Sixth CSE Media Fellowship: National Rural Employment Guarantee Act: Opportunities and Challenges
December 25, 2006 - January 25, 2007
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) conducted its sixth media fellowship on ‘NREGA: Opportunities and Challenges’ in 2006. The one-month fellowship from December 25, 2006 to January 25, 2007 encouraged journalists to investigate the dynamics of poverty and environment in India, and explore the scope and potential of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act as a development programme.
Applicants were asked to focus on issues like:
The productive sectors on which money is being spent
The institutional arrangements being made for sustainable assets creation
People’s participation in identifying and implementing works
The role of panchayats and their empowerment for implementation of the programme
State-level trend analysis of implementation
The development impact of the programme on rural economy/livelihoods
A total of 78 applications were received out of which 30 were shortlisted for final selection by an external jury. The jury comprising of Yogendra Yadav of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Ashutosh of IBN 7 met on December 13, 2006. Unni Rajen Shanker of Indian Express sent his comments on the proposals. A dossier of the shortlisted 30 applications was prepared including their resumes, samples of previous work, proposal for the fellowship, work plans and a letter of support from the editor. Based on the proposals, their work and previous experience, nine fellows were selected. Each of the fellows was asked to study the districts they had mentioned in their proposals. You can see a brief introduction of the fellows and their work below.
Deputy Chief of Bureau, The Hindu
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
District to study: Anantapur
K Venkateshwarlu is a senior and experienced journalist. He has been writing on issues of environment and pollution, rural development, agriculture for last 18 years. He has been awarded the CSE fellowship on desertification. In his proposal on NREGA, Venkateshwarlu wanted to study NREGA implementation in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. His areas of focus were the asset building capacity of NREGA. How the NREGA was being used to create productive assets in villages, regenerate the local ecology and thus reduce poverty in the district. He also wanted to look at the synergy between the works undertaken and local needs and the empowerment of panchayats and local institutions for village planning. He also proposed to measure the development impact of the assets on local poverty. Whether NREGA was helping to fight the consistent drought situation in Anantapur.
Venkateshwarlu published five stories in The Hindu. They can be viewed at the links below.
V Udaya Lakshmi
Sub Editor, Prajasakti
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
District to study: Rangareddy
Udaya Lakshmi is a senior journalist with 20 years of reporting and writing behind her. She has reported extensively on gender, poverty and livelihood issues. Udaya Lakshmi proposed to look at panchayati raj institutions an their role in NREGA. She wanted to focus in the discrepancies in the implementation of NREGA and how panchayats could address them. She also wanted to look at the benefits the act provides to women and women sarpanches.
The jury suggested she focus on women sarpanches and implementation of NREGA. Traditionally ecological degradation has more impacts on women. They have to walk more to fetch water, they have to suffer malnutrition etc. When we have women as heads of Panchayats what positive impacts will we expect? Under NREGA Panchayats play the crucial role of implementation and planning. Udaya Lakshmi was to study few panchayats with women as heads to see how different is the NREGA planning and implementation. Is local planning priority changing with women as heads than in Panchayats with men as heads. But the focus for her was the creation of productive assets under NREGA and difficulties for women as heads.
Udaya Lakshmi published seven stories in Prajasakti. They can be viewed at the links below.
Principal Correspondent, Tehelka
District to study: Karbi Anglong
Teresa has been writing and reporting on issues of environment and gender for the last nine years. She has worked for The Times of India, The Indian Express, India Today and The Telegraph before joining Tehelka. She has received the Kunjabala Devi Memorial Award for investigative reporting on women’s issues for 2003-2004.
For the fellowship Teresa wanted to look at the role of panchayats in Karbi Anglong district of Assam. Being a Sixth Schedule area, the district has an autonomous governance system. Teresa wanted to focus on how NREGA was being implemented in this set up. The local body had enormous autonomy in planning and charting its own development schemes. Was it happening in the implementation of NREGA? How creatively was the local body using this autonomy to implement NREGA for local development? Was the autonomy being protected under the scheme or being diluted through top down planning by the state government? Also Karbi Anglong is a not a typical dry land. So Teresa wanted to also write on what kind of productive assets were being created to suit local needs. Any initiative under the scheme in forestry and other land issues? She also wanted to document the challenges the local body was facing in implementation.
Teresa published three stories in Tehelka. They can be viewed at the links below.
Ajeet Kumar Dwivedi
Assistant Editor, Dainik Bhaskar
District to study: Muzaffarpur
Ajeet Dwivedi has worked with various Hindi publications including Jansatta, Rashtriya Sahara, Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala and Navbharat. He has been writing on varied issues. He also contributed to the feature service Samvad Manthan and has also done packaging, scripting and reporting for Doordarshan’s business bulletin, Karobarnama. He ha also covered Afghanistan for Jansatta.
