Today, we completed 40 days of the NREGA workers’ protest at Jantar Mantar. With this milestone also arrived a significant victory for the protesting workers: the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) has agreed to take remedial action to alleviate some of the workers’ woes.
A delegation of workers and activists from NREGA Sangharsh Morcha met Shri S.K. Singh, MoRD Secretary and Shri Dharamvir Jha, Director of Department of Rural Development, and highlighted the issues arising from the imposition of two opaque and inaccessible technologies -National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS) and Aadhar-Based Payment System (ABPS). While the Centre claims these measures will help reduce corruption, we find the ground reality to be the opposite. Workers across the country have lost crores in wages as a result of their attendance not being marked on NMMS or their bank accounts not being ABPS-enabled. We strongly urged the officials to rethink these systems given they have been restricting workers from accessing work as well as receiving their rightful wages. We also submitted a set of alternative measures to the Secretary that we believe will be more effective in achieving the twin objectives of decreasing corruption and increasing efficiency.
The MoRD officials agreed to duly examine the issues highlighted by us and take appropriate action. They expressed interest in holding another meeting to specifically discuss the issue of ABPS as well as that of social audits under NREGA. Importantly, the Secretary assured us that the deadline for making ABPS mandatory would be extended by a few months. In West Bengal, where NREGA wages are pending for over 15 months and NREGA work has not been undertaken since, no resolution or assurance was forthcoming. We continue to demand, however, the immediate disbursal of pending wages to the workers of West Bengal, along with interest for the entire duration of delay.
In addition, our delegation met Lok Sabha MP from Thoothukudi, Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, who is also a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development. The MP patiently listened to our demands and expressed her solidarity to the NREGA workers’ protest. She has invited a delegation from NREGA Sangharsh Morcha to the next meeting of the Standing Committee.
Both these events demonstrate the strength of workers in making government and/or elected representatives listen to their demands. We congratulate the protesting workers for this momentous victory that is a testament to the solidarity of all those involved in this struggle. NREGA Sangharsh Morcha will continue to follow up with the MoRD till they act on the assurances given to us today.
NREGA Sangharsh Morcha – in association with People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG), Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR), Jan Sarokar, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), Right to Food Campaign (RTFC), Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), Rethink Aadhar and People First – is hosting a symposium for lawmakers, lawyers and judges at the India International Centre in New Delhi on 3 April 2023. Titled “State versus the People: Attack on MGNREGA and Peoples’ Rights”, the idea is to apprise jurists of NREGA workers’ issues and cull out ways in which the legal fraternity can support the workers in their agitation.