Report of the advisor to the Commissioners in the Supreme court case

Excerpts of the Report of the Adviser to the Commissioners in the Supreme Court Case PUCL v. Union of India and others, writ petition (civil) (196/2001)

Introduction
A Team led by Ms. Arundhati Dhuru, Uttar Pradesh Advisor to Commissioners in the Supreme Court Case PUCL v. Union of India and others, writ petition (civil) (196/2001) comprising of Prof. Pradeep Bhargava, Director, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, Ms. Bindu Singh, Secretary, Gramya Sansthan, Varanasi, Mr. Utkarsh Kumar Sinha, Director, Centre for Contemporary Studies and Research, Lucknow and Mr. Sanjay Singh, Aapda Nivarak Manch, Bundelkhand, Urai visited Lalitpur, Mahoba and Banda districts of Bundelkhand region on January 3-5, 2008. The latter three persons are also members of Right to Food State Advisory Committee constituted by the Right to Food Campaign. On January 5, 2008, The Team was visited by Prof. Jean Dreze, Visiting Professor, Dr. Reetika Khera and Mr. Siddhartha, graduate of the National Law University, Jodhpur, currently affiliated with the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.
The Team was assisted by Mr. Ajay Srivastava, Sai Jyoti Sewa Sansthan, Mr. Basudeo, Bundelkhand Sewa Sansthan, Mr. Sudhir and Mr. Brijendra Singh, Rashteriya Yuva Yojana, Mr. Nandlal Saheija of the Sahriya Jan Adhikar Manch, (Lalitpur); Mr. Manoj, Kiriti Shadh Sansthan, Mr. Prithvi Singh Yadav, Apda Nivarak Manch, both in Mahoba; Dr. O.P. Singh, Krishnarpit Sanshtan, Attara; Mr. Pushpendra Bhai, Karzare Mukte Phanda Alondan, Mr. Pankaj, Dyanamic Action Group (Banda); and Mr.Ram Kishore Shukla, Convener Apda Niwarak Manch facilitated the visit.
The Team took cognizance of the distress situation prevailing in the Bundelkhand region consequent of the four years of recurring drought, resulting in crop failure. The distress has manifested in large scale migration, unemployment, widespread indebtedness, hunger and malnutrition, water scarcity, loss of livestock. In extreme cases farmer suicides and perceived hunger and malnutrition deaths have also been reported by the media, especially in the last 12 months.
The Team foresees challenging times in the next few months before the monsoon for the people of the region. This Report focuses on three specific issues presented in the following three Sections:
(1) An assessment of the situation in Sahariya Dominated areas and the response of the government and its schemes;
(2) An assessment of the agrarian distress, the situation of indebtedness, reported farmer’s suicides and government’s response; and
(3) Functioning of NREGP and other schemes
Areas Visited
The Team visited the following areas:
1. District Lalitpur: Villages Dhamna, Ladwari, Radhapur, Block Bar;
2. District Mahoba:.Village Chandaul, Block Supa, Charkhari, Village Srinagar, Block Kabrai,
3. District Banda: Village Kalyanpur, Block Nareni, Village Madhopur, Block Mahuwa, Village Panduri, Block Badophar,.
The Team wishes to thank people of these villages, Gram Pradhans, Gram Pradhan Paties and village level officials for their support.
In the pages that follow there are three Sections, one each on the Sahriyas, Agrarian distree in Bundeljhand and finally on the implementation of the NREGP.
I. An assessment of the situation in Sahariya Dominated areas and the response of the government and its schemes
The first encounter of the Team was in village Dhamna (Lalitpur District) with an old Sahariya woman sitting outside her locked house. She was abandoned by her family which had migrated to Madhya Pradesh in search of work. She could barely crawl and survived seeking alms from her community, which itself had little to share. She had no access to food with dignity. On further probe we found that around 250 Sahariya adults out of a total of 450 had migrated to Indore, Bhopal, Delhi and Gwalior for work. Other members who could not migrate were aged, single women and children. Only a few able bodied persons were around.
1. Survival and nutritional status
