Day 30 of the NREGA Protest: Students and Activists Detained by the Delhi Police

NREGA Protest

The Delhi police has made it quite clear that no public discussion about NREGA will be allowed beyond jantar-mantar. Students and activists were detained by the Delhi Police in the middle of a public discussion on NREGA at the Arts Faculty, Delhi University, for which permission was withdrawn on the day of the event. The event, organised by a student organisation called Collective, was a discussion on the right to work and NREGA in particular. Renowned economist Jean Dreze, Richa Singh of Sangatin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, Uttar Pradesh and Comrade Somnath of Jan Sangharsh Manch, Haryana were slated to speak at the event. However, the event had just begun when it was abruptly stopped by the police and the organisers, speakers and other students were taken to the Maurice Nagar police station. Comrade Somnath, two students from Delhi University and a foreign student were detained by the police for over three hours.

This comes a day after the workers were removed from Jantar Mantar despite having obtained prior permission to organise a protest. The workers were asked to vacate the protest site or be removed by force by police personnel in order to make way for an event organised by the Aam Aadmi Party. The day prior as well, the workers’ right to protest was disrupted by a rally organised by BJP party workers who took over most of the protest site while all other demonstrations were pushed to the sidelines. The protestors were unable to procure mics and even had to bring their own carpets as they were made to settle down in a tiny space beyond the police barricades.

These actions on the part of law enforcement authorities will go down in the list of ever-increasing encroachments on the citizens’ right to protest and the right to ask questions of their elected government, a phenomenon all too common in our country today. They are gross violations of the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to peaceful assembly enshrined in the Constitution. Moreover, such an atmosphere of state surveillance and repression points to the unfortunate reality where the space for dissent is shrinking day by day and the idea of democracy itself is under threat. The poor and the marginalized are being attacked in a comprehensive way on two simultaneous counts – first, with social security rights like MGNREGA being undermined and attacked through budget cuts and illegal imposition of technological interventions. Secondly, being attacked when they raise their voice against these measures in a democratic and peaceful manner.

NREGA Sangharsh Morcha organised a press conference at Jantar Mantar on 25 March 2023 to address these developments as well as mark the completion of  30 days of the workers’ protest. Over this month of protest, various workers delegations made attempts to meet officials of the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) to present their grievances. But not only were they repeatedly turned away, Union Minister (MoRD) Giriraj Singh also denied having received any NREGA-related complaints in Parliament. Finally, on 21 March 2023, a worker delegation from Jharkhand managed to meet MoRD Secretary Shailesh Kumar Singh and Joint Secretary Amit Kataria but they seemed non-committal about the issues presented to them. Additionally, workers from West Bengal whose wages are pending since December 2021 and have not been given any NREGA work through FY 22-23, have also filed complaints with the National Human Rights Commission.

Such excessive state actions will not deter workers who stand by their resolve to protect the NREGA and demand the following: (i) immediate removal of the NMMS app, (ii) reversal of the order dated 30 January, 2023 requiring all NREGA payments to be made via the Aadhar Based Payment System (ABPS), (iii) increase in the NREGA budget, and (iv) timely payment of wages and immediate release of wages that have been pending for over a year.


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