Rights Group Condemns Arrest of MGNREGA Activist in Bihar

Activists of the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha have said that Sanjay Sahni and others who work with the Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sanghatan are being targeted for their anti-corruption campaigns in Muzaffarpur.

Activists have alleged that the arrest is part of a larger process of intimidation. Credit: PTI

Activists have alleged that the arrest is part of a larger process of intimidation. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Activists have come out against the arrest of Sanjay Sahni, who works with the Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sanghatan (SPSS, also known as NREGA Watch) in Bihar. Sahni was arrested on August 21 while protesting outside the office of the Muzaffarpur district’s deputy development commissioner.

The activist has been working in the area to make the MGNREGA and public distribution systems corruption-free and properly functional. SPSS is a collective of thousands of rural workers in the Muzaffarpur area and Sahni is one of the group’s leaders.

The police also lathi charged others at the protest and Sudha Devi, a member of the SPSS, was badly injured on the head, the organisation has said.

The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, which is a national collective of workers, organisations and unions that work on MGNREGA implementation, has brought out a statement condemning Sahni’s arrest. The group has alleged that this arrest was uncalled for and part of a larger attack on activists of the SPSS. “The Sangathan has been facing continuous harassment at the hands of the local administration because of their fight against corruption in government programmes. The harassment has taken the form of threats, violence and false FIRs against members of the Sangathan,” the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha’s statement reads.

False FIRs, the group goes on, are routinely filed against SPSS members to try and intimidate them for calling out local corruption. “The most ludicrous FIR is the one filed on 31 March 2017 in which Sanjay Sahni has been accused of attempting to murder Shambhunath Singh, the Panchayat Rozgar Sewak of Ratnauli Gram Panchayat in Kurhani block. Sanjay Sahni was actually in Ranchi that day,” the group has said. An independent fact-finding team also looked into this FIR, the group continues, and found it to be false.

“The others [referring to other FIRs filed against SPSS members] stand on very weak ground, with the incongruent testimonies of a small set of government officials weighed against consistent accounts of a large number of SPSS workers and other local actors. The local bureaucracy routinely employs FIRs as a strategic tool to quash and silence people’s voices and struggles for justice and are unabashed about being involved in such acts. The fact finding report was handed in person to the DGP, Bihar, in Patna in July 2017 who had issued a written directive to the DIG Muzaffarpur to follow up,” the statement continues.

The national-level NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has alleged that SPSS is being targeted by the local administration before as well. In a statement issued on July 10, 2017, they said that workers associated with the SPSS were being paid less for MGNREGA work to try and intimidate them into submission.

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