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MGNREGA workers protest injustice by govt

Catch Team | Updated on: 14 September 2017, 17:21 IST

Hundreds of workers enrolled under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) gathered at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, to protest against the Centre’s “apathy” towards the scheme, once considered a major step towards ending rural unemployment in India.

Gathered under the banner of NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, the five-day protest started 11 September with workers from 15 states demanding the Union government undo the “injustice” it has meted out to the scheme.

A delegation of the protesters met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Wednesday and submitted a letter, raising concerns over the central government's decision to impose budget caps on the scheme. Jaitley carefully read the letter and thanked the delegation but did not comment on the issues, a member of the delegation said.

“A great injustice has been done to NREGA workers during the last few years in the form of inadequate employment, low wages, delayed payments and lack of compensation for delayed payments. The finance ministry has been a part of the injustice (for instance shooting down the recommendations of the Mahendra Dev Committee Report on NREGA wages), it must be undone at the earliest,” read the letter.

Accusing the NDA government of imposing budget caps on NREGA as soon as it came to power, the  letter said the caps led to an unprecedented crash in employment (about 30% in 2015-16) as well as large wage arrears. “More recently, the NREGA budget has increased a little in money terms, but it is still lower in real terms that in 2010-11, despite rapid economic growth,” read the letter.

The delegation also claimed MGNREGAwages have stagnated since 2009 while wages and pensions of government employees that have grown by leaps and bounds. The letter claimed: “For good measures (sic), long delays in payments are still the norm more than exception, further reducing the real value of NREGA wages.”

The delegation also put forth several demands including substantial increase in wages, ensuring MGNREGA wages to be not lower than state minimum wages. Envisaged and implemented by the previous UPA government, the scheme was always mired in controversy over time-bound payment of wages that further deteriorated during the current NDA regime.

The other demands included automatic compensation for delays along with raising the compensation from 0.005% to 0.5% per day. The letter also sought adequate provisions for MGNREGA in the next budget so that employment can be provided on demand at the enhanced wages.

“Beyond these immediate measures, we demand that new norms should be worked out for NREGA wages, based on the notion of living wage and consistent with the recommendations of the fifteenth labour conference as well as Supreme Court judgements on this matter,” stated the letter. The letter was signed by CPI leader D Raja, activists Nikhil Dey, Jean Dreze and student leader Richa Singh, among others.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

First published: 14 September 2017, 16:58 IST