UP: Dues Still Unpaid, Rozgar Sevaks Now Tasked With Identifying Migrant Labourers

Around 36,000 rozgar sevaks in Uttar Pradesh have not received their honorarium for the past 18 months.

Gorakhpur: While the Centre and the state governments have announced financial packages for the poor, labourers, farmers and working class people to fight the coronavirus pandemic, several contractual workers and those employed under various schemes are still struggling to get their dues paid. In fact, thousands of these workers have been handed additional tasks in the fight against the coronavirus.

There are 36,000 rozgar sevaks in Uttar Pradesh working under various schemes who have not received an honorarium for the past 18 months. The UP government has racked up arrears of Rs 170 crore. Without clearing these dues, more rural workers have been recruited for identifying migrant labourers across villages and preparing reports on them to deal with the pandemic. Despite the task involving a major risk of infection, they have neither been provided personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks or gloves, nor have they been given medical insurance.

For several years, the rural workers, who are paid Rs 6,000 a month, have not been receiving their honorarium on time. Owing to the low honorarium and dues, their financial condition has deteriorated. Due to non-payment of honorarium for the past 18 months stretching over three financial years, the rural workers are facing a severe financial crunch. In recent months, five workers have died by suicide in Gorakhpur, Etah, Hathras, Unnao and Kanpur. Three others died of illness and could not access proper medical treatment because they were in precarious financial conditions.

On March 28, 34-year-old Ram Ashish Chauhan, a resident of Gorakhpur’s Patra village, died of a heart attack. He had not been paid for 18 months (nine months each in 2017-18 and 2019-20). Ram Ashish was the eldest of three brothers and had two sons and three daughters. His father, Ram Bhavan, is also a labourer. According to his relatives, Ram Ashish was depressed due to the financial crisis he found himself in.

Last month, Rakesh Singh, the former president of Gorakhpur’s Rozgar Sevak Sangh died by suicide. He had not been paid for the past 13 months.

In Uttar Pradesh, payments of 25,000 rural workers have been due for six-eight months in the 2019-20 current financial year. Similarly, 32,000 workers are due to receive an honorarium for 8-10 months during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 financial years.

Rozgar Sevaks were appointed in 2006 and their responsibilities include providing work to MNREGA workers in their respective gram panchayats and coordinating with gram panchayat and block level officers regarding payment of wages. Rozgar Sevaks were appointed in all 58,906 gram panchayats of the state, with an initial honorarium of Rs 2,000 which was later increased to Rs 3,500. The Akhilesh Yadav government increased this to Rs 6,000.

Also Read: What Happens to the Wives of Male Migrant Workers, Who Run Entire Households in Villages?

The state president of the Uttar Pradesh Gram Rozgar Sevak Sangh, Bhupesh Kumar Singh, says that though 52,000 rozgar sevaks were appointed in 2006-07 but later, their services were wrongfully terminated. Nearly 1,400 gram panchayats had come within the limits of cities, due to which rozgar sevaks were expelled and the posts were abolished. Owing to low honorarium, many rural workers instead chose to take up private jobs. Today, there are only 36,000 such workers left.

While the norms prescribe that every panchayat should have rozgar sevaks for the proper implementation of MNREGA, 22,000 gram panchayats in the state do not have rural workers. This has the domino effect of employment under the MNREGA not being generated. Owing to dearth of rural workers, many panchayats are unable to utilise the funds allocated under the programme, which in turn means MNREGA workers also lose out on wages.

Bhupesh Singh says that rozgar sevaks are regularly recruited for additional jobs, apart from MNREGA-related work. They are assigned tasks such as conducting surveys at the gram panchayat level, as a result of which they remain occupied the whole month.

A rural worker posted in Gorakhpur’s Piprauli block claimed that the posts of secretary are lying vacant in all gram panchayats, due to which he has been assigned the duties of a secretary.

Bhupesh Singh says that rozgar sevaks have excelled at their work even in adverse circumstances. They have achieved the target of MNREGA fund expenditure in UP by generating maximum jobs for labourers. Yet, a system has not been ensured to raise their honorarium to pay their dues or to dispense payments on time.

The grievance of rural workers is that they receive a daily wage of Rs 200, which is equivalent to what a MNREGA labourer is paid. Bhupesh Singh says that the state government’s announcement to pay the dues worth Rs 611 crore to MNREGA labourers in view of the coronavirus is a welcome step, but hoped the government will also pay the Rs 170-crore dues of rozgar sevaks. After all, their predicament is similar to the MNREGA workers. In the current critical situation, when everything is at a standstill, how will they feed their families?

In September 2019, the rozgar sevaks held a conference in Lucknow where rural development minister Rajendra Pratap (Moti) Singh promised that their demands would be met. The demands included an increment in the honorarium, payment of dues, timely payments every month and compensation worth Rs 10 lakh to the family in case of death of a rozgar sevak, job to the dependent, medical allowance worth Rs 5 lakh in case of sickness and formation of a grievance committee at the district level to address their problems. The Uttar Pradesh Gram Rozgar Sevak Sangh also sent a memorandum regarding the matter on March 18 to the rural development minister, but so far none of their demands have been fulfilled.

If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also appear them to the nearest hospital.

Manoj Singh is editor of the website Gorakhpur Newsline

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman.