates of National Income 2010-11 of the Central Statistics Office (CSO), Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation (MoSPI) since everybody is eagerly waiting for UPA 2’s third budget. The newly released document show that GDP arising out of the agricultural sector registered a growth rate of 5.4 percent at factor cost at constant (2004-05) prices in 2010-11. The CSO document predicts that the ‘agriculture, forestry and fishing’ sector would grow by 5.4 per cent in its GDP during 2010-11, as against the previous year’s growth rate of 0.4 per cent. In another estimate made by the Survey of Professional Forecasters: Results of the Fourteenth Round (Q3:2010-11), for the year 2010-11, the forecast for agriculture has been revised upwards from 4.6 per cent to 5.0 per cent (See the links below).

According to the information furnished by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC) to the CSO, production of foodgrains and oilseeds are likely to expand by 6.5 per cent and 11.9 per cent, respectively, in 2010-11. The production of cotton and sugarcane are also expected to increase by 41.2 per cent and 15.2 per cent, respectively, in 2010-11. Production of fruits and vegetables are expected to increase by 4.1 per cent and 3.8 per cent, respectively, during the same period.

Despite positive claims being made about agricultural production by the Congress-led UPA 2, there are key areas of concern where Indian agriculture is still lagging behind.

The key challenges faced by Indian agriculture are as follows:

Rain-fed farming: It is beyond doubt that the fate of Indian agriculture is determined by the monsoons. The percentage coverage of irrigated area under rice, wheat, coarse cereals, pulses, foodgrains, total oilseeds and all crops during 2007-08 have been 56.9 percent, 90.9 percent, 14.2 percent, 16.2 percent, 46.8 percent, 27.1 percent and 44.6 percent, respectively. Hence, it can be inferred that production of coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds is highly rain-dependent and take place in arid and semi-arid areas of our country. Only, 44.6 of the area under principal crops is irrigated.

Inequality in land distribution and fragmentation of land: During 2000-01, 62.3 percent, 19.0 percent, 11.8 percent, 5.5 percent and 1.0 percent of the operational holdings were marginal (less than 1 hectare), small (1.0 to 2.0 hectares), semi-medium (4.0 to 10.0 hectares) and large (10.0 hectares and above), respectively. The average size of all operational holdings has reduced from 1.41 hectares in 1995-96 to 1.33 hectares, thus, pointing to increased fragmentation of land, which affects productivity. The area operated has reduced from 163357000 hectares in 1995-96 to 159436000 hectares in 2000-01.

Lack of productive investment in agriculture: The percentage share of Plan outlay on agriculture and allied activities in total Plan outlay during the Ninth Plan (1997-2002) was 4.9 percent, which came down to 3.9 percent in the Tenth Plan (2002-07). The percentage share of Plan outlay on agriculture and allied activities in total Plan outlay during 2007-08 was 3.5 percent, which came down to 3.1 percent in 2008-09 and further to 2.4 percent in 2009-10. Similarly, the percentage share of Actual expenditure on agriculture and allied activities in total Actual expenditure during the Ninth Plan (1997-2002) was 4.0 percent, which came down to 3.8 percent in the Tenth Plan (2002-07).

Growth rate of actual expenditure of the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation was 42.95 percent, 27.94 percent, 45.05 percent, -21.55 percent and 95.19 percent during 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 (over the previous years), respectively. Apart from a shortfall in monsoon rainfall during 2009-10, a negative 21.55 percent growth in the actual expenditure of the DAC during 2008-09 may have contributed for agricultural GDP growth of 0.4 percent (at constant 2004-05 prices) in 2009-10. However, as a result of favourable monsoons during 2010-11 and a positive 95.19 percent growth in the actual expenditure of the DAC during 2009-10, the agricultural GDP is expected to grow by 5.4 percent 2010-11.

