The Life of Labour: NREGA Funds Released After SC Rap; Jewellery Industry Loses Skilled Workers


A round-up of news and issues from the world of work

All India Bullion Jewellers and Swarnkar Federation members protest rally against the proposed hike in excise duty on jewellery at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Wednesday. Credit: PTI
All India Bullion Jewellers and Swarnkar Federation members protest rally against the proposed hike in excise duty on jewellery at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Contractual teachers in Delhi protest outside Deputy CM’s house

Some 1920 contractual teachers employed under the Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme lost their jobs on March 31 allegedly because of the discontinuation of the scheme by the MHRD. The Hindu reported that many of them gathered in front of Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia’s house this Saturday to register their protest, where they raised slogans against the government and demanded permanent work. More than a hundred were then detained at the Tilak Mark police station.

The Delhi government has offered the contractual teachers the chance to serve as guest teachers instead, but they aren’t convinced. “How will we be accommodated when government schools already have a large number of guest teachers? We will be cast out on the streets,” Neeraj Kumar, a contractual teacher told the Hindustan Times.  Teachers are appointed under the SSA scheme to meet the required teacher student ratio of 1:40, as mandated by the Right to Education Act 2009. Contractual teachers are paid around Rs 25,000 a month, whereas a guest teacher gets around Rs 15,000.

Center released NRGA funds after reprimand from Supreme Court

Just a day after the Supreme Court reprimanded the Narendra Modi government for not releasing funds to drought affected states for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the Centre released Rs 12,230 crore to pay for pending wages and liabilities worth around Rs 8,000 crore. The NREGS is a demand-driven scheme that guarantees 100 days of employment and serves as a safety net for rural labour in times of distress; drought affected states can demand an extra 50 days of employment but the states have alleged that they have difficulty providing employment when the Centre doesn’t release adequate funds and fixes an upper cap on the amount to be spent.

Jewellers’ strike: Industry loses two-thirds of skilled workers, 8 commit suicide

As the long drawn out battle between the Modi government and jewellers continues, the industry has lost two-thirds of its skilled workers, reports the Business Standard. The strike, called to protest levies imposed on the sector in the recent budget, entered its 41st day on Monday.

The workers are mostly migrants from Bengal and Bihar who are paid on a weekly basis. They were struggling for a livelihood as there was no end in sight to the standoff, and they couldn’t send money back to their homes to take care of their families. Many left for their home towns, and some have shifted to alternative means of livelihood. The Times Of India reported that eight artisans have ended their life due to this crisis.

The prime minister has refused to meet the jewellers even as top BJP leaders have had unproductive meetings. Finance minister Arun Jaitley refuses to budge and has said that a “luxury item” like gold cannot be kept out of the tax ambit while even essential items are taxed. Rahul Gandhi is scheduled to meet the striking jewellers tomorrow to express support and raise their issue with the PM. Meanwhile, jewellers in Nashik have decided to go on a 3-day long hunger strike.

Mill workers threaten indefinite hunger strike outside Maharashtra CM’s house  

The Kamgaar Sanghathana Kruti Samiti, a collective of five mill workers’ outfits, has criticised the Maharashtra government for being insensitive towards their demands. The workers will sit on an indefinite hunger strike in front of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ house to protest the delay in housing allotments, reports the Indian Express.

The workers had staged a protest in March, following which Fadnavis and Maharashtra housing minister Prakash Mehta had assured them that prices for the new houses to be allotted to mill workers would be finalised and a lottery for 2,800 such houses in Mumbai would be brought out in April. The houses are expected to be ready soon, but the government is yet to fix the price or announce the date of the lottery for allotment.

Around 1.48 lakh mill workers have been waiting for rehabilitation ever since the mills were hastily shut down.

Government plans reboot of direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme

In a move aimed at helping rural workers get easier access to benefits from government schemes including wages under NREGS and various subsidies, the Centre plans to reboot the direct benefit transfer scheme and ensure “door-to-door” delivery. Currently, Rs 6,000 crore of subsidies and wages are transferred electronically every month to the bank accounts of 30 crore people under the scheme.

The problem, however, arises in rural areas with poor presence of banking services. Many workers are forced to waste a good part of their working days travelling and spend a considerable amount of money to reach banks in order to receive their daily wages. March 2017 onwards, post offices will be used to ensure greater reach and easier access. There are about 1.55 lakh post offices in India and about 1.38 lakh of them are in core rural areas.

The key to this new initiative’s efficiency will depend on greater enrolment in Aadhaar, since all DBT accounts will be linked to the UIDs of the beneficiaries for verification through a hand held device for doorstep delivery, reports the Economic Times.

Do you know of any other development we should highlight in this column? Write to me at [email protected]

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