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MGNREGA: 'After working for 30 days, we were told govt providing Rs 50 per day'

By Our Representative

The latest civil society-sponsored tracker of the Peoples' Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG), which seeks to focus on the state of implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in Bihar states, that 34.3 lakh households were provided employment this year, which is the highest in the last three years, “Yet 18% of the households demanded but did not receive employment.”
The PAEG tracker, which seeks to assess whether Bihar – which has witnessed devastating floods affecting the lives and livelihoods of numerous residents of Bihar – was able to provide jobs to nearly 18 lakh migrant workers which state government claims returned on account of the lockdown, “which many argue is a rather conservative estimate.”
Suggesting that the state government was unable with a robust, effective and time implementation of MGNREGA in Bihar in order to mitigate “social and economic impact of these two shocks”, the tracker states, “Even though Bihar holds the distinction of being home to the largest proportion of out-migrant workers in the country, only 14.17% of the new job cards created in the country are from Bihar.”
It continues, despite the legal entitlement of 100 days of jobs per household under MGNREGA, as compared to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where 33,000 households and 27,000 households completed the 100 day provision, in Bihar only 2,136 households “completed 100 days of work.”
The tracker further states that, as of today, Bihar is short of Rs 159 crore, which means that “as of today, let alone having adequate funds for implementing MGNREGA in letter and spirit, Bihar owes money to its workers and material suppliers.”
Worse, it says, “With unemployment at a high and unmet demand at 17%, it is worrying to note that there has been an increase in material-intensive work in Bihar.” Thus, “39% of total NREGA expenditure so far has been on material, compared to 21% last year.”

Testimonies by MGNREGA workers:

Arun Yadav (Chitoria Panchayat, Mansahi Block, Katihar District): Due to lockdown restrictions, I returned from Delhi in May. During quarantine after returning to my village, some officials from the Labour Department came and took my information. They promised that migrants will be provided work in the village. The mukhya of our village arranged for employment in tree plantation work. We were told that we will receive MGNREGA wages (Rs 194 per day) for the work.
After working for 30 days, we were told that the government is only providing wages at Rs 50 per day. We demanded MGNREGA wages, but we are yet to be paid. I applied for work under Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan and was assured that I will receive a call from the government when work is available. Almost 50 days have passed and I have not received any calls. I am planning to return to Delhi and look for work. Covid-19 does not feel like a big risk in comparison to hunger. 
A civil society activist talking to an MGNREGA worker
Jitendra Paswan (Chitoria Panchayat, Mansahi Block, Katihar District): MGNREGA workers are organised in our Panchayat. That is why we were able to force the administration to provide us work under MGNREGA during the lockdown. About 200-250 workers received a minimum four weeks of employment this year.
Some people have not received payment for their work. Returnee migrants to the panchayat were affected the most as they did not receive enough days of employment despite being provided with job cards on their arrival. Therefore most of the migrants have gone back to cities looking for work despite knowing that the number of cases of Covid-19 is on the rise in cities. 
Covid-19 does not feel like a big risk compared to hunger. Most migrants have gone back despite knowing that the number of cases of Covid-19 is on rise in cities
Ayub (Chahatpur panchayat, Palasi block, Araria District): Three members of my family and I applied for work under MGNREGA in April. But till now we have received employment for only 12 days per person. Technically we have received 48 days of employment in our household. But under the present crisis when we are not able to find work anywhere other than MGNREGA, 100 days of work per household is not enough. Most NREGA workers in our panchayat have not received employment in the last two months. 
When we raised this issue to our panchayat mukhiya, she said that there is no work. But a lot of work is being diverted to contractors who employ their own workers. The government representatives also turn a blind eye to our demands as they fear the contractor lobby.
Akhilesh Kumar (Laxmipur panchayat, Kursakanta Block, Araria District): We have received only 4-7 days of work this year. People from nearby panchayats told us that they received two weeks of work. In June, during harvest season, some workers worked on fields but at lower wages compared to previous years. My family grows maize in our field. This time we received Rs 950 per quintal for our produce in the market. Whereas last year we were able to sell the produce at Rs 1,850 per quintal.
Under these circumstances, the government is not able to provide us work under NREGA. We are not applying for unemployment allowance hoping that we will be provided work under in October. Government announced that 'vriksharopan' work will be done by NREGA workers, but none of us received work. That work was given to private contractors.
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Click here for full PAEG tracker report

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