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NREGA workers protest 'persistent delay' in wage payment, no redressal on injury, death

By Our Representative 

About 500 workers who have been regular users of the rural guarantee jobs scheme, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), have protested in New Delhi against “persistent delays” in wage payments. Sitting on a dharna organised by the civil rights group NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, many of them gave testimony of how they did not get work when they demanded it, and how no compensation was provided when they were injured or killed at workplace.
Hailing from 15 states, mainly from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, they gathered in Jantar Mantar. Many of them raised concern regarding the introduction of the NMMS app for attendance at worksites and other technological interventions making it difficult to work in NREGA.
Several workers’ delegations visited the MPs of their states to share their grievances and demands. Memoranda and the charter of demands were presented to R Krishnaiah (YSRCP), Uttam Kumar Reddy (INC), Dhiraj Sahu (INC), Diya Kumari (BJP) and Jagannath Sarkar (BJP). The documents were also submitted to the Samajwadi Party office.
“Some of the MPs received the charter of demands and some of them expressed their support and assured to raise it in Parliament”, an NREGA Sangharsh Morcha communique said. D Raja, General Secretary of the CPI. and Kavita Krishnan of the CPI-ML attended the dharna and endorsed all the demands.
Currently, said the communique, more than Rs 21,850 crore of wages are pending since April 2020 1. This year’s pendency is already Rs 6,800 crore. In particular, no wages for West Bengal have been processed since December 2021 and current dues are above Rs 2,500 crore.
The Morcha said, an analysis done of 18 lakh wage invoices of the first half of FY 21-22 showed that only 29% of payments were processed within the mandated seven day period by the Government of India (GoI).
Pointing out that there is enough evidence suggesting that inadequate funds allocation lead to wage delays, it added, as of July 31, 66.4% of the budget has already been spent with eight months remaining in the FY. Corruption in NREGA is a genuine concern and social audits have been mandated primarily to curtail corruption.
Speaking on the occasion, Rakshita Swamy of NGO Safar and Karuna M of PHM Tamil Nadu highlighted how funds for social audits have been curbed by the GoI themself. In a circular dated 5th January 2022, the Ministry of Rural Development said that social audits are a “pre-requisite” for fund release to States. On the one hand, the GoI is curtailing funds for NREGA on grounds of increased corruption and on the other, it has curtailed funds for social audits.
They added, the alarming situation of food insecurity in the country and the need for greater investments in food entitlement was highlighted. Workers spoke about the difficulties in affording even two meals a day due to high inflation with a gas cylinder costing more than Rs 1,000. Mandvi, a worker from Bihar, asked to end the “Ram Mandir politics” and ensure food security. 
Demands were raosed to universalise the public distribution system (PDS) and have quotas for the National Food Security Act (NFSA) based on 2022 population projections to be in compliance with Supreme Court orders. Further PDS must include pulses, millets and oils. Also, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) must be extended till such time that the pandemic continues.

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