The picture may not be as rosy as one can imagine. The percentage share of public investment in the total investment made on agriculture has declined from 21 percent in 2004-05 to 18 percent in 2008-09. According to the Economic Survey 2009-10, public investment in agriculture in real terms has witnessed steady decline from the Sixth Five Year Plan to the Tenth Plan. Trends in public investment in agriculture and allied sectors reveal that it has consistently declined in real terms (at 1999-2000 prices) from the Sixth Plan to the Ninth Plan (Sixth Plan [1980-85]—Rs 64,012 crore, Seventh Plan [1985-90]—Rs 52,108 crore, Eighth Plan [1992-97]—Rs 45,565 crore and Ninth Plan [1997-2002]—Rs 42,226 crore).

Agricultural Indebtedness: According to the Report No. 498(59/33/1), Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers: Indebtedness of Farmer Households, National Sample Survey 59th Round (January-December 2003), percentage of indebted farmer households was highest in the state of Andhra Pradesh (82%), to be followed by Tamil Nadu (74.5%), Punjab (65.4%), Kerala (64.4%), Karnataka (61.6%) and Maharastra (54.8%) (See the link below).

Stories of farmers committing suicides are frequently reported in media from states like: Andhra Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharastra (see the links below). According to the recently released National Crime Records Bureau's Accidental Death and Suicide (2009), the number of suicides committed by farmers in 2009 was 17,368, which was a rise by 1,172 as compared to 2008. Self-employed category accounted for 39.8% of suicide victims in 2009. It comprised 13.7% engaged in Farming/Agriculture activities, 6.1% engaged in Business and 2.9% Professionals. Despite a fall in number of suicides committed by farmers in 2009 as compared to 2008 in Maharastra (fallen by 930), the state continues to be number one in terms of farmers' suicides for the tenth year (2,872 suicides) as compared to the rest of the Indian states.

Revamping the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act: The State APMC Acts establish and regulate a large number of agricultural markets in India. The entire geographical area in a state is divided and declared as a market area wherein the markets are managed by the Market Committees constituted by the state Governments. No person or agency is allowed freely to carry on wholesale marketing activities, once a particular area is declared a market area and falls under the jurisdiction of a Market Committee. It is believed by a set of economists that the monopoly of Government regulated wholesale markets has hampered the development of a competitive marketing system in India, providing no help to farmers in direct marketing, organizing retailing, a smooth raw material supply to agro-processing industries and adoption of innovative marketing system and technologies. The Task Force on Agricultural Marketing Reforms set up by the Ministry of Agriculture has suggested promotion of new and competitive Agricultural Market in private and cooperative sectors to encourage direct marketing and contract farming programmes, facilitate industries and large trading companies to undertake procurement of agricultural commodities directly from the farmer’s fields and to establish effective linkages between the farm production and retail chains.

Presently, agricultural produce can be moved out of an area only by agents who own licenses issued under the APMC Act. However, the Central Government has envisaged a model APMC Act for the states to enable the smooth flow of produce from one place to another. Key proponents of the revamped APMC Act want to squeeze the interference by the intermediaries so that the fruits of rising prices can be enjoyed by the farmers. Foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail is also seen as a solution to combat inflation. According to the critics of the existing APMC Act, the cleaning, grading and packaging of agricultural produce before sale by the farmers have not been popularized by the market committees on a sufficient scale. There is demand for bringing more uniformity in powers and functions of Boards and demarcations of activities between the Directorate of Marketing and State Agricultural Marketing Boards. The number of regulated markets is relatively more in geographically larger states viz. Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

However, the Left parties are up in arms against the model APMC Act as they feel that it would lead to cartel formation by the traders and hoarding of essential commodities would accelerate, thus, adversely affecting the consumers. In the recent days, when India saw huge rise in prices of onion and other essential commodities, both the pro-and-anti APMC lobbies were seen on TV channels either advocating or critiquing the revamping of the same Act. The Left parties feel that FDI in retailing would greatly hamper food sovereignty.

Lack of storage facilities: Growth in food grain and agricultural production should be backed by sufficient and proper storage and distribution system. Recently, India has seen wastage of foodgrains in states like Punjab in the backdrop of high prevalence of malnutrition.

