It took six years and Community Correspondent, Reena Ramteke’s video and constant follow-up to finally get 18 workers their due from a scheme started to root people out of poverty.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MGNREGA) is the largest social security scheme in the world, which guarantees 100 days of unskilled manual work to all rural households in India. In its 2014 world development report, the World Bank called it a “stellar example of rural development”.
Even though the scheme was praised as “stellar”, a CAG audit report found many irregularities in the scheme including delayed wage payments and the inability to provide 100 days of employment. A group of 18 workers in Sarhaulli and Majarkatta villages in Gariaband, Chhattisgarh found themselves in the middle of such an irregularity. They were hired by the Forest Department under the MGNREGA scheme but had not received payment for around 33 days or work.
One of the workers who hadn’t been paid shared his problem with one of his friends. He was then directed to Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent, Reena Ramteke, and was told she will be able to sort the matter out.
Reena first made a video on the issue, where she interviewed some of the workers. One of them, Vedprakash Choudhary, told Reena that he and others had visited the Forest Department many times demanding for their payment, but each time they were stalled with assurances that the payment will come soon. Reena said that on paper, the department had cleared the payment, but the reality was different.
She alerted the anti-corruption officer (lokpal) of the issue by taking the video to him, and then followed it up with weekly meetings, both in person and over the phone. It took almost two years of constant follow-ups to ensure that the forest department released payments owed to the 18 workers.
Jitendra Dhruve, one of the 18 workers, said, “The video built pressure on authorities, making them act and advance our case. We finally got our money after waiting for six years.”
The Lokpal further raised this issue, and took it to the State Commission. The Forest Department was fined with INR 25,000 for delaying payment.
Though India has many laws and schemes to benefit people, they often lose their intention on the ground because of corruption. And in cases like this, it take constant and rigorous pressure on authorities to right the wrongs and get people their dues.
Video by Reena Ramteke
Article by Shreya Kalra, a member of the VV editorial team