Making the Government Serve the People
Two recent legislations that have been passed by the Indian parliament with significant potential to transform the lives of the rural poor are National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the Right to Information Act (RTI). Together these two legislations contribute to the empowerment of the rural poor. Chethana is in the forefront of educating its constituency on how these legislations can best be used for their own empowerment - for creating livelihood opportunities and access to land records in their struggle for land and also ensuring transparency in the implementation of NREGA.
The Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI) mandates access to information related to the functioning of the government. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a "public authority" (a body of Government or "instrumentality of State") which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days. The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively publish certain categories of information so that the citizens have direct access to vital information on government’s functioning.
The Act ensures transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority by the appointment of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions. The Act specifies that citizens have a right to request any information, take copies of documents, inspect documents, works and records, take certified samples of materials of work, obtain information in form of printouts, diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes 'or in any other electronic mode' or through printouts.
Using the RTI, today the landless poor can have access to information regarding the land holding patterns, the availability of land, and illegal land holdings and also land that has been ear marked for Dalit and other socially disadvantaged communities. With this information in hand, Dalits can resort to strategic legal or extra legal actions to get land and also other rights associated with it.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do public related unskilled manual work at statutory minimum wages. More than one-third of the stipulated work force is women.
This involves registering oneself for a job card, the Panchayat (the local government) identifying works that benefits the public, and making the payment to the workers through prescribed channels. Corruption can occur in any of the three aspects of NREGA. Social auditing should be an essential component of the program. Here also, RTI comes in handy to get details of work done, number of people employed and their details, and also the amount paid and how they are paid.
Chethana is empowering its constituency with legal awareness as to how RTI can be used to obtain information regarding all aspects of governance particularly, that of land and NREGA, and also how NREGA can be used for generating livelihood opportunities while benefiting public at large. These two legislations implemented effectively can go a long way in empowering the marginalized communities to claim their legitimate rights.
The “less government” slogan of the economic reform period is aimed at shelving the responsibility of caring for the vulnerable sections of a community to CSOs or Non- governmental Organizations (NGO’s). The struggle of Chethana and many NGO’s in India is to empower the vulnerable sections of the society to claim their legitimate rights and make the government serve its people.