According to the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012) documents, lower growth in productivity increase and profitability in agriculture is attributable to:

• Inadequate investment in rural infrastructure has hampered the growth of agriculture

• Illiteracy, socio-economic backwardness, slow progress in implementing land reforms and inadequate marketing and storage facilities are affecting Indian agriculture

• Smaller size of land-holdings and fragmentation, which is affecting productivity

• Adoption of modern agricultural practices and use of technology is inadequate. There has been inefficient use of available technology and inputs.

• Agriculture is mainly rain-fed. There has been low level of public investment in irrigation-related infrastructure

• There has been widening economic disparities between irrigated and rain-fed areas

• Increased vulnerability to world commodity price volatility following trade liberalization. This had an adverse effect on agricultural economies of regions growing crops such as cotton and oilseeds

• Uneven and slow development of technology

• Lack of adequate incentives and appropriate institutions

• Degradation of natural resource base

• Rapid and widespread decline in groundwater table, with particularly adverse impact on small and marginal farmers

• Terms of trade turned against agriculture from 1999–2000 to 2004–05 and reduced profitability of farming quite sharply

Probably, a lot needs to be done before one gets satisfied with the prospect of a good turnaround of the agricultural sector in 2010-11.

Further Readings:

Advance Estimates of National Income 2010-11, Centra;Statistics Office, MoSPI, GoI, Press Information Bureau

Survey of Professional Forecasters : Results of the Fourteenth Round (Q3:2010-11),

Agricultural Statistics at a Glance 2010,

Economic Survey 2009-10,

Eleventh Five Year Plan 2007-12,

In rain-battered Adilabad, death stalks farmers by S Harpal Singh, The Hindu, 2 February, 2011,

3 farmers attempt suicide in Madhya Pradesh, Sify News, 31 January, 2011,

Farmer suicides increase at an alarming rate by Rupashree Nanda, IBN, 18 January, 2011,

1326 Indians die due to accidents, suicide every day, The Times of India, 17 January, 2011,

National Crime Records Bureau's Accidental Death and Suicide (2009),

Gowda's homeland is land of farmers' suicide too, The Times of India, 12 January, 2011,

Vidarbha: 9 farmer suicide in 5 days as cold destroys crop, NDTV, 12 January, 2011,

Modernisation of agri marketing needed: Montek, The Business Standard, 5 February, 2011,

Diluting the Right to Food by CP Chandrasekhar,, 2 February, 2011,

BJP lashes out at UPA govt on rotting food grains issue, IBN, 10 October, 2010,

Rotting grain & judicial transgression by Ashok Khemka, The Economic Times, 7 October, 2010,

How right you are, Dr. Singh by P Sainath, The Hindu, 14 September, 2010,

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mazdoor Haq Satyagraha

The Suchna Evum Rozgar ka Adhikar Abhiyan (SR Abhiyan) began a Mazdoor Haq Satyagraha (indefinite dharna) from the 2nd of October, 2010 near the Statue Circle in Jaipur, Rajasthan, which witnessed participation of nearly 1500 NREGA workers and farmers on the very first day.

The SR Abhiyan organized a Mazdoor Haq Yatra, in which there were 5 groups - one each in Ajmer, Jodhpur, Kota, Rajsamand and Udaipur. The yatras started on the 15th of September, 2010 so as to mobilize mazdoors and farmers on the issues of non-payment of minimum wages under NREGA, increase in minimum wages, work done by workers not being measured properly by junior engineers and widespread corruption and leakages in the existing employment guaranty scheme. The 5 groups converged near the Statue Circle in Jaipur on October 2nd, 2010-the day Gandhi Jayanti was celebrated.

A delegation comprising of 99 NREGA labourers from Tonk district who were paid Rs 1 per day as wage rate went to meet the Panchayati Raj and Rural Development Minister of Rajasthan Government Shri Bharat Singh, and handed over to him a cheque of Rs. 1037/- to be deposited under Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.

