Andaman Chronicle

The Daily Diary of the Islands


NREGA- Mission Impossible

National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA) has been one of the most important legislations in recent times. It has immense potential for poverty alleviation and upliftment of the rural poor. However, seeing the implementation of NREGA in A&N Islands from 1st April 2008 shows that the ground reality is distant from its ambitious mandate.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) provides a legal guarantee of 100 days of labour in a financial year to adult members of rural households registered under it.  
Labour can be made available through the NREGA under various categories such as natural resource management, drought proofing, flood control, water harvesting and conservation, afforestation and tree planting, horticulture activities and rural connectivity. In reality however, the labour available through the NREGA is almost solely limited to road laying and other manual construction labour owing to limited interpretation and short sighted applications of provisions under the Act.  
The population for whom the NREGA offers maximum opportunities, is made up largely of the farming community and the rural poor. In the time since NREGA came into existence, the initial hope it held out has given way to disillusion and dissatisfaction among the people for whom it was meant. It is also under a cloud of large scale mismanagement and faulty implementation by the higher authorities. Can the NREGA be redeemed and made more useful for rural poor to enhance their livelihood activities?
Looking at the implementation in the islands it can be clearly seen that not a single household will get 100 days guaranteed employment within the current financial year. Without insufficient funds and lack of proper state rural employment guarantee scheme the A&N Administration jumped into implementing this scheme in the Islands. States/ UT are to formulate it’s own state rural employment guarantee scheme based on the local conditions and needs. The one made here is just a copy of some distant state not similar to us in a lot of ways. There is no rural schedule of rates in place to measure the output of the work executed even after 9 months of it’s implementation. 
A battery of civil servants and other officials have been designated with designations for implementing NREGA like State Employment Guarantee Commissioner (Secretary RD), State Nodal officer (Director RD&LSG), District Programme coordinators (Deputy Commissioners), Additional District Programme coordinators (Assistant Commissioners), Assistant District Programme coordinators (Tehsildars), Senior Programme officers (BDO’s) apart from a bunch of contract staff at lower end. Inspite of it all the only progress shown is a rat race and one upmanship among the districts to hog the paper headlines with conflicting interpretations of the law. 
In N&M Andaman district (which leads the race in the no of panchayats where the scheme is implemented) in a programme which is inaugurated by the Adhyaksha it is admitted that job cards are issued preferentially only to 30 households where as it has to be issued to all the house holds willing to work under NREGA and in the event of not providing employment within 15 days of receiving work applications unemployment allowances is to be provided mandatory by the State. This is gross misinterpretation of the Act. 
In Nicobar district which won the race as the first district to start the work have problems of staff being made sick to the extent that every few days an Advertisement is placed to appoint new Programme officers etc. The tribals don’t care much about the scheme and works not contained in the guidelines are executed to keep the scheme running. This is the result of jumping the gun.
South Andaman District is the laggard of the pack with work implemented in a handful of panchayats. As it is houses the seat of the Administration the bosses out here are too busy with their own pre- occupations to care for the rural poor. They are at logger heads with the Zilla Parishad which is making matters worse for the poor. Why would the Zilla Parishad technically sanction the works for the poor without their palms being greased as is customary when it’s the contractors (who incidentally are not welcome in NREGA) The biggest surprise is that work inaugurated by the Administrator in S. Andaman has come to a halt within a week of it’s commencement when it still has more than 99% work left in the site to be executed. The workers of the site are still not paid their wages inspite of more than a month where as it is mandatory to pay the wages within 14 days.
The bosses in implementation of NREGA have to wake up and shed their insensitivity towards the poor masses. As NREGA has to go hand in hand with land mark legislation- Right to information Act, it is not long before these bosses would end up on the wrong side of a PIL. Inspite of the Lt. Governor being the head of the State Employment Guarantee Council which has a bunch of top level civil servants and public representatives and is the Apex body for implementation of the scheme, nothing much has happened to make the scheme more accessible to the rural masses, which is their right bound by law. Maybe the Administrator is not aware of the pulse of the masses and is going by the word of mouth of his officers who have made a mess of things and are camouflaging their lethargy and insensitivity.
Involvement and sensitization of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) must also be done as it is the main implementing agency at the grassroot level. A local NGO “Unnati” was entrusted this task which incidentally made a mess in interpretation of the provision contained in the Act. NREGS must also be linked with other programmes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDM), Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme (ARWSP), Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), National AIDS Control Project (NACP), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), and other social security programmes for better utilization of resources and checking the migration-related problems. Demand and supply has to match and this can be done only when we facilitate decentralized planning at the grass root level and properly implement it. NREGS should supplement the livelihood of rural poor and not just be an alternate employment opportunity.
This is election year and come March 31st 2009 when NREGA would have certainly fared way below even the national average of 25 days of employment provided to job seekers, it’ll be show time for most of the big wigs of the Administration in the Islands as the common man will be the lord then. A small time politician can cause mayhem to these cataracted lal batti sahibs who don’t see the plight of the poor. Atleast accountability will be called for and what better than to have legal rights under NREGA, the only silver lining in the scheme.
  • Written by Hambal Soul
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Reflections of an engaged anthropologist after the tsunami

