Those working under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA workers), 2005 along with returned migrants are fighting back in the Bihar elections by putting up a candidate, Sanjay Sahni.
Leader of MGNREGA Workers
Hailing from the Kurhani assembly constituency in Muzaffarpur, Sanjay Sahni, a leader of MGNREGA workers and the electrician-turned activist has been towards eradicating corruption in the MGNREGA scheme.
In 2011, he first came across the mismanagement of MGNREGA funds by elected representatives and district administration. Subsequently, he discovered that thousands of workers in his village of Mahant Maniyari were deeply miserable. He created the ‘Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sangathan (SPSS)-MNREGA Watch’ to spread awareness among MGNREGA workers and scrutinised policy implementation. His efforts assured MGNREGA labourers of 100 days work. SPSS was also involved in busting an illegal liquor industry in Ratnaull, which had caused many deaths.
Sanjay’s accidental scrutiny of the rural job guarantee scheme turned out to be a determined crusade against those who allegedly swindled the funds. The whole procedure of securing rural jobs to workers under the scheme had several questionable issues. One of the first things he noticed was that the job card would be issued to workers on paper while the wages were distributed between the middlemen and block officials.
Since then, Sahni has received threats and continuous forms of intimidation for his efforts towards ensuring worker’s rights. In 2014, an FIR was lodged against Sahni and since then he has had to endure physical and verbal attacks, death threats, and false FIRs.
According to Sahni, for MGNREGA to serve its purpose of providing work and reducing the concentration of power in the Mukhiya (village head) and block officials then workers need to be made aware of their entitlements as well as the decisions being made in their name.
Since February many MGNREGA workers had been campaigning for Sahni with the desire to project him as their candidate in the upcoming Bihar Ellections.
One such worker, 60-year-old Mandeshri Devi from Mahant Maniyari told NewsClick,
“The plight of the downtrodden can only be taken seriously by someone who has faced such hardships. Sanjay’s edifying effort brought a wave of awareness among MGNREGA workers that caused discomfort to the power gallery.”
Workers Relief during COVID-19
The large-scale unemployment caused by the COVID-19 lockdown had disastrous efforts on MGNREGA workers. Besides unemployment, many were not given pending dues either; whether the suddenness of the lockdown was a legitimate reason for this or an excuse for mismanagement and corruption is up for debate. Lakhs of workers were under extreme financial distress and struggled because of the scarcity of food.
During this time, Sahni took many efforts to channelise complaints of workers. His call to action led to SWAN: Stranded Workers Action Network. A group of students, researchers, labour leaders, and concerned citizens, SWAN would receive data on stranded workers through Sahni, including bank account details for cash transfer.
Economist Jean Dreze said on Sahni’s decision to run for elections on behalf of MGNREGA workers.
“I came across this decision of our colleague (Sanjay), who is undoubtedly a committed and honest activist. He constantly has flagged concerns of MGNREGA workers in Bihar. Workers demanded him to be their representative so he took the decision to contest polls.”
Sanjay Sahni is asking for people to support him in his election campaign and has started a fundraiser to support their campaign.