The NREGA workers at the dharna site were demanding for their just labour rights through the following slogans:

Nyuntam Mazdoori ko, Mahangai se jodo

(Link the Minimum wages to Price Inflation)

Nyuntam Mazdoori Badhani Hogi, Do sau Rupya Karni Hogi

(Make an increase in Minimum Wages to Rs. 200 per day)

Hum Hamara Haq Jante, Nahi Kisi se Bheek Mangte

(We are demanding for our Rights, We are not begging)

Mazdoor Haq Yatra Zindabad

(Long Live Mazdoor Haq Yatra)

Shri Bhanwar Singh Chadana from Aastha, Udaipur during a short interview to the Inclusive Media for Change ( team informed that the following issues would be raised during the indefinite dharna:

Violation of Minimum Wage Law, 1948

Minimum wages has remained the same since 2008 and it has not been linked to the Consumer Price Index

The Government of Rajasthan is not ready to increase the minimum wages so as to avoid fiscal burden. Even if wages are increased, it wants the Central Government to pay the extra amount

The salaries of the Government employees have been increased according to the recommendations of the 6th Pay Commission. Moreover, the salaries of the Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and Members of Parliament (MPs) have been hiked. However, there has been no improvement in the wages offered to the NREGA workers

Minimum wages should be increased from Rs. 100 per day to Rs. 200 per day.

Through simple tables and figures, the Mazdoor Haq Yatra displayed to the gathering that how the wages and salaries of the collectors, junior engineers, teachers, patwaris and sarpanches witnessed a huge rise between 2008 and 2010. Except the NREGA workers, every other Government official’s salary has risen between 2008 and 2010. Please see the table provided above.

Again, through simple tables and figures, the Mazdoor Haq Yatra displayed that how the prices of essential commodities have increased between 2008 and 2010. Though the Government provides dearness allowance (DA) to its employees by revising the basic salaries twice in a year so as to protect them from rising prices, there has been no effort on the part of the Government to link the minimum wages of the NREGA workers to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Please see the table provided above.

Ms. Aruna Roy from Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) spoke about the life and struggles of Mahatma Gandhi. She explained the meaning of the following popular Bhajan:

raghupati raaghav raajaaraam,

patit paavan sitaram

siitaaraam, sitaram,

bhaj pyaare tu sitaram

iishvar Allah tero naam,

sab ko sanmati de bhagavaan

She informed that Mahatma Gandhi was not killed by a Muslim but by a Hindu fanatic Brahmin named Nathuram Vinayak Godse. She asked that everyone should follow Gandhi ji’s Talisman, which says:

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melt away."

She also praised Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar who wrote the secular Constitution of India. She said that credit facilities for buying cars have become easier, while it has become costlier to get loans for farming. She criticized the present structure of the National Food Security Bill and said that the public distribution system (PDS) should be made universal.

MKSS activist Nikhil Dey asked that a People’s Commission on Wages should be constituted to discuss the issue of payment of minimum wages and increasing minimum wages to Rs. 200 per day. He said that dearness allowance is given to the Government employees and not to the workers under NREGA. If there is monitoring of work done by NREGA workers, then why the same should not be applied for the government officials. He informed that efficiency of the Government can be judged from the fact that Rs. 19,000 crore has been the annual revenue collection by the Government of Rajasthan from various sources, whereas Rs. 22,000 crore is spent annually for payment of salaries and pensions of Government employees. Government employees constitute only 1 percent of the population and a huge expenditure is made on their salaries and pensions. He explained that a worker who earns less than his/ her minimum wage is nothing but a slave.

Shri Bhanwar Singh Chadana from Aastha said that the indefinite dharna has been called to demand for the fulfillment of workers’ rights under NREGA. The sarpanches must allow conducting of social audits by outsiders.