My engagement with the Nicobar Islands began some ten years ago. I had little idea when I first set sail that my life would become so inextricably linked with the fate of these islands; a voyage that began with curiosity - traditionally shared among anthropologists - to quench the insatiable thirst of exploring and living with exotic cultures in tune with nature. While still academically inclined, much of the motivation for such research derives itself from the disappointment that comes with modern life and the search for perfect cultures that need to be rescued or studied before they face annihilation. For some, field work also allows for an escape from a life of ‘sick hurry and divided aims’ representative of the industrial (also referred to as modern) lifestyle.  
Probably all of it was true in my case. In addition, my literary disposition always drew me towards ‘wild’ nature (having grown up in the Central Himalayas), and of the romantic otherness, on which my soul could thrive on and nourish itself. At the same time, there had been a growing disappointment with modern civilization and the increasing commodification of human relationships for personal gains. As destiny would have it, I sailed into the Nicobar waters crossing the ten degrees channel with unerring accuracy in April 1999. It took several months and a second visit for me to get initiated into the world of the Nicobarese. I must admit, though, in the same period, the Nicobarese knew more about me than I did about them. Their anthropological skills were far more enhanced than mine. Still, I preferred to keep the illusion of being the observer studying objectively a passive community of exotic tropical islanders. Year after year I returned from Europe to live in splendid isolation to share the Nicobarese life; living and eating with them for months at a stretch, experiencing their festivals and rituals, listening to their tales, joys and sorrows.  

I cannot say when the apparent borders between objectivity and subjectivity melted from my consciousness (perhaps it never really existed in a post-modern sense), but I soon found myself befriending some of them and getting engaged in their internal struggles. It was my own little world, a home far from my own. It satisfied my ego to be able to help them with little things, offer a piece of advice every now and then with my increasing knowledge of their life and culture and I revelled in these little victories of everyday life. However, it was a constant effort for me to juxtapose the two incoherent existences - the one in Europe with that of the Nicobars - completely estranged from each other. There was literally no one with whom I could share my inner ambiguities, and it usually took me a couple of months to recover from the depression that gripped me following my return to Europe. Still, I was not obliged to anyone, except to myself and the Nicobarese with whom I shared an intimate relationship both on a scientific and personal level.  
The 2004 tsunami changed the order of things. It not only literally washed away my secluded world where I oft took refuge from the aggressions of the modern world, but it revealed many unpleasant facts about humanitarian assistance and of the limits of science. It was under such distress that the sinister hand of power was revealed, and how a catastrophe is an opportunity in disguise (I have discussed this in length elsewhere). It was not only the inappropriate behaviour of humanitarian agencies that distressed me, but also how constraining it is to be a scientist when it comes to action and the confines of scientific knowledge. My own role, no longer a private interplay between a researcher and his subjects, lay bare as a sacrilege to science. While the world watched the spectacle I gathered courage to admit to my superiors that I had not been religious enough in my role of a detached observer true to positivistic science, but had actually engaged with my research subjects beyond permissible levels. Shocking at first, the magnitude of media coverage the tsunami received was enough to tempt any away from the piece of cake. I was allowed to go and help, and I was touched by the generosity of donors who made it possible so.  

