CPI(M) Questions Govt Advisory on Caste-Based Segregation in MGNREGS Wage Payment

CPI(M) polit bureau member Brinda Karat wrote to Union minister Narendra Tomar, questioning the intent of the advisory and that it is being implemented without any discussion in parliament.

New Delhi: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has expressed concerns over the Centre’s decision to segregate wage payments under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme into separate categories for “Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and others” from the financial year 2021-22.

CPI(M) polit bureau member Brinda Karat, in a letter addressed to Union minister for rural development Narendra Singh Tomar, has questioned the intent of the advisory and said that it is being implemented without any discussion in parliament.

“In a demand-based universal programme for provision of work, allocations can only be based on expected demand for work. Linking categorisation with allocations will undermine the basis of the law which is both demand-based and also universal in its eligibility criteria. We, therefore, request you to clarify why this has become necessary,” the letter said.

The letter also pointed out a sentence in the advisory, raising serious doubts on the government’s intent, because it is linked to fund allocations: “All stakeholders may ensure action in a time bound manner so that funds maybe released accordingly.” Despite holding much importance, the advisory is still not on the ministry’s website.

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“It has not been discussed in parliament or even put to the Standing Committee on Rural Development. It should not be implemented  without such a discussion,” the letter urged.

The letter also highlighted that the government has not set up any monitoring mechanism for such programmes to reach SC and ST beneficiaries; neither has it ensured the recruitment and training of persons from the SC and ST communities for the post of “mates” or “barefoot technician” as defined in the master circular for implementation of MNREGA.

“…there is no information as to how these oppressed communities are represented in these posts. These would constitute concrete measures to enhance the rights and interests of SC and ST communities within NREGA. In clause 4.22 ‘ministry mandates provision of 50 days of wage employment, beyond stipulated 100 days, to every ST household in forest areas who have no private property except land provided under FRA 2006.’ Is there any record of the ministry of how many ST households have been given 150 days of work a year? No such record is available in the public domain,” the letter stated.

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The main issue here is the lack of work under NREGA, it said. “The average days of work in April-May this year of just 20 days per household is less than last year. This at a time when the second wave of the pandemic has eliminated job opportunities, and provision of work under NREGA is essential to prevent widespread hunger and deprivation.”

On March 2, rural development ministry issued an advisory to all states and union territories to divide the MGNREGA payment system on the basis of separate categories. According to the Hindu, workers’ advocates feared this move would cause unnecessary delays and complications in the payment system, and worried that it could lead to a reduction in scheme funding.

As per another report in the daily, almost 14% of MGNREGA wage payments from April are still pending more than a month later, while 60% of May payments are also pending. The reason being the Centre which is dragging its feet in making payments, while the states are generating fund transfer orders without delays. (The Centre transfers the funds directly into the accounts of the wage earners within seven days, after the states generate a fund transfer order within eight days and digitally send it to the Centre. Therefore, a worker should get paid within 15 days.)