Aruna Roy , member of National Advisory Council, is in the thick of preparations for a truck yatra and dharna to mobilise people for demands relating to rights of weaker sections and systemic improvement of governance. Bharat Dogra spoke to her about the need for this mobilization:
The general impression is that Rajasthan has a better record of governance.
I agree that Rajasthan has an above-average record in the implementation of NREGS, but at the same time serious irregularities have been coming to light regularly. This has happened to the extent of payment of wage of one rupee per day being exposed. This shows that systemic reform to root out corruption is still needed.
Again despite the tremendous head start Rajasthan had in the case of Right to Information, the government could not carry forward the transparency agenda in an effective way. The Information Commission's functioning left much to be desired. In fact, till a short while ago there was just one commissioner. Some decisions of the government have been quite arbitrary. For example, when we started forming NREGS workers' unions, the government refused registration for these unions, even though such unions have been functioning in other states (like Gujarat and UP).
In the context of your efforts to fight corruption in rural development, how do you see the recent agitation by sarpanches and panchayat secretaries?
We've been very clear from the outset that genuine decentralisation will get our full support, but at the same time looking at the reality we cannot ignore the massive corruption that threatens to destroy the real aims of panchayat raj and rural decentralisation. A struggle against corruption is badly needed if the benefits of decentralisation and devolution are to reach villagers. Our struggles against corruption including public hearings and social audits have helped in the recovery of public funds, which were being plundered. At the same time we've extended help to sarpanches who want to work honestly and resist demands for commissions.
Are social audits also resisted by corrupt elements?
It is surprising that although social audits are mandatory for NREGS, this legal requirement is being resisted. A situation was sought to be created where the person who has spent the money also conducts the social audit. This will make a mockery of social audit. So we opposed such efforts. At the same time when socially conscious citizens come forward to strengthen social audits, then this effort instead of being welcomed is resisted by vested interests as an intervention by 'outsiders'. Surely the right of well-meaning citizens to contribute to transparency to improve governance cannot be trampled upon.
So what will be your leading demands in the next wave of mobilisation?
The Soochna and Rojgar Adhikar Abhiyan will start a truck yatra in Rajasthan on September 15, which will culminate in a dharna in Jaipur. Apart from pressing for systemic governance reforms, which will curb corruption and lead to better implementation of important laws like those of right to information and rural employment guarantee, we emphasise raising minimum wages and linking minimum wages to a properly worked out Consumer Price Index.
People are angry that while the salaries and income of elite sections have seen a huge rise, promise to increase minimum wages has not been fulfilled so far.