Reflections from the ground

PACS encourages voices and opinions from the field which reflect the change process. The most empowering aspect of this exercise has been a strong sense of solidarity and collective voice for entitlements.

When change happens: PACS-MGNREGA Abhiyan and its multiplying effect

I am writing this fresh from an inspiring communication that we have just received from the Uttar Pradesh Government with a call for collaboration on strengthen social audits in the state related to the national flagship scheme for livelihood in rural India.
By Rajpal
Yes it is about Mahtama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and significantly about a community based network being called upon to strengthen accountability that lies at the very core of this scheme.
But before I talk more about this, I would like to detail the context behind this call for collaboration. As state manager for Bihar working with Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) programme, we have been working on bridging the gap that exists between excluded social groups and others in terms of access and utilisation of schemes.
We believe that MGNREGS is a critical lifeline and platform for social change. It is most important for Dalits, Muslims, tribal and women both as a livelihood scheme and as a harbinger of hope for assets -- not to mention participation in democratic processes.
Late last year, PACS and its partners in the state of Bihar and Jharkhand came together to create a campaign to work on three critical aspects of the scheme.
The campaign aims to establish a community driven process to address gaps in the flagship rural employment guarantee scheme in some of the poorest districts of Bihar and Jharkhand through social audits that are informed and driven by a social exclusion perspective. It will bring to the center stage exclusion that exist in the implementation of the scheme, while highlighting ways and means of assessing participation and assertion of stake in the process of community assets formation that happen through the scheme.
The theory of change for the campaign objective is that a social audit process that is owned and carried forward by the community, institutionalised by the state administration and supported by community organisations, can substantially address the pathways of social discrimination and poor implementation of the scheme. It will directly lead to work demand generation largely by socially excluded communities, training of community mobilisers and social audits in villages to document cases of violations and wrong doings.
The campaign has also create a process of engagement; starting with work demand generation, moving to social audits, to public hearings and submission of demands for action.
As the campaign moved on, especially the critical engagement of social audits and the way it can be turned into a moving canvas for empowerment, we saw tremendous support from state administration. This vindicated our belief that policies need both the supply and demand aspects to be addressed with focus on excluded groups. It cannot be an isolated engagement and needs all the stakeholders working with their relative strength.
Since the launch of this campaign in Bihar’s Jahanabad this coordination kept growing from strength to strength. For partners are community-based organisations, the official letters from the district administration and presence of block level officials meant that the state was closer and listening.
The word and subtle advocacy made its way to national level and we shared what the experiences from the ground have been.
Social audits are enshrined in the Act. But the challenge of making these a genuine community owned process that go beyond financial alone, and look at the aspect of assets that have been created, has drawn tremendous support so far and it only seems to be getting better.


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