The Right to Food Campaign stands in solidarity with the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha’s national call for action across the country to revive the proper functioning of MGNREGA. The Right to Food Campaign is extremely concerned and anguished with the continued violation of MGNREGA across the country. MGNREGA is being implemented in a manner that is contrary to its spirit. Millions of workers have not been paid for the work they have done for several months, leading to a situation of bonded labour under a government programme. Due to the existence of systematic corruption within MGNREGA on a large scale, in states like West Bengal, both the union government and the state government have not been able to resolve the issues related to the release of payments which led to a severe burden on workers. Around 2700 crores of wages are pending since December 2021 alone in West Bengal.
MGNREGA which directly provides employment and also helps create rural assets has been short-shifted by this budget. Despite over ₹21,000 crores of pending liabilities, the allocation under MGNREGA is only 73,000 crore, while in 2020-21 the spending under the schemes was over 1.1 lakh crore. The negative impact of the economic crisis that began even before the pandemic led to disruption has fallen disproportionately on those at the bottom of the pyramid. Multiple reports and surveys capture the intense distress among the poor and marginalised sections of society exacerbated due to the pandemic and ensuing restrictions and further slowdown of the economy. In this context, spending on social protection schemes such as the MGNREGA became especially important to improve rural distress.
As of September 22, 2022, the total amount of wages worth Rs.4790 cr is pending from the Union Government including wages pending from previous financial year as well. An analysis of over 18 lakh invoices for the first half of FY 2021-22 showed that the Government of India (GoI) processed only 29% of the FTOs within the mandated 7-day period. The wages of NREGA workers have stagnated in real terms since 2009. The average increase in NREGA wage rate across the country is a measly 4.25% whereas Union Government employees and pensioners get a dearness allowance (DA), of 34%. A negative net balance implies that there are pending wage and material payments to be made, along with arrears to be cleared, from current and previous financial years. It is the Centre’s responsibility to disburse these funds in a timely and regular manner. Over -4100 cr is the net balance while 16 states and Union Territories have a Net Balance that is negative. By now there is incontrovertible evidence that inadequate funding leads to massive delays in wage payments. Even the Ministry of Finance has acknowledged this. Around six hundred NREGA workers and their supporters from 14 states had gathered at Jantar Mantar on 2nd, 3rd and 4th August 2022 under the banner of NREGA Sangharsh Morcha to raise these issues and to demand the right to life with dignity.
The Right to Food Campaign therefore demands:
1) A guarantee of payment within 15 days for all NREGA workers. Clear all pending wages immediately, even pending FTOs of the Financial Year (FY) 2021-22. Automatic compensation for delays in wage payments, along with raising the compensation norm to 0.5% (of the amount due) per day.
2) Substantial increase in NREGA wages and ensuring that wages are no less than state minimum wages in any state.
3) Stop app-based 2 times a day, attendance system. As per law either follow the time rate system of payments or follow the piece rate system (workers finish the work output for the day and go home), both systems cannot be forced on workers.
4) Adequate budget allocation and release, so that employment can be provided on demand at enhanced wages. And any differences between the central and state government should be solved between them without hurting the workers’ right to work and wages.
Beyond these measures, we demand a revival of participatory anti-corruption methods, full support for social audits, abandonment of counter-productive technical fixes, and an end to the contractor raj where it prevails.
Steering committee of the Right to Food Campaign:
Aysha and Gangaram Paikra (Conveners- Steering committee), Kavita Srivastava (People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Anjali Bhardwaj (National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and Satark Nagrik Sangathan), Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh (Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan, National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), SR Abhiyan, Jan Sarokar, Pension Parishad), Annie Raja and Koninika Ray (National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), Olivia (Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Anuradha Talwar (Pashchim Banga Khet Majdoor Samity (PBKMS), Mira Shiva and Chandrakant (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), Asmi Sharma (Jan Sarokar), Nancy Pathak (Pension Parishad), Richa Singh, Ashish Ranjan and Arundhati Dhuru (National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM), Asha Mishra and Kashinath Chatterjee (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), S.Q. Masood (Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan), Arun Kumar (Jharkhand Viklang Manch), Anuradha Talwar and Gautam Modi (New Trade Union Initiative), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganised Sector Workers (NCC-USW), Nachiket (ASHA-Kisan Swaraj), Sandhya Gautam (National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights (NAMHHR).
Amrita Johri (Delhi), Sunita Singh, Kanhaiya Lal, Mamta, Ajay Sharma and Shabeena Mumtaz (Uttar Pradesh), Sameet Panda, Rajkishore Mishra and Bidyut Mohanty (Odisha), Sangeeta Sahu, Vipul Paikra, and Narendra Kumar Das (Chhattisgarh), Mukta Srivastava, Ulka Mahajan, Chandrakant Yadav and Shabbir Deshmukh (Maharashtra), Sharada Gopal (Karnataka), Ashrafi Nand Prasad, James Herenj, Afzal Anis and Taramani Sahu (Jharkhand), Fr. Jothi SJ and Anuradha Talwar (West Bengal), Anjali Acharya (Madhya Pradesh), Nesar Ahmad and Shyam Lal Maneriya (Rajasthan), Ritwij (Bihar), Tarulata and Sejal Dand (Gujarat).
Aditya Srivastava, Biraj Patnaik, Dipa Sinha, Jean Dreze, Swati Narayan and Vandana Prasad