After passing out from Tata-Dhan Academy, I was involved with a few organizations that were working at the grassroots and making a change through livelihood intervention of the poor in the districts of Nuapada and Kalahandi of Odisha. During this period, I always used to interact with various government officials in departments like Agriculture, Horticulture etc. These interactions always muddled me as I always found that there was always an implementation gap in various programs run by the government. There was a lack of sprit and motivation to work for development of the people, especially the poor. Sometimes I abused the system and wondered that if I were in their place, I could have done a great deal to change the life and livelihood of people.
When I came across the PMRDF scheme through newspaper, I found it the right opportunity for me to enter the Government system and work for people thorough proper implementation of the programs and schemes of the government which always had an implementation gap. I applied and got selected.
During the training program in Hyderabad, I was able to meet and hear from a range of people and understand their views about development; from senior bureaucrats to academicians, from activists to development professionals, development planners to politicians. All had a different but a co-related perspective of developmental approach. The training sessions were like knowledge raining from all around and I had to collect as much as I could.
During the field immersion program of the training, I was allotted the district of Balangir, Odisha. I went to Muribahal, a remote and underdeveloped block of the district, for my village stay and study. This was not a new thing to me as I had stayed in villages for various studies for months during my development management course. During my study, I found that migration of farmers and labourers to the brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, during the lean season of work, was a common phenomenon of the region. Lakhs of labourers migrated to these brick kilns where they suffered from enormous exploitation. The BDO of Murabahal had tried to curb migration effectively by providing works under MGNREGA.
During interactions with the BDO, I was convinced that MGNREGA can be used as an effective tool to check migration. In the meantime, the block administration had conducted a public hearing for MGNREGA. The BDO had initiated a healthy competition among the GRS (Gram Rojgar Sevaks) for good performances where a seal and a certificate of merit were given to the best performers. I suggested the BDO to give certificates of merit/appreciation to those families who had completed 100 days of work with a note below the certificate mentioning the benefits that a family would get on completing 100 days. This was appreciated by the BDO and was done. People were happy on receiving the certificates. Now, the certificate is replicated and distributed by all the blocks in the district.
After the training sessions were over, I had the goal in my mind to stop people from migrating out to the brick kilns. After joining the district, I came across a few NGOs like Aid-et-Action who were working hard for years to reduce migration. Hence, I coordinated with them and tried to understand from their perspective the causes of migration and the possible solutions which can be adopted to stop migration. One effective solution was the proper and timely implementation of MGNREGA in the villages.
I collected information and data on migration and made a data base of high migration prone villages and gram panchayats. Usually, migration started from the month of October. So, in these particular villages, I contacted with the concerned block officials and requested them to open works in the month of October. MGNREGA was to be implemented in these villages with the right spirit. Initially it was difficult to monitor. Hence, instead of working for the whole migration area, I chose Turekela block, which was severely affected due to migration.
Works under MGNREGA were started throughout the block, almost in all villages, and focus was given to those villages where migration was very high. Meetings were conducted in all the villages and labourers were mobilized to work in MGNREGA. Grievances were readdressed on the spot and payments were ensured on time through bank accounts.
There was a huge impact of our efforts in the block. All the block staff worked as a team and we were able to spend two crore rupees in just two months. Further, we were able to win back the lost faith of people in MGNREGA. Around 2000 people stayed back by working in MGNREGA and not going to the brick kilns. Though the numbers were less it was a huge achievement for us as it showed us the way to mitigate migration through MGNREGA.
Now I am in a process of organizing the labourers into groups by forming Sramik Sangathans (job Seeker committee) who will be able to demand work from the government. It is the process to transform the system into a demand driven one rather than supply driven.
Rajkumar Gupta is based at Balangir, Odisha. Rajkumar is an MA ( sociology) from the University of Madras and holds a PG Diploma in Development Management from Tata-Dhan Academy, Madurai. Rajkumar worked for one and a half years with NGOs before joining PMRDF.