15 crore workers who have registered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme have been under difficulties ever since the BJP Govt came to power in 2014.
According to outlook magazine nine months after taking over as the Prime Minister, Mr. Modi said in Parliament, “Do you think I will disband the scheme? My political wisdom doesn’t allow me to do it. This is a living monument of your failure to tackle poverty in 60 years. You had to send people to dig ditches to pay them. With song and dance and drum beat, I will continue the scheme.” He had remarked sarcastically.
Now without a song, dance and drum beat he is trying to kill the scheme.
Salient features of the scheme
- It is an employment scheme to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed demand based wage employment in a financial year to every house hold where adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
- The scheme was brought in 2005 through an act by UPA 1 Govt supported the left parties and launched in February 2006.
- 60:40 Ratio is to be maintained for wage: materials.
- No contractor and machinery can be allowed.
- Union Govt bears 100% cost of wages and 75% cost of materials.
- If work is not provided within 15 days of applying, applicants are entitled to unemployment allowance. (Not implemented)
- At least one third of the beneficiaries shall be women.
- Social Audit has to be done at least once in 6 months.
As per different study reports, on an average 3 crore households seek work every year out of 15 crore active workers. Against the 33% target for women 58% of the workers are women. 40% of the workers belong to SC/ST. The scheme has helped to reduce distress migration from rural areas.
As per GOI website, there are 14.96 crore active workers, 7.13 crore assets created till date, 264.06 crore person days work generated, 5.91 crore households benefited, 2.22 crore individual works completed. This proves that this is an excellent scheme for rural development.
The recommendations to improve the scheme include:
- Hike in number of days work from 100 to 150 to 200 days.
- Complete work allocation and accounts in time.
- Unified increase in wages across the country to tackle inflation.
- Compulsory social audit.
- Bring an Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme.
The World Bank which once called the scheme as ‘a barrier to development’ later lauded it as world’s largest social security scheme.
This Govt which was cynical of the scheme continued it because of the Covid 19 pandemic during which the migrant workers who walked home hundreds of kilometres could be given at least some days of work.
Now the workers organised under MGNREGA Sangarsh Morcha, a National Collective of Trade Unions are on Dharna at Jantar Mantar. They have decided that everyday 100 workers from different states will assemble at Delhi for 100 days continuously to press for various demands which include:
- Stop mandatory linking of the Job Card with Aadhar Card and Bank Account. Even if there is a single mistake in one of them it is difficult to correct the link.
From February 1st 2023 payments to MGNREGS beneficiaries were to be made only through Aadhar Based Payment System (ABPS). However as on 20th February, only 44% of total workers registered under the scheme were eligible as per The Hindu dated 27.02.2023.
I along with Mr. M.G. Devasahayam, retired IAS officer and Mr. Fabian, a retired IFS officer had filed a case in the Supreme Court against the compulsory linking of Aadhar with bank account and phone number. The Supreme Court gave a favourable order in the otherwise controversial judgement. But this Govt does not care for Supreme Court or the laws of the land.
For example it has wantonly refused to implement the law which mandates appointment of workmen and Non workmen Directors in the Public Sector Banks. There are so many other similar examples.
This Govt has been putting the cart before the horse often. Be it the demonetisation, digitalisation without adequate security feature and poor connectivity or the poorly implemented GST.
When 56% of the workers could not complete the linkage a reasonable government should immediately withdraw the same instead of making them travel to Delhi for Dharna losing at least one week’s wage and spending money on travel and food.
The second difficulty created by the government leading to the agitation is introduction of compulsory uploading of their photo from the place of work by 11-12 AM in an app named National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS) which the workers sarcastically call Narendra Modi Muster Roll System!
One needs a smart phone which costs a minimum of Rs.10000/- and a good connectivity which is rare in rural areas (another way of forcing people to move to Reliance Jio?) Workers report that not even 50% of them are able to connect whereas the ministry says it is a successful scheme.
The third issue is allocation of funds. Already huge arrear is pending which in Bengal alone is Rs.8000 cr. But against allocation of Rs.89,400 crores and spending so far Rs.98,468 crores in 2022-23, the allocation made in the Budget for next year is Rs.60,000 crores. The Rural Development Minister says this is more than what was spent before and it is adequate. Who will explain to him that 60,000 is less than 89,400? What is likely is that after clearing the over dues, there won’t be any money left for providing employment in 2023-24. So the workers have understood arithmetic and they are agitating.
It is an irony that the Govt has lakhs of crore for funding Adani’s and a few corporates through Viability Gap Funds, projects and waiver of taxes but has no money for the poorest for their so called unskilled work which actually requires lot of skills and hard work.
The fourth demand is actually providing 100 days of work at least. As per PRS legislative research 2016-17, on an average less than 10% of the households completed 100 days’ work. In 2018-19 it was 51 days, in 2019-20 it was 48 days, in 2020-21 it was 52 days, in 2021-22 it was 50 days and as on Jan 20 this year it is just 42 days as per the Hindu dated 21.01.2023. The above figures are only an average.
As per the Economic Survey 2022-23, 6.49 crore households demanded work last year. Women at Delhi say that they get only 7-15 days’ work! As per the People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) and NREGA Sangharsh Morcha the need for 2023-24 is at least Rs.2.72 lakh crore. So the allocation in the Budget is less than 20% of the demand. Naturally workers are agitated.
The fifth demand is the payment of wages in time. As per the Act, the workers must be paid within 15 days upon completion of a muster roll of work. For this to happen, the GOI must process and transfer wages to workers as per the electronic invoices called Funds Transfer Orders (FTOs) within 7 days of receiving them from states. An analysis of over 18 lakh invoices for the first half of FY 2021-22 showed that the GOI processed only 29% of the FTOs within the mandated 7 day period. This is conservative as delays get much worse in the second half of each year as funds run dry. By now there is incontrovertible evidence that inadequate funding leads to massive delays in wage payments. Even the Ministry of Finance has acknowledged this as per the workers charter. Is it not an atrocity that the lowest paid workers who are under severe poverty are not paid in time by the government which collects crores in GST from the same people?
The sixth demand is to increase the wages to at least the minimum wages prescribed by the state governments and raise to at least Rs 800 per day. At present the wages range from Rs 226 per day in Meghalaya to Rs 315 per day in Goa which is less than minimum wages. The lowest grade govt employee gets Rs 600 per day from the date of joining work as basic pay and with Dearness Allowance it is Rs.852 per day. That too is an unskilled work. So the demand is just and right.
The last demand is to abolish corruption and contractors where they exist. This may be too much to ask from the corrupt corporate friendly government, which came to power with a promise to abolish corruption.
Though the scheme is not the perfect one, it has achieved a lot as per my own study at Bhim, Rajasthan.
It needs to be improved. Six State governments have introduced Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme on their own starting with Kerala. The Union government should support them and also make it universal.
In a country where education is not free, health care is not free and there is no decent unemployment allowance, we do need this scheme with better vision, improvement, execution and peoples participation as suggested by many.
Don’t throw away the baby with water Nirmala ji! The workers across the country are taking an oath that they will throw away the government if their demands are not met.
Thomas Franco is the former General Secretary of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation and a Steering Committee Member at the Global Labour University.
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