My illusion to provide meaningful help as “an expert” soon crumbled. Soon after the tsunami, the Nicobarese were confronted with a multitude of choices they had to make in a short time, much of it that challenged the very foundations of their culture and way of life: location and design of intermediate and permanent shelters, restructuring of family units and land ownership to allow for compensation benefits from the State, decisions on new infrastructure relating to transport, education and health, and to react to the various schemes offered to them by the NGOs. Questions were thrust at me, and I stood facing my own moment of truth. I froze when decisions had to be taken, and realised how little we are trained to take real life decisions. Scientists are prudent at systematic observations, inclined to asking more questions and to reflect over knowledge gaps. 
However, a scientist in the eyes of a Nicobarese is akin to a spiritual superior that has solutions to relieve them of their suffering. They looked at me with high expectations; a social scientist from Europe having spent five years among them should be able to provide answers, shouldn’t he? In their eyes, it would be a scandal to admit how much of the public money is utilized for which little is gained in terms of grounded solutions in times like these. 
I observed, mediated, wrote, made presentations, organised material and immaterial help for the Nicobarese through the help of a small fund that was created in Austria. But the situation only kept getting worse. Determined to be self-reliant in the first few months after the tsunami, the Nicobarese were gradually entrenched with aid of all kinds: housing, free food, enormous amounts of cash compensation and a variety of consumables and material goods. They loathed the idea of work, and even those who mentioned it to them. A good leader was one who brought in more aid, and increasingly so. In the Nicobarese (anti-capitalistic) logic, one works when one needs food. At a time when food and cash is abundant, why should one worry. And what could be easier to get than aid. Greed crept in. I witnessed conflicts, corruption among the leaders, break-up of families, jealousies, hatred, taboos, and increasing social stratification, much of which was absent formerly. The Nicobarese wanted to modernise; well, they did. They had now all the symptoms of a modern world. My world was slipping away. It was no longer a place of refuge and of reflexive calmness, but one wrought with responsibilities and several unsuccessful endeavours, and at the same time, desperation to keep my reputation as ‘an expert’ to outsiders and insiders.  

It is debatable what I actually achieved, but the fact remains that it gave me innumerable sleepless nights over the next years. Whatever successes and failures, I increasingly realised that any impact if really intended must not only include scientific knowledge, but also a reasonable amount of common sense, presence of mind to take sound decisions based on whatever available information, social and communicative skills, mediation, lobbying and networking capacities, together with a strong sense of personal integrity for being trusted and relied upon. Mainstream scientific knowledge did help me in greatly in maintaining a wider systemic view to understand challenges, constraints, opportunities, and dynamics of actors and processes. It also helped me to gain acceptance by the various actors on the presumption that scientists are seemingly objective and unbiased. However, only in getting engaged with real life and its challenges, I realised the high relevance of other attributes and of the limits of positivistic science. It is indeed time for rethinking what is effective knowledge, one that is not only generated in universities, but through passionate engagement with life together with a high sense of ethics, responsibility and willingness to take up non-scientific roles such as that of a mediator, advisor and advocate. Only then would science become more meaningful to the world, especially that branch of science that aims to research on global problems of environmental sustainability and human well-being. 
Simron Jit Singh   
Vienna, January 2009

  • Written by Simron Jit Singh
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War Hysteria

The terrorists and Pakistani army have succeeded in achieving the long awaited result to move their troop out of Afghan border. The Pakistani Army is confused in fighting a war against the Taliban and Al- Qaida, whom they were training a decade back. The war hysteria created by both Indian and Pakistani government with the help of media worked in the favor of these terrorists to move the Pakistani army to eastern border and consolidate their base again to fight against NATO forces. They succeeded in destroying the supplies routed to fight against them. With unsecured NWFP and FATA region, it is helping them striking the coalition forces with better strategy and strength. If this hysteria continues the global war on terror will weaken. It will be foolishness to have another war when one war is in full swing. The newly elected government at United States wants to end the war at Afghanistan as early as possible with a possible surge of 30,000 more troops. Let's help United States to end this war.  If India can support 30,000 troops to the coalition force, it will take our relationship with United States to an advanced level and will weaken Pakistan claim on global terror war. When this war is won, it will automatically dismantle all terror cells in Pakistan. Instead of that we are creating war hysteria.

There was a panic in Pakistani Army before the Mumbai carnage with the aggressive comments from US President Elect Barack Obama about possible strikes in Pakistan and redrawn map of South Asia by New York Times showing truncated Pakistan. The map controversy made them think West and India are colluding to destroy their nuclear assets. The war hysteria situation is helping the Pakistani Army win their confidence back and helped them send a strong signal to United States and Pakistan government to not take them for granted. Both the Pakistani people and the militants (including Pakistan Taliban) openly committed their support in case of war against India.  These helped them to keep the elected government on their toes. It was no brainer when President Zardari back tracked on ISI head visit to India. Pakistan army even pushed the government to say the surgical strike will be considered a war against Pakistan. The world powers are now engaged in defusing tension between India and Pakistan and lost focus in the global terror war.

The world has realized that Pakistan is the epicenter of world terrorism but at the same time is scared of its nuclear assets. The war against Pakistan has to be won through diplomacy and not conventional or nuclear war. Both the United States and United Kingdom has given their verdict by asking Pakistan to act to avoid being consumed by extremism. The surprise came from British Prime Minister when he said three fourth of terrorist act in British has its origin in Pakistan. What more India wanted to prove to the world?

India as a matured democracy needs to understand that the government in Pakistan is a puppet government and trying very hard to prove its credibility. The newly democratic government is just about a year old and has all possible threat to be overrun by General Kayani. Not to forget, Pakistan has a long history of dictatorship and it's difficult for any democratic government to act against army. How can India forget the Kargil episode, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not even aware of General Musharaf plan? President Zardari intention seems to be good, just before the carnage he offered of no first use of nuclear warheads against India, which came as a surprise to everyone including Pakistan army. He offered to sideline the Kashmir issue to improve the ties, but then he can't do all this alone. He is fighting within his country to take the relationship to next level. Any aggressive statements by India are working against him. The anti-India and anti-west feeling is present at all levels and it is not easy for any elected government to change overnight. The banned organization Jamaat-ud-Dawaat is running charities, schools and colleges; they have scholars, engineers and doctors as part of their organization. They may be perceived as terrorist organization in the world but not for Pakistan's destitute. These are very challenging tasks for the government. Pakistan has repeatedly denied getting any solid evidence except for what Indian media has been reporting. The Indian minister has confirmed the evidence is not shared and will be done once the investigation is over. So why are we expecting Pakistan to act? We communicate to Pakistan more through media than through diplomatic channels. We have so many government spokespersons with different version of stories.  

India knows very well that the 40 short listed terrorist are not going to make any difference. With the election in mind, government is pushing very aggressive agenda on Pakistan to cover its short come on tackling the issue. More than 600 people have been killed and hundreds maimed and devastated in terror strikes in last six years, but the government has not taken any steps to tackle this menace.  In 2008 alone, there were 11 terrorist strikes and government is doing follow-up only on one because of elites being struck.  What are the steps taken by this government to ensure the safety of the people except for changing the home minister, forming NIA, setting up 4 NSG hubs and passing anti terror law? It's been more than a month the home minister has not shown his progress report. One third of the country is fighting the extremism and the government didn't do anything except for blaming Pakistan.  The government has worked very well in diverting the attention towards Pakistan instead of making our system competent. The rhetoric comments by our External Affairs Minister are a very good example of the same. The media is playing a much better role by showing the clips of 1971 war and how Indian air force is superior to Pakistan. There are media claims that UPA government is more interested in extraditing Jaish-e-Mohammad Chief Masood Azhar than LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi to gain advantage over NDA in coming election. Already certain sections of Congress party started comparing Mumbai massacre with Indian Airlines hijacking.

The common man needs to understand that war is not in the interest of both nations. It will take us back to 20th century and we will have more problems than what we have today. Our Home Ministry need to work 24X7 to strengthen our internal security, modernize police, fire and paramedics force, build a national identity system, use of high end technology (remote sensing, encrypted communication to list a few), better coordination between police and armed forces and dedicated crisis management team. The government should focus on improving our infrastructure than blaming others.

War is no solution and hysteria is working totally against India and World interest. Let's stop talking through media and open diplomatic channels. Let's fight this menace together and not blame anyone.


  • Written by Deep Krishna
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