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Vanaik 2008 (NREGA and Deathof Tapas Soren)

Vanaik 2008 (NREGA and Deathof Tapas Soren)

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Published by: rozgar on Mar 10, 2011
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july 26, 2008
Economic & Political
nreGa d h Dh f tps S
Anish Vanaik
Tapas Soren, a tribal o Birakhapin Jharkhand, committedsel-immolation recently,impoverished by the constantdemand or bribes by localocials or work done underthe National Rural EmploymentGuarantee Act. His death soonater the murder o Lalit Mehtawho had exposed corruption in
schemes in Palamu is adamning comment on how thescheme is being implemented inJharkhand.
n the morning o July 2, 2008,Tapas Soren set himsel ablaze atCharhi Chowk in Hazaribagh.
 Just beore taking this ultimately atalstep he was heard shouting “aur anyay nahi sahenge” (I will not tolerate any more injustice).
Only a couple o hoursbeore these events, Soren had met theblock development ocer (
) o Churchu and the panchayat sevak o hisgram panchayat to discuss mattersrelating to a 20 t well that was beingconstructed on his land under theNational Rural Employment GuaranteeAct (
). That the
, designedto benet people like Tapas, couldbe the precipitant o such a calamity speaks o a particularly grave state o aairs with respect to its implementationin Jharkhand.Hazaribagh was among the rst batcho districts where the
was imple-mented. This means that it has been oper-ative or almost three years. Birakhap(where Tapas lived) is exactly the kind o village where it was envisioned as havingthe greatest impact. Dilip, Tapas’ elderbrother described the struggles involvedin making ends meet in Birakhap. Theamily owns and works a total o 4.54acres o land. The single crop that they are able to produce in the year enablesthem to run their households oraround our months. The rest o the yearthey are orced to look or employmentelsewhere. This is a dicult task.Birakhap has no road: a river must becrossed to reach one. The search or work oten led Dilip and Tapas ar rom hometo where it was available – on roads orwith contractors in the region. Just asoten, employment was not available atall.
would seem tailor-made orTapas, Dilip and others in their village. Tobe assured o work at decent wages nearhome would be a combination thatseemed wonderul to the point o beingan illusion.
a Isidius P
That is because or the most part it is anillusion. Employment generation in Haz-aribagh has been quite low. In 2007-08,the average employment generated or the1.23 lakh households that demanded work was only around 34 days.
This year, untilJune, only 31,658 households have beenprovided with employment.
These macrostatistics also nd refection in Tapas’story. Dilip pointed out that
workshad only opened in December andJanuary and no new ones were takenup in the summer, when work is mostacutely needed.Even when employment was oered,there were delays in wage payments.Against the legal stipulation o paymentwithin 15 days, unds or payment o wages were oten released only 40 to 50days ater works had been completed.
 This means that when alternative employ-ment was available, workers would chooseto leave an
worksite or immediatewages. At Tapas’ own well, work had beengoing on or almost three months,although, given the delays in release o unds to Tapas, there was rarely a week inwhich work would be carried out or morethan three or our days at a stretch. Dilipremarked that workers would simply leavework on the well or other kind o employ-ment i it was available in the area.While delays in wage payments andthe low volume o works might simply beput down to bureaucratic slowness, thepattern in which works were taken upsuggests something ar more insidious.Jemma Mendis, an activist o theChhotanagpur Adivasi Seva Samiti whichworks in the area, points out that in theour tribal hamlets o Sarabaha revenuevillage only two pond excavation worksand the well on Tapas’ eld had ever beensanctioned. In the one predominantly non-tribal hamlet, no less than 26 wellshad been sanctioned. The reason or thisstark contrast, she explained, was thatthere is a system o kickbacks running allthe way up the administrative hierarchy.The standard price or having a well
Anish Vanaik (
) isinvolved in eld surveys o the NREGA initiated by the G B Pant Social ScienceInstitute, Allahabad.
Economic & Political
july 26, 2008
sanctioned on one’s land is Rs 10,000.Tapas against the judgment o his advisershad paid that much and more. Mendispoints out that this kind o system simply eliminates the poor rom this scheme.Those with some capital o their own canaord to get works sanctioned on theirland, and even pay labourers somethingon a weekly basis while waiting or theadministration to release unds (suchweekly payments are typically less thanthe stipulated minimum wage, the dier-ence is usually pocketed by those whohave “advanced” money).
ep Piss, Gsd Pls
These were the orces that trapped TapasSoren. He lived in a hamlet that was remoteand backward; one which was seen by o-cials like the panchayat sevak and
assusceptible to exploitation on a regularbasis: be it the public distribution system(
), electricity supply, or the
. AsDilip put it, it was a place where politicianspromised much, but little was everdelivered without greasing a palm. Thiswas the “anyay” that Tapas was protestingagainst. Tapas had come up against such“anyay” and elt its humiliating sting oten.The well was a source o hope thatirrigation in their eld might slowly raisethe yield and improve lie somewhat.Ater paying Rs 15,000 in bribes, Tapashad little money to keep its constructiongoing smoothly. He was entirely dependentupon the Rs 1,63,000, that had been sanc-tioned or the costs o the well and wasbeing deposited piecemeal according tothe whims o the authorities.
He had with-drawn money amounting to Rs 70,000 onthree occasions to pay labourers, but couldnot avoid delays. Faced with these delays,the 10 labourers working on the well –including Dilip and Tapas – were reluctantto commit more than the time that they could take o rom other work. And whenthey struck rock in the course o digging,work came to a near standstill.Jemma Mendis says Tapas was caughtbetween three orces. On the one handwere the labourers – his neighbours andrelatives – who had not been paid andwere unable to break through the rocky earth. On the other stood the
andauthorities who held Tapas responsible ornot being able to complete the project. Thetriangle o pressures was completed by their demand or a steady stream o kick-backs. On July 1, expecting the nal instal-ment o the money to pay labourers, Tapaswent to the bank where he was told thatthere was no money in the account – it hadbeen deposited and withdrawn entirely without his knowledge. Dilip says thatTapas was distraught and had gone todiscuss this with the panchayat sevak and
on the morning o July 2. Whattranspired there is not known. What isknown is that he returned rom the meet-ing when the rest o the amily was work-ing in the eld, took a bottle o keroseneand proceeded to Charhi Chowk, settingin motion the course o events that wouldlead to his death in a hospital bed sixpainul days later.

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