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'Devastating impact': Rural workers suffer as Govt of India NREGA budget down by 34%

Counterview Desk 

A civil rights group, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj stating that 34 per cent decrease in the fiscal budget of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) for year 2021-22 has added to woes on India’s rural population, already suffering from “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Claiming to echo demands of crores of NREGA workers, the letter states, at at time when there is a sharp rise in rural unemployment, “MGNREGA as an entitlement for people’s right to work with dignity and social protection must be strengthened”.

Text:

The COVID 19 pandemic continues to be a serious public health issue with devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of workers, especially informal sector, daily wage workers.
With ever increasing rate of unemployment as per the report of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, in August 2021 it is at 8.32 per cent, and 34 per cent decrease in the fiscal budget of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) for year 2021-22 as compared to the revised estimate of the year 2020-21 is adding further woes on rural populations for survival and employment. The huge inflation in the past two years also means that in real terms the wages in MGNREGA remain paltry and insufficient.
In such trying times, the spirit of MGNREGA as an entitlement for people’s right to work with dignity and social protection must be strengthened. It is important that the MGNREGA is envisioned as a gender-responsive program for recovery from economic crisis with much needed reforms in the implementation mechanism and provisions over and above all existing entitlements in the MGNREGA.
The Management Information System of Government of India shows that over 70 percent of the total household provided employment in the year 2020-21 have already been provided employment in the last six months.
The mandate of the MGNREGA should be expanded as guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every rural adult member who seeks to do unskilled manual work. This will increase scope for rural unemployed labour to engage in productive resource building activity with protection of workers right to work with dignity, wages and social security, especially in the areas where there is forced migration for survival and livelihoods.
The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha therefore demands:
  • The Government of India should notify a wage rate of Rs.600/day for NREGA workers as per recommendations of the 7th Pay commission which will allow dignified living for 15cr households who are registered under NREGA. A respectable increase in wages of MGNREGA workers has become urgent keeping in mind the huge inflation in the prices of food and all consumer goods.
  • The Government of India should notify allocation of 150 days of wage work annually for each job card holding individual. Keeping with this demand, allocate necessary budget for employment of 29 crore job card registered workers.
  • The Section 3 of the MGNREGA laid down that the wages shall be paid within 15 days of the closure of the Muster Roll. However, there are delays in payment of wages. With non-implementation of the detailed guidelines for the compensation of the delayed payments as per the Para 29 of the Section II of the MGNREGA. It has been also observed that there has been significant delays in payments of wages from the central government and in a pandemic year where rural citizens are cash strapped, lost their earnings and became more indebtedness as a result , these delays in releasing wages are unacceptable. We strongly demand that the central government simplifies it’s payments process and ensure on-time payments of wages in a decentralized manner. Also, all the back wages of MGNREGA workers across the states be paid as per the guidelines for the delayed payment and the Supreme Court orders in the Swaraj Abhiyan v Union of India case.
  • All members of NREGA job card holding families should be brought under the Employment State Insurance Act as a social protection measure of all MGNREGA workers.
  • Each worksite should follow Covid protocol with all required provisions such as face mask, facility for hand wash and / or sanitizers, drinking water, shed for rest and medical assistance.
  • The rationale for trifurcation of FTO based on the caste categories of workers is unclear and is causing unnecessary tension among workers. This is also at odds with the universal nature of the Act. The caste-based trifurcation of FTO needs to be revoked.
We trust that you would appreciate the need for such amendments in the policy as millions of rural households across all states in India struggle for their life and work. We sincerely hope that the Govt of India will make much awaited provisions at such a critical juncture.

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