Some households in the village mainly survive on Rs.15 - Rs.40 per day selling minor forest produce and wood collected from the already depleting forests. Not being a farming community, they generally lease out their very small landholdings, if any, to farmers for up to Rs. 2,000 per year or an amount of seed used in the farm in the year. When asked as to what they eat, the overall response was roti with salt and/ or chillis. The better off would have roti and gur on some days. This reflected on their nutrition status as evident from the hemoglobin in a small sample of children and adults.
Table 1: Distribution of number of persons by their Hemoglobin status
Hemoglobin
Children
Adults
Grade III (6.5-8 g/dl)
4
0
Grade II (8-10 g/dl)
3
0
Grade I (10-12 g/dl)
2
3
Normal (12-14 g/dl)
0
0
Total
10
3
2. Paying more for their entitlements
Of the 110 Sahariya households in Dhamna, only half had BPL or Antyodaya cards. The silver lining was that the BPL/Antyodaya card holders were receiving their quota of grain. But even in such trying circumstances, all of them were overcharged by the kotedar to the extent of 30 percent.
3. Right to work denied
Perhaps, this is the distress period when the Sahariyas need support more than ever. However, no Sahariya in Dhamna had worked in the NREGP for more than 8 days in this year. Half the number of persons we met had job cards on them but the other half reported job cards with the Pradhan. On questioning the Pradhan, he told that these were with the panchayat secretary. It is to be noted that under the NREGP job cards at all times must stay with the labourers. It is an important transparency safeguard under the Act, which has been seriously compromised.
4. Single women and food and work entitlements
The Team met six single women struggling to sustain themselves. None of them had BPL or Antyodaya cards. They had received job cards but none actually got work despite oral demands. They said that panchayat refused them work on the ground that they will not be able to deliver the required output (12'x12'x1' of earth digging work).
5. Child work in the NREGA
The Team visited one NREGA worksite in village Dhamna where around 180 people carried out farm bunding works. The Team was appalled to see four girls, namely, Nidhi d/o Dashrath Barai, Betchai (age 6 years) d/o Sharman Ahirvai, Bhaggo (age 13 years) and Mamta (age 14 years) working on the site.
When the Team met the mate, he mentioned that since wages were to be paid on piece rate, the details relating to labourers engaged in the work was not a concern. Apparently he justified the presence of children working on the worksite in the name of Piece Rate system of payment. Generally he was unaware and unconcerned of this gross violation of the Act. The muster rolls, display board and crèche facilities were not available on the worksite.
6. Condition of the Sahariyas in Bundelkhand
It is distressing to see the desperate deprivation of Sahariyas in the Bundelkhand region. The estimated population of this primitive tribe is 94,000 (or around 17,000 households). Most of these households have yet to adapt to agriculture as an occupation. Most of them do not have access to irrigation facilities and in most times they lease out their fields for very small sums of money. A sustainable livelihood option would be to invest in the assets owned by the Sahariyas. As of now, their lives are precariously dependent on monsoon and wage labour – mostly on sporadically available agriculture labour – which means occasional seasonal work in the best of times. Access to the NREGP is as much restricted as in other parts of the state.
The prevailing situation requires both short term steps for relief and long term measures to address the problem that has become inherent in the conditions in which Sahariyas live. These days traditional means of forest based livelihoods are fast disappearing and increasingly unviable, because of deforestation and state restraints on forest gathering. With old support systems collapsing, the Sahariyas, classified as Primitive Tribe Group (PTG) in most states, need serious and planned state intervention by way of provision of basic necessities.

