Labour

NREGA Workers Protest ‘Great Injustice’ in Budget, Wages and Delayed Payments in Letter to Jaitley

Coming together under the banner of NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, the workers have been protesting at Jantar Mantar since September 11.

Labourers work on a dried lake to try and revive it under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) at Ibrahimpatnam, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, June 17, 2009. Credit: Reuters/Krishnendu Halder/Files

Labourers work on a dried lake to try and revive it under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act at Ibrahimpatnam, on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Credit: Reuters/Krishnendu Halder/Files

New Delhi: The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, which began a five-day agitation at Jantar Mantar on September 11 to protest against low budget, poor pay and delays in payment being used as tools to kill the employment scheme, has shot off a letter to Union finance minister Arun Jaitley to highlight the “great injustice” that has been done to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

In the letter, the protesters who have come from around 15 states, have alleged that “as soon as the NDA government came to power, budget caps were imposed on NREGA leading to an unprecedented crash in employment [about 30% decline in 2015-16] as well as large wage arrears.”

Furthermore, they have highlighted that “more recently, the NREGA budget has increased a little in money terms but it is still lower in real terms than in 2010-11 despite rapid economic growth”.

Due to the lower budget, the letter, which was sent on September 13, has pointed out that “the wages of NREGA workers have stagnated in real terms since 2009, even as the wages and pensions of government employees went up by leaps and bounds.”

Finally, coming to the issue of wage arrears, they said: “For good measures, long delays in payments are still the norm more than the exception, further reducing the real value of NREGA wages.”

Looking at all these aspects, the letter has stated that while a great injustice has been done to the NREGA workers, “the finance ministry has been party to the injustice [for instance by shooting down the recommendations of the Mahendra Dev committee report on NREGA wages].”

Stating that this wrong “must be undone at the earliest”, the letter has suggested some immediate measures to address the injustice.

The Morcha has demanded “a substantial increase in NREGA wages; ensuring that NREGA wages are no lower than state minimum wages in any state; a guarantee of payment within 15 days for all NREGA workers; automatic compensation for delays in wage payments along with raising the compensation norm from 0.05% [of the amount due] per day to 0.5% per day and adequate provision for NREGA in the next Union Budget, so that employment can be provided on demand at the enhanced wages.”

Beyond these measures, it has also called for coming out with “new norms” for NREGA wages based on the notion of living wage and consisted with the recommendations of the 15th labour conference as well as Supreme Court judgments on the matter.