Demand Rs 600 as daily wages and strict implementation of locally planned works

Today, workers in over sixty districts across eleven states of the country observed “NREGA Adhikar Diwas” by submitting a memorandum to the Prime Minister to demand an increase in the annual guarantee of work to 200 days per person, revision of the daily wage rate to Rs 600 and strict implementation of schemes planned by the gram/ward sabha.

The widespread disruptions to economic activity caused due to the COVID-19 related lockdown, coupled with inadequate relief measures by the government, has rendered crores of workers unemployed, forcing them to face hunger, lack of medical treatment, and other grave hardships. As a large proportion of workers return to their village from urban areas, NREGA appears to be the best option for providing them with immediate employment. There has, in fact, been a huge surge in the scale of NREGA employment. 57 crore person-days were generated under the programme in May 2020, as opposed to 37 crore person-days the same month last year. Many workers are working in NREGA for the first time after the lockdown, such as Santosh Bando of Namkum, a block on the outskirts of Ranchi (Jharkhand).

Despite the significant increase in the demand for NREGA work, the central government has not increased the annual guarantee of work from 100 days per household. In the context of heightened economic insecurities, workers urged Narendra Modi to assure at least 200 days of employment per person in a year. Rambeti of Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan in Pisawa (Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh) said that her family is about to finish its 100 days of NREGA work. She asked what it do for the remaining months of this year.

Despite dire need of employment, many workers turn away from NREGA because of the paltry wages and unpredictability in payments. In many states, the NREGA wage rate is even less than the minimum wages for agricultural work. According to the Seventh Pay Commission, the minimum monthly wage of government employees must be Rs 18,000. Based on this recommendation, NREGA workers demanded an increase in their daily wage to at least Rs 600. Appalaraju from Munagapaka (Andhra Pradesh) said that they usually receive only Rs 150 for a day’s work in NREGA, whereas the market rate is about double.

Workers also demanded strict implementation of the schemes planned by their gram/ward sabha. Although the employment guarantee act has a legal provision of local planning, this is regularly flouted to prioritize work as per the whims of the government. Over the past few years, many NREGA workers have been allotted employment in construction of houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and toilets under Swachh Bharat. Now the government is preparing to employ NREGA workers for railway work.

At many places, local demands were added to the memorandum. In Kargahar and Karakat blocks of Rohtas (Bihar) workers urged the government to make arrangements for the implements used in NREGA work and compensation of Rs 20 lakh in case of death at a worksite. At a demonstration organized by the Dalit Bahujan Front in Siddipet (Telangana), P Shankar demanded that workers must be paid wages for the work days lost due to the lockdown and field assistants must be taken into work immediately.

Despite the situation of crisis, workers’ existing rights continue to be violated with impunity. Denial of work, non-payment of unemployment allowance and unpredictability in wages are routine. In Anand (Gujarat), for instance, workers demanded pending wages from 2018. The corrupt nexus between local leaders, government officials and contractors continue to siphon off NREGA wages in many states. There are often long delays and other irregularities in opening works. Many workers do not even receive their full NREGA wages due to faulty measurements.

In Purulia, when members of the Paschim Banga Khet Majdoor Samity (PBKMS) went to the office of the District Magistrate (DM) to submit their demands, they were blocked by the police, Rapid Action Force and other local officials. After much negotiation, only one person was permitted inside, but the DM’s office refused to accept the memorandum. Prem Maity of PBKMS asked how ordinary citizens are supposed to convey their demands to the Prime Minister if local government representatives refused to forward their submissions.

NREGA Sangharsh Morcha resolves to continue the struggle for the expansion of workers’ entitlements. It will participate in the nationwide protests to be organized by trade unions on 3 July and will thereafter meet legislators with its demands.

For further information, please write at nrega.sangharsh.morcha@gmail.com


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