Ms. Richa spoke at length about the role of gram panchayat in conducting social audits. She said that ward panchayat must also be included along with the gram panchayat. Farmers’ issues must be raised so that they get the right prices for their produce. Despite India having enough foodgrains in its buffer stock, people are dying due to starvation and hunger.

MKSS activist Shankar Singh said that Government employees get 183 days of holidays in a year that comprises of 365 days. For 6 months’ work, Government employees get 12 months’ salaries. Government employees get pensions, which the NREGA workers do not receive. He demanded that the days of employment under NREGA must be raised from 100 to 200 days a year.

Ms. Renuka Pamecha said that higher officials are not accountable to the public They do not provide services to the public efficiently. MPs and MLAs have increased their salaries. But NREGA workers’ salaries have remained stagnant. There is a need to fight against the new ‘kings’ and ‘queens’ i.e. the babudom. There are many crorepatis among Indian MPs but they still ask for higher salaries.

Ms. Arundhuti Roy informed that a massive war is taking place against the poor in states like Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. In states like Chattisgarh, the police is engaged in extortion and rape. The Government has waged a war against its own people so as to give mining rights and right to exploit natural resources available in forests to the corporate sector and the multinational corporations (MNCs). Nearly 25 percent of the national asset is owned by the richest 100 persons of India. India is much poorer than Africa in absolute terms. Nearly, 77 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of Rs. 20 per day. During the 1970s, Naxalism came into being to protest against the growing income disparity between the rich and the poor. In the name of tackling Maoism and Naxalism, the Government is presently engaged in human rights abuse. Tribal people are victimized by the police and the army. The Government wants to end small-scale agriculture done by poor cultivators and marginal farmers. The Government is working in favour of corporate and commercial agriculture. In Rajasthan, a movement is taking place to give NREGA workers the minimum wage. She questioned whether India can be called a super power since its labourers are paid Rs 1/ day. Whatever is happening in J&K, would replicate in other states of the country if the current scenario of exploiting the poor continues. She said that in Chattisgarh, one can be jailed for 7 years without any reason.


Sonia's NAC favours statutory minimum wages under MNREGS by Vidya Subrahmaniam, The Hindu, 30 October, 2010,

Centre and states labour over NREGA wage fineprint by Seema Chishti, The Financial Express, 25 October, 2010,

Minimum Wages Act for MGNREGA too: NAC by Anindo Dey, The Times of India, 25 October, 2010,

The Wages of Discontent by Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, The Hindu, 22 October, 2010,

Centre to step in Rajasthan Mnregs wage row by K Balchand, The Hindu, 10 October, 2010,

Mazdoor Satyagrah demands accountability panel, The Times of India, 9 October, 2010,

Activists to send low wage feat' to Guinness, The Times of India, 7 October, 2010,

NREGS: Activists demand action on anomalies, The Times of India, 6 October, 2010,

Less than min wages for NREGA workers unconstitutional: Govt by Anindo Dey, The Times of India, 5 October, 2010,

Ensure minimum wages to NREGA workers: Activists by Anindo Dey, The Times of India, 4 October, 2010,

No guarantees anymore by Sowmya Sivakumar, The Hindu, 3 October, 2010,

Labourers go on indefinite strike, press for demands, The Times of India, 3 October, 2010,

The mass job guarantee by Aruna Roy & Nachiket Udupa, Himal Magazine, October, 2010,

Cong, activists at loggerheads over NREGA by Sreelatha Menon, The Business Standard, 23 September, 2010,

'Systemic reform to root out corruption still needed' by Bharat Dogra, The Times of India, 13 September, 2010,

NAC members blast execution of NREGA, call it 'anti-labour', The Financial Express, 28 September, 2010,

MNREGA workers peeved at being paid Re. 1 by K Balchand, The Hindu, 28 September, 2010,

States fail on dole for jobless-Unemployment allowance to handful, The Telegraph, 28 September, 2010,

Rajasthan refuses to recognise NREGA workers' union by Sreelatha Menon, Sify News, 30 September, 2010,

Let’s build on the positives, The Hindustan Times, 29 September, 2010,