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New Delhi: More than 500 Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) workers from across 15 states gathered at Jantar Mantar in the national capital on Wednesday, August 3, to protest against the delayed wage payments and other concerns related to the implementation of the scheme.
Workers from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka were present on the second day of the dharna. NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM) – a national platform of workers’ collectives, trade unions, organisations and individuals – spoke to the workers protesting at Jantar Mantar.
They told NSM about the persistent delays in wage payments, how they did not get work when they demanded it, and how no compensation was provided when workers were injured or even killed at the workplace.
Many of them raised concerns regarding the introduction of the NMMS app, which was launched in May last year to ensure proper monitoring of MGNREGA schemes and taking real-time attendance of workers at the sites. NMMS stands for National Mobile Monitoring System.
As per news reports, many workers have lost wages due to technical glitches in the app. The compulsion to use the app has led to frustration among many. For instance, some women have had to take loans to buy a smartphone. Added to that, they also have to pay for the data package every month.
Mandvi, an MGNREGA worker from Bihar, asked the government to end “Ram Mandir politics” and ensure food security in the country. Many workers also spoke about the difficulties in affording even two meals a day due to high inflation, adding that the cost of an LPG cylinder has jumped to more than Rs 1,000.
The protesters demanded to universalise the public distribution system (PDS), and that PDS must include pulses, millets and oil. They also asked that the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) must be extended till such time as the pandemic continues.
Currently, more than Rs 21,850 crore of wages are pending since April 2020, of which Rs 6,800 crore of wages are pending for this year alone.
In West Bengal, no wages have been processed since December 2021 and the current dues are above Rs 2,500 crore.
A statement released by NSM said that an analysis of 18 lakh wage invoices of the first half of the financial year 2021-22 showed that only 29% of payments were processed within the mandated seven-day period by the Government of India.
It further said that there is enough evidence suggesting that inadequate funds allocation leads to delays in payment of wages. As of July 31, 66.4% of the NREGA budget has already been spent with eight months remaining in this financial year.
Added to that, the Morcha raised another issue – corruption. Social audits have been mandated primarily to curtail corruption. However, funds for social audits have been curbed by the government itself, said Rakshita Swamy of SAFAR and Karuna M. of PHM Tamil Nadu.
D. Raja, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India and Kavita Krishnan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation attended the dharna and endorsed all the demands.
Meanwhile, several workers’ delegations visited the members of parliament of their states to share their grievances and demands, NSM said in its statement. The memoranda and the charter of demands were presented to R. Krishnaiah (YSRCP), Uttam Kumar Reddy (INC), Dhiraj Sahu (INC), Diya Kumari (BJP) and Jagannath Sarkar (BJP). The documents were also submitted to the Samajwadi Party’s office. Some of these MPs expressed their support and promised to raise this issue in parliament.