For the fellowship Ajeet submitted a proposal to study corruption under NREGA. Reports of corruption in job card issues under NREGA were pouring in from all states. Ajeet also wanted to report on examples where corruption was not taking place or Panchayats, which had successfully stopped corruption. In many Bihar Panchayats social workers had been elected as sarpanches. How was the situation in these villages with such people as heads/representatives of Panchayats.
Ajeet published two stories in Dainik Bhaskar. They can be viewed at the links below.
Rajesh Agarwal is a highly experienced journalist who has written extensively on child labour, human rights, wildlife, tribals, livelihoods and environment issues amongst others. He has worked with Navbharat, Dainik Bhaskar and Highway Channel. Rajesh wanted to study the implementation of NREGA in Sarguja and Bilaspur districts in the light of large numbers migrating to north eastern regions in search of work and money. The district, though rich in resources, is the poorest in the state. It is also affected by Naxalism. Majority of the people depend on forests. Rajesh wanted to report on how NREGA will be implemented in such a situation? Focus on what kind of activities will be planned under the NREGA to solve these problems? Would plantation or any forest activities get priority under the NREGA? If not then why? At the same time he wanted to look at the involvement of the Panchayats in the process.
Rajesh published three stories in Deshbandhu. They can be viewed at the links below.
Senior Correspondent, The Indian Express
District to study: Dang
Mahesh Langa has been writing on environment issues for the last four years. He has worked with Tehelka and Down To Earth. He also worked with NDTV as a researcher during the 2004 national elections. He was also part of the team for conducting elections surveys by Centre for Study of Developing Societies.
Mahesh wanted to focus on Dang and Panchamahal districts of Gujarat, the most impoverished in the state. He wanted to measure the development impact of NREGA on local economy. He wanted to investigate how the NREGA is being used to address local problems. Being a forest district, Mahesh wanted to see how much worked done under NREGA involve forestry? Similarly he also wanted to focus on the creation of productive assets relevant to local needs.
Mahesh published four stories in The Indian Express. They can be viewed at the links below.
Development journalist, Prabhat Khabar
District to study: Dumka or Latehar
Kumar Sanjay has been extensively writing on development issues for the leading paper of Jharkhand, Prabhat Khabar. He regularly contributes to Outlook Saptahik and a number of regional newspapers and magazines. He is also involved in the social sector. Sanjay wanted to focus on implementation of NREGA in Jharkhand in the absence of panchayats. How was the scheme being implemented in the absence of local administrative bodies? Except for a few districts, the implementation of the scheme in Jharkhand had been extremely poor. There were huge discrepancies in the scheme. There were inconsistencies in terms of issuing job cards, payment of wages, maintenance of muster rolls. The implementation is mired in corruption. More importantly, after the implementation of the scheme the capacity of the people to do productive work has reduced. The local communities have no say in the selection and development of the works, which are dictated by the government officials. All these were issues that Sanjay wanted to highlight in his stories.
Moreover, the rights given to local communities under the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) had been taken away by the Jharkhand Panchayat Raj Act 2001 (PRA). PRA allows local communities the right to only manage the natural resources while PESA gives the local communities the right to own their local resources. While under PESA, selection, development and implementation of all schemes are to be done after the consent of the gram sabhas, under the PRA the gram sabhas can only be consulted. With these issues in background, Sanjay wanted to study the implementation of NREGA and influence policy decisions.
Anil Dubey has reported on rural development issues. He has covered Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana for reporting on NREGA. He has also covered terrorist attacks in Varanasi and Delhi for Doordarshan. Before Doordarshan he also freelanced for Dainik Jagran and Jansatta.
For the fellowship, Anil proposed a series of programmes on Doordarshan on implementation and opportunities of NREGA in Bundelkhand region. He wanted to focus on the employment generated by the scheme, the roadblocks, role of panchayats, asset creation and potential of the act.
Anil made a series for the programme Mehnat Rang Layegi for Doordarshan.
City Coordinator, The Hindustan Times
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
District to study: Banda
Pankaj Jaiswal is a frontline reporter with the Lucknow edition of Hindustan Times. He began his career as a trainee with the Pioneer. In his eleven years in journalism, he has reported on crime, civic bodies, health, science, defence, forests and wildlife, culture, agriculture and political and social issues.
For the fellowship, Pankaj proposed to investigate Banda district on how the NREGA can be used to drought proof the area. This was to point out how and what kind of productive assets like water harvesting structures were being created under NREGA to enable farmers sailing over the crisis. Bundelkhand is rich in water harvesting tradition and there are various community initiatives in doing so. Pankaj wanted to see how it was being done under the NREGA? What was potential of NREGA to drought proof the region? What should be done to do so? Though he wanted to cover Barabanki and Sitapur districts. The jury suggested he look at Banda district instead.
Pankaj published ten stories in The Hindustan Times. They can be viewed at the links below.
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is a New Delhi-based public interest research and advocacy organisation and is the recipient of the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize. It was recently ranked 17th among a global listing of top environmental think tanks in the Global Go To Think Tank Index, compiled each year by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program of the University of Pennsylvania in the US..