Sumit Jain was part of the University contingent that visited Bhim, Rajasthan in October 2017 to work with Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan as part of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy course. He reflects on the concerns with the social security mechanisms in the country.
Flaws in the PDS
Government of India operates Public Distribution System (PDS) in synchrony with state governments in order to provide food security to the people of India. Making Aadhaar mandatory or availing subsidized ration has augmented corruption even further. Point of Sale (POS) machines at fair price shops (FPS) have started failing terribly. Though the government claims the biometric machines will help in eliminating corruption, the exact opposite scenario has taken place on ground. While previously the dealer was apprehensive of getting caught in case an investigation took place, now he/she can conveniently deny ration to a family under the garb of the POS machine not recognizing his or her fingerprint (there exists a parallel mechanism where the dealer can still provide a family with ration, if his/her fingerprint failed to match). In a FPS in Sangarwas panchayat of Beawar, the Sarpanch was openly defending the dealer who had denied ration to a family for last five months. When we tried to contact the panchayat sahayak regarding the same, he was dismissive of villagers and blamed them for their condition. Sarpanch, babu, dealer and Aadhaar –these entities which were entrusted upon to make the system work – have become the very reason for its failing.
Loopholes in MNREGA
Source: Author, data from Wikipedia.
While the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) looks good on paper, situation on ground is appalling. Bureaucracy has found ways to block the implementation of this scheme at various junctures. For example, construction sites tend to deploy a large number of NREGA workers. Given the kind of work, labourers are expected to work in a group of five. The Government servants take advantage of this loophole by denying work to people who approach them in the individual capacity. If that was countered by any chance, the payment of the wage is done on the basis of task and not on the number of hours worked. This has again led to a peculiar condition where the officer present at the construction site would find some or the other fault in the work done and deduct the already meagre wage. This has led to massive frustration among the workers who are willing to work hard but even then not given their own share of the wage.
National Social Assistance Scheme and its impact
Pension amounts in various states are mentioned below –
Source: Author, data from Wikipedia.
For a lot of families who have no one to support them, this pension is the only source of income. However, all is not green in such schemes as well. Take the case of old age pension scheme, a person is entitled to increased pension of 750/- INR (previously 500/- INR) as he/she attains the age of 65. But due to lack of awareness, people involved in disbursing and delivering the pension try to pocket that extra 250/- INR. We found a lot of cases where people had attained the age of 74-75 and were still receiving 500/- INR as pension.
Talk with Aruna Roy
The NLS group of interns also got an opportunity to interact with MKSS pioneer Ms. Aruna Roy. Through her conversation she shed light on her experience in civil services and the rampant corruption in the bureaucracy. Service rules are framed in such a manner that only conformists can survive. Any attempt to reform the system is not taken well by the political establishment and every attempt is made to nullify that step.
She also discussed various aspects of public policy, her stint as a ‘professor of practice’ at McGill University, Canada and how the domain is evolving in various parts of the world. She paid focus on how the civil society plays an important role in the Indian context keeping the democratic values alive and acts as a pressure group on the government. She also laid emphasis on the importance of protests and described taking part in them as imperative for policy students.
NLS interns with Aruna Roy
As mentioned at various places in the report, it is the information gap and lack of awareness which is the root of all problems. While the government legislation has empowered the people with legal rights, the ones who are empowered are unaware of it. It also seems that government has intentionally left this information gap so that they can alter the public opinion as and when required. It is this information gap which the civil society needs to fill. One way to go through this is by organizing meetings and taking the public in confidence. MKSS is doing a great job in this manner and more such groups should come up. Another possible way to curb this problem is by providing consultancy to the government in such a manner that they see their benefit in informing people about their rights. How that would be done in a convincing manner is something all of us have to find out.
(Sumit Jain is a participant of the 2017-19 batch of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org)