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A fighter who refuses to be a rubber stamp

A fighter who refuses to  be a rubber stamp
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Strong, thinking individuals, especially those who have cultivated the art of questioning the status quo that the unthinking masses take for granted,...

Strong, thinking individuals, especially those who have cultivated the art of questioning the status quo that the unthinking masses take for granted, do not like to be rubber stamps. Nor do they like sinecures. The quintessence of this is social activist Aruna Roy, who has chosen to delink herself from the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council again and has expressed her resolve to work from outside.

"There is an ideological bias that the government has taken. It has become completely pro-market and it has become pro-reforms and pro-growth� So fundamentally, we need to question whether this government or any other government can actually push a growth agenda at the cost of poor people," observed Roy, who powered the Right to Information movement through the National Campaign for People's Right to Information, which contributed significantly to the enactment of the watershed Right to Information Act in 2005.

In her letter to Sonia Gandhi, the political and social activist who founded and heads the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana (Workers and Peasants Strength Union), attacked Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, saying it was "extremely unfortunate" that he had rejected the NAC's recommendations on payment of minimum wages to MGNREGA workers and "chose instead to appeal to the Karnataka High Court judgement ordering the payment of minimum wages to MGNREGA workers."

Over a year back, NAC had recommended raising of wages under MGNREGA from Rs 100, but the Prime Minister's Office had said it could not be done as it would require amendment to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. It instead linked the wages to inflation index.A "Even more distressing is the government's refusal to pay minimum wages even after the Supreme Court refused to stay the Karnataka High Court judgement. It is difficult to understand how a country like India can deny the payment of minimum wages and still make claims of 'inclusive' growth," she said.

"I am upset with a system that is looking at so many other things, but not at so many hungry millions in my country; I am upset with a system which is not looking at pensions. Today the issues of concern are not those which should be of concern to a country where 60 percent of people live below the poverty line," Roy, who was conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2000, told a TV news channel.

Highlighting the role of NAC, she said the NAC working group on implementation of flagship programmes took up several issues related to the implementation of the MGNREGA. "The recommendations of the working group were sent to the Ministry, which has set up a programme advisory group to oversee implementation of these recommendations and the new guidelines that have been issued by the Rural Development Ministry. Despite its contribution to changing the lives of the rural poor, implementation of this crucial flagship programme remains a challenge," she said.

The government had been pursuing economic reforms and growth at the cost of poor people, Roy said. Pro-poor issues had been pushed to the back-burner by the UPA-II government; she mentioned and pointed to important pieces of legislation like Food Security Bill and Land Acquisition Bill that had not seen the light of the day. A On the Food Security Bill, Roy, who received the prestigious Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in Public Administration, Academia and Management in 2010, said: "The recent record of Parliament on debating policy and legislation underscores the need for this process. Given the hunger and malnutrition scenario in the country, a Food Security Bill should have been debated and passed by Parliament by now.

"There has been extensive and healthy debate within the NAC as well as in the public domain on the provisions of the Bill, making it clear that if Parliament were to take it up, it would most likely result in robust and well supported legislation," she said.

Underlining the fighter in her, she wrapped up her future plans saying: "Today, I want to be fully involved with activism because my constituency is the poor of the country and they have a lot of issues, which need total attention. And we want full accountability from the government in the few months that are left -- that they should now give us the Food Security Act. They will have to implement all the accountability legislations and many other pending decisions and we also want the guarantee of minimum wages."

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