This profile was prepared when Prakash Michael was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is the first legal entitlement that grants poor unskilled daily wage workers the right to work, guaranteeing a minimum 100 days of employment. The scale of operations, money involved, and government machinery make the Act vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement. Seema and Prakash, a husband-and-wife team, are bringing together rural workers, who are usually considered “unorganized” or “casual” workers, into a new kind of collective in which they can negotiate for better treatment as recognized employees. They are equipping the wage workers with the wherewithal and legal status to create standards of employment; seek legal redress for corrupt delivery mechanisms; legitimately claim compensation and penalties; and ensure food and health security through the standardization of wages. Rural workers will also be able to take advantage of specific provisions in the Act aimed at women, children and the disabled; participate as a collective force in local self-government; and drive development through the formulation and implementation of plans for public works projects taken up under the Act. By opening up a new window to livelihood security, Seema and Prakash are also seeking to check “distress migration”, meaning people leaving home in a desperate search to feed themselves, and pave the way to relieve urban areas of an exploding migratory population of unskilled workers. Seema and Prakash are ensuring that corruption does not eviscerate a powerful new law that could potentially change the face of rural India and help rid it of poverty, disease and indebtedness. If successful, it could be a pioneering means of overcoming the obstacles encountered by the rural poor and give a new lease of life to the labor movement in India.