Delhi: Labourers from 15 states protest against MGNREGS payment delay, rising food prices
Protesting against the insufficient allocation of funds for the rural employment guarantee scheme, as many as 500 daily wage workers from 15 states have gathered at Delhi's Jantar Mantar. The protesters also demand an increase in the number of working days in the wake of diminishing employment opportunities and rising inflation. Details here.
Jyotsna Richhariya 4 Aug 2022 10:29 AM GMT
With slogans about rising food prices and falling incomes echoing in the background at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar on August 2, Reshma Devi, a labour supervisor from Bihar's Katihar complained that labourers working under her supervision haven't received their payments for the last many months.
She stated that the lack of payment for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) by the Centre has affected millions of labourers across the country.
"These are poor labourers who don't have any other source of livelihood. The pending payments have had an adverse effect on their living conditions. Also, the payment of Rs 210 for a day's labour is too less as mehengaayi [inflation] is constantly on the rise," the protester told Gaon Connection.
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Reshma is amongst an estimated 500 protesters who arrived in the national capital on August 2 to participate in the stir against the pending payments and the alleged insufficient allocation of funds for the rural welfare scheme. The protest began on August 2 and will conclude today, on August 4.
Protesters apprise lawmakers of their demands
Representatives of the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM) which is spearheading the protest, met Members of the Parliament on August 3 and apprised them about their long-standing demands.
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"Several workers' delegations visited the MPs of their states to share their grievances and demands. Memoranda and the charter of demands was presented to the following Members of Parliament: R. Krishnaiah (YSRCP), Uttam Kumar Reddy (INC), Dhiraj Sahu (INC), Diya Kumari (BJP), Jagannath Sarkar (BJP). The documents were also submitted to the Samajwadi Party office," the press statement issued by the NSM stated.
The press statement also mentioned that D. Raja, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Kavita Krishnan of Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPIML) attended the dharna and endorsed all the demands.
As per the official statement issued by the NSM, at present, more than Rs. 21,850 crores [Rs 21.85 billion] of wages are pending since April, 2020.
"This year's pendency is already Rs 6,800 crores [Rs 6.8 billion]. In particular, no wages for West Bengal have been processed since December 2021 and current dues are above Rs. 2,500 crores [Rs 2.5 billion]. An analysis done of 18 lakh (1.8 million) wage invoices of the first half of FY 21-22 showed that only 29% of payments were processed within the mandated 7 day period by the Government of India (GoI)," the press statement mentioned.
'Corruption in NREGA affecting food security of rural residents'
The NSM also alleged that corruption in NREGA is a genuine concern. "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," it alleged.
Apart from the delayed payments, many protesters also alleged that the MGNREGS is being misused by rural administrators to let middlemen and intermediaries divert the funds meant for the poor labourers.
"Middlemen make money out of the scheme by making labourers work on projects illegally. They pay far less than the official entitlement to these villagers which also leads to genuine beneficiaries not being able to get their rightful payment. All these corruption issues need to be addressed by the government," Meera, a protester from Telangana told Gaon Connection.
During the protests at Jantar Mantar, many speakers spoke about the alarming situation of food insecurity in the country and the need for greater investments in food entitlement.
Mandvi, a daily wage labourer from Bihar spoke about the difficulties in affording two meals a day due to high inflation with an LPG gas cylinder costing more than Rs. 1,000.
"With no jobs available and rising food inflation, MGNREGA is the only option millions of poor labourers across the country have in order to survive. Government's lackadaisical approach to the rural welfare scheme is adversely affecting people like us," she said.
Also, NSM pointed out that using the National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS) application has created more barriers to work.
According to NSM, their ground reports suggest that workers have lost 50 per cent of their wages owing to technical glitches in the app and many women supervisors have had to take loans to get smartphones to use the app. They demand that the NMMS based attendance system should be immediately scrapped.
Jyotsna Richhariya is an intern with Gaon Connection.