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GoI's 2023-24 NREGA allocation 'lowest ever', 0.198% of GDP; just 4% of funds remain

Counterview Desk 

The National NREGA Convention, organised by the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha in New Delhi on 3-4 October, has accused the Government of India (GoI) of systematically destroying the rural jobs scheme in order to bing the programme to its knees by resorting to budget cuts, inordinate delays in wage payments and arbitrary imposition of opaque and inaccessible technologies.
Pointing towards how NREGA has been completely shutdown in West Bengal for over 18 months as a result of stoppage of funds by the Central government citing corruption issue, the Morcha in a statement said, "This step is more political than legal, given the Centre has not conducted any investigation, registered any complaint against complicit officials or made any attempt to fight implementation-level leakages in the State."

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The First National NREGA Convention was held in New Delhi on 3-4 October 2023 by the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha. The convention saw participation of over 200 delegates from 15 states, including NREGA workers, activists, researchers, lawyers and students. Deeply committed to the universal right to livelihood, the delegates discussed the various issues affecting the functioning of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA) and deliberated upon ways for implementation of the NREGA in the true spirit of the law. 
Sai Balaji (AICCTU), Aparna (IFTU), Manju (Amazon India Workers’ Association), Sukumar Dhamle (AITUC) and Vikram (All India Agricultural Workers’ Union), Richa Singh (Sangatin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan), Hannan Mollah (All India Kisan Sabha), V Sivadasan (AIAWU) and Navsharan Singh addressed the delegates and extended solidarity to the fight of NREGA workers across the country.
Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data shows that the unemployment rate in rural India is at a two-year high of 8.73%. In spite of this, the Central Government has taken several steps towards the systematic destruction of NREGA that have brought the programme to its knees, such as budget cuts, inordinate delays in wage payments and arbitrary imposition of opaque and inaccessible technologies i.e. National Monitoring Management System (NMMS) and Aadhaar-Based Payment System (ABPS). 
For instance, only Rs. 60,00 crores have been allocated to NREGA for FY 2023-24 despite pre-budget estimates coming up to Rs 89,400 crore. This is a mere 0.198% of GDP -- the lowest ever in the history of NREGA, and as of 4 October 2023, less than 4% of the NREGA budget remains. Moreover, the NREGA wage rate is lower than the agricultural wage rate in 90% of the states, with Madhya Pradesh’s being the lowest at Rs. 221 and relatively poorer states like Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand at Rs. 228.
In addition, NREGA has been in complete shutdown in West Bengal for over 18 months (since December 2021) as a result of a complete stoppage of funds by the Central government citing corruption issues. However, this step is more political than legal, given the Centre has not conducted any investigation, registered any complaint against complicit officials or made any attempt to fight implementation-level leakages in the state. 
As many as 30 leaders from Trinamool Congress, including sitting MPs Mahua Moitra and Abhishek Bannerjee, were protesting against this very issue at Krishi Bhawan on 3 October 2023 when they were forcibly removed by the Delhi Police, adding to the ever-growing list of concerted attacks on the fundamental right to free speech and peaceful protest in the world’s largest democracy.
Morcha will take up BJP Hatao NREGA Bachao campaign keeping in view the 2024 general elections
After two days of detailed discussions on the various issues plaguing the NREGA, the delegates adopted the following resolutions to conclude the First National NREGA Convention:
1. The following minimum steps ought to be guaranteed by the Central Government to keep the NREGA alive:
1.1. Allocation of adequate budget and timely release of funds to ensure work demand is met and wages are paid in time.
1.2. In line with rising prices, MGNREGA wage rate must be increased to Rs. 800 per day (or at the very minimum, brought on par with states’ agricultural wage rates).
1.3. Work days guaranteed per year must be increased to 200.
1.4. Fighting corruption by enhancing people’s participation and vigilance as opposed to imposing highly-centralised technological solutions like NMMS and ABPS. Instead, regular and independent social audits must be conducted, workers must be provided daily payslips showing the amount of work done and wages due, and monthly gram sabhas must be organised for announcing muster rolls, passing of NREGA accounts, and planning new works.
2. To fight the ongoing unemployment crisis in the country, an urban employment guarantee programme must also be initiated guaranteeing a minimum 200 days of work per year for the urban unemployed.
3. Repeated appeals and attempts at dialogue with the Central Government to highlight policy issues in NREGA have failed. However, the Morcha will put forward its concerns and suggestions to the Central Government one last time, as well as bring them to the attention of the ruling party (BJP) and the INDIA alliance.
4. Should the Modi government fail to meet the above list of non-negotiables, the Morcha will take up a campaign of “BJP Hatao, NREGA Bachao!” keeping in view the 2024 general elections.
5. To this end, the Morcha will conduct village-level activities and gram sabhas in every village where it has roots so as to ensure that no NREGA worker votes for the BJP in 2024. Further, the Morcha will organise nation-wide action and sit in protest in Delhi during the winter session of the Parliament in December 2023.

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