7. Recommendations: Upliftment of Sahariyas

It was only in the year 2003 that the Government of Uttar Pradesh changed the status of the Sahariyas from Scheduled Castes to Scheduled Tribes. The government needs to consider the fact that in other states where Sahariyas inhabit, they are recognized as PTG. As a matter of fact UP forms part of the contiguous belt which has been inhabited by the community and therefore there is no good reason to exclude them from the category when in Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan they are accorded the PTG status.
Once they are recognized as PTG, compliance with the Supreme Court order would entail extension of basic safety net in form of Antyodaya Ann Yojana to Sahariyas. This should help the community in a significant manner and the state government thus needs to review the status of the community. The decision would bring relief to the community with no financial implication for the UP state exchequer.
The region has immense potential for a Joint Forest Management programme. It would provide long term benefit by way of restoring the natural resource base for the community. Restoring Sahariya's stakes and control over the forests will be important as a survival strategy. Similarly minor irrigation projects need to be launched at the earliest for sustainable livelihoods.

II Agrarian Distress in the Bundelkhand Region
The Team took cognizance of the numerous newspaper reports appearing since the last year regarding untimely deaths or suicides by farmers in the Bundelkhand region. It was the Team’s endeavour to understand the general situation of distress and conditions leading to these deaths and suicides.
1. Untimely deaths
The Team examined the following cases of untimely deaths in the following villages:
Village Supa: Kallu S/o Kasia Ahirwar, Brij Lal S/o Mayadeen, Man Singh S/o Bhauni, Aasadin S/o Mangia
Village Srinagar: Nandkishore Soni S/o Karhedilal Soni
Village Chandauli: Punja S/o Badna Ahirwar
Village Kalyanpuri: Ramsharan Patel
In Village Supa: Brij Lal S/o Mayadeen, age 34, a brick kiln worker, having a debt of Rs. 40,000 from a Sahukar committed suicide leaving behind 5 children. Debt combined with neuro-biological disorders led to death of Man Singh S/o Bhauni, Kallu S/o Kasia Ahirwar, Aasadeen S/o Mangia. In village Kalyanpur, Ramsaran Patel had a debt of Rs. 51,150 and died immediately after he received a notice. People say that he died due to shock and humiliation. In Village Chandauli, Punja S/o Badeva Ahirwar also died in similar conditions.
2. Distress migration
Distress migration was reported from almost all villages that the Team visited in Lalitpur, Banda and Mahoba districts. From village Supa, 5,000 persons out of a total population of 17,000 were reported to have migrated in search of work. Similarly in the neighboring villages distress migration was reported within the range of 25 to 50 percent.
3. Revenue collection
The Team was surprised to find that irrigation cess was being collected in district Mahoba when not a drop of water flowed through the canals during the year.
4. Health Status
The general health characteristics as evidenced from two nutrition indicators, namely, the Body Mass Index and the Haemoglobin count in the blood show that the population is severely malnourished. Some shocks could drive them to the verge of death. Examples of such shocks include: (a) lack of food in the household for a prolonged period; (b) illness, even minor ailments such as diarrhea if unattended; (c) neurobiological disorders including suicides.
The situation of children in particular was appalling. The abysmal hemoglobin levels of children (39 percent of children below the age of 14 years have hemoglobin below 8g/dl) is a wake up call to Bundelkhand’s nutrition emergency.
This phenomenon needs to be explored further, including the dietary habits and food absorption among adult. Among children worm infestation also seems to be one of the causes of low hemoglobin. Similarly, the Body Mass Index for children, though not considered a very robust indicator, shows that 75 percent children suffer from Chronic Energy Deficiency of Grade III.
Table 1: Hemoglobin in a random sample of children and adults in the Villages visited
(per cent distribution by grade of anemia)
Children
Adults
Grade III (6.5-8 g/dl)
39
0
Grade II (8-10 g/dl)
32
61
Grade I (10-12 g/dl)
29
35
Normal (12-14 g/dl)
0
4
Total
100
100
N=31
N=23
Table 2: Body mass index of a random sample of children and adults
(per cent distribution by level of chronic energy deficiency)
Level of Nutrition and BMI Class
Children
Adults
Chronic Energy Deficiency Grade III (<16.0)
75
15
Chronic Energy Deficiency Grade II(16.0-17.0)
9
10
Chronic Energy Deficiency Grade I (17.0-18.5)
0
35
Normal Low Weight (18.5-20.0)
9
40
Normal (20.0- 25.0)
6
0
Total
100
100
N=31
N=23
5. Consequences of Agrarian Distress
In village after village it was revealed to the Team how the farmers were lured into taking a loan either on the Kisan Credit Card or otherwise. For instance, many small and medium farmers have been given loans to buy tractors. In most cases, the loanee does not receive the full amount and is not in a position to invest whatever little he receives fruitfully. Droughts, of course, accentuate the distress but the entire lending process has been full of corruption and misdeeds of the bankers and middlemen. The Table below lists some of the bribes paid by loanees we met in villages Chandauli and Supa, ranging between 15 and 25 per cent of the loan amount in most cases.
Table 3: Amount of Loan and Bribe Paid by the Loanee to the Bankers
Name of Loanee
Name of Village
Bank
Amount Received (Rs.)
Amount Paid as Bribe (Rs.)
Giyalal
Chandauli
18000
4000
Kanju Ahirwar
Chandauli
Triveni
30000
5000
Phhol Singh
Chanduli
Allahabad
21000
5000
Kalloo
Supa
Oriental
15000
2000
Anju S/o Binda
Supa
Oriental
20000
3000
Babulal S/o Majia
Supa
Oriental
35000
10000
Yogeshwar S/o Raushan
Supa
Oriental
10000
1000
Bhaiyadeen S/o Persuiya
Supa
Oriental
66000
8000
Ranjua S/o Sahadra
Supa
Oriental
13000
2000
Bura S/o Nathua
Supa
Oriental
7000
1000
Dayaram S/o Murlidhar
Supa
Oriental
20000
5000
It is common knowledge that the tractor companies, land mafia and bankers collude to lure the farmer into taking large sums as loan against his land. They are fully aware that subsequently the farmer would default. The ultimate aim is to auction the land. There have also been instances when the farmer has not taken any credit but through forged papers there are large amounts standing against his name.
6. Recommendations: Easing the Burden of Debt
The Team feels that an Enquiry Commission needs to be set up which will probe the allegations of (a) huge amounts of bribes being paid to obtain loans, especially on the Kisan Credit Card; and (b) Collusion of tractor companies, land mafia and bankers to grab lands of the poor. Also debts should be rescheduled in drought affected Bundelkhand. Irrigation cess also needs to be discontinued as long as there is no supply of water. Nutrition emergency needs to be attended to by the state.

III. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA)
The Team briefly investigated the status of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in the villages visited by the Team. This programme is an unprecedented opportunity to protect the people of Bundelkhand from hunger and agrarian distress, as well as to regenerate the rural economy through creation of productive assets and injection of purchasing power. Unfortunately, this opportunity is being missed as things stand, due to casual implementation of the Act and Guidelines. There is an urgent need to give higher priority to this Act and ensure that it is implemented in letter and spirit.
1. Job Card Maintenance
In Kalyanpuri village the Team held interviews with labourers and matched the work related specifics from the testimonies with the Job Card entries. Without exception, the entries were found to be inflated up to 70-90 percent in terms of number of days worked. Curiously, labourers do not realize that the guarantee is just for 100 days and therefore inflation in number of days works out to his detriment even if he is paid full wages for his days of work.
2. Awareness about the scheme
There was very little awareness about the entitlements under the Act amongst the labourers. People did not have any clue about the process of demanding work as also other transparency related measures. We feel that the administration has not yet taken adequate initiatives to kick start the NREGP which has tremendous potential given the levels of social and economic distress prevalent in the region. It is imperative that the programme is given an opportunity to achieve scale and genuine participation of people.
3. No Ongoing Works
The Team notes with utmost concern that there were very few ongoing works in the region. In an area which has such widespread hunger, unemployment and general famine like conditions inert NREGP machinery is unexplainable. Demand for work is apparent in villages and proactive opening of works would bring some immediate relief to people. Administration should take urgent steps to open worksites in the area.
4. Evidence of Corruption
The Team inquired from the Pradhan of Village Kalyanpuri about the issue of inflated entries in the job cards. The Team was dismayed when in the presence of a large gathering of villagers the Pradhan pati conceded that it is normal practice to pay upto 40 percent of sanctioned amount for the NREGA work to the BDO office. He in a matter of fact manner mentioned his share as 20 percent. In fine, according to these standards only 40 percent of fund reaches towards the actual work which shall include material as well as labour output. The Pradhan all this while kept quiet and expressed ignorance about the programme. Professor Jean Dreze, Member, Central Employment Guarantee Council was a witness to this dialogue. Grassroots organizations active in the area also apprised the Team of similar “PC/cut system.” If this be true, and so much money gets siphoned off, it reflects the state of polity in Uttar Pradesh. While the Chief Minister has shown political will to implement the NREGA but the same willingness is not evident at the Village level. It would be a shame for our state if corruption continues unabated while other states with similar problems and history of mis-governance grab the initiative.
5. Work Measurement
Many organizations had protested to the state that the labour is not able to complete a khanti (a pit 100 cubic foot) in a day and pleaded with the government to rationalize the work requirement for a day’s work. In response, a recent Order of the state government for the Budelkhand region has done away with the piece rate method of wage payment and instead put in place a daily wage system. The Team fears that this could have serious repercussions. Firstly, it may result in a free for all kind of a situation, where neither the labour nor the mate would feel responsible for the work to be undertaken. Second, it is very likely that the corruption would increase manifold. The Team calls for withdrawal of the order. It is the understanding of the Team that time and motion studies should be conducted district wise such that a balanced Schedule of Rates can be devised.
6. Recommendations
NREGP should be implemented on war footing. The transparency measures in respect to availability of muster roles on work site should be strictly ensured.
As the government is diverting special funds for the Bundelkhand region it has to ensure that benefits actually reach the poorest sections. As it is very obvious that single and widowed women are left behind in the villages and able bodied have migrated to cities it is imperative that they should be given the priority in NREGP.
The emphasis should be on developing long term livelihood security options where benefits are distributed equitably with a special focus on marginalized and vulnerable groups. There should be special focus on developing water conservation works.
General recommendations
The Hon Supreme Court of India should take cognizance of distress in Bundelkhand region and should order a special report on the region and strictly ensure compliance of all the schemes to ensure food security.
As pointed out in the report nutritional status of the children is alarming. The issue should be treated as nutritional emergency and adequate measures should be urgently taken to avoid health catastrophe.
The state government should start drought relief works and ensure work for 300 days in a year including 100 days under NREGP.
A community kitchen at panchayat levels providing food for the old and needy is essential.
Aftermath of the Team’s visit
The day following the Team’s visit to the Bar Village, Brijendra of the Rashtriya Yuva Yojana was beaten up at the instigation of the Pradhan pati. A FIR has been lodged. In Chaundali village the ration shop dealer beat up a respondent who talked to the Team.
Arundhati Dhuru Prof Pradeep Bhargva
Utkarsh Sinha Sanjay Singh
Bindu Singh
9th January, 2008


Looking for last minute shopping deals? Find them fast with Yahoo! Search.

No comments:

Post a Comment