The economic crisis in India exacerbated by the COVID19 Pandemic has hit the Indian working-class poor communities the worst. Amidst a health crisis, widespread unemployment, unpaid or low wages, no savings, and lack of government relief, unorganized workers have been finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet.
In a situation like this, the state-sponsored employment guarantee scheme Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was expected to help out the poor rural population but workers complain that months after they have finished their quota of work, they await state remuneration.
In Kudar, an Adivasi majority village located 14kms away from Panna district headquarters in the BJP-ruled state of Madhya Pradesh, MGNREGA workers have several grievances against the government officials including the Sarpanch (village chief) regarding their wages and work under the scheme, Gaon Connection reported.
At a time when the demand for financial assistance to workers is constantly being raised, Indian workers are struggling to get paid by the government even for the work that they have done.
The wages of MGNREGA workers in Kudar village tend to remain unpaid for months on stretch, when the wages are paid there are wage cuts and even getting the 100 days guaranteed work under the Act is difficult.
The daily wage under MGNREGA is Rs.193 but the average daily wage paid by the MP government has stayed at a lower rate of Rs.185. Madhya Pradesh has 118.91 lakh cardholders but only 21419 people got the 100 days of ‘unskilled’ work promised by the act. Meanwhile, the demand among the rural poor for work under MGNREGA in the state increased by 5% in the month of May 2021.
The most worrisome aspect is that wages worth 65 crores and 86 lakhs still remain unpaid by the Madhya Pradesh government. The delay in payments violates the law that demands that the workers be paid their wages within 15 days after the date on which the work was completed. Furthermore, according to the 2018 Supreme Court order, in the case of any delay of wages, the workers must get compensation from the state.
Recently Tripura government had announced that in cases of delays in wage payment, workers will be given 0.05 percent interest daily on the total wages from the 16th day as compensation.
Sadly, none of this has still happened in Madhya Pradesh.
Owing to these reasons, women workers have even stopped going to work under MGNREGA. Many young workers including those who had come back to their native villages during the lockdown are migrating to cities such as Delhi, Maharashtra, and Indore in search of work.
When the workers in Kudar village asked the Sarpanch and local authorities about their wages, they were told that money has still not come from higher authorities. This is a commonly used answer (some may rightly call it an excuse) handed over to workers instead of their wages. MP is not the only state where workers remain unpaid under MGNREGA. The struggle of MGNREGA workers in getting paid for their labour is evident from the data on the MGNREGA dashboard. Around Rs, 1,387 crore is pending in unskilled wages under the scheme throughout the country.
Furthermore, the BJP led Union government’s commitment towards the betterment of the employment guarantee act in the middle of a poverty crisis deepened by the pandemic in the country is highly questionable. The migrant crisis in 2020 brought majorly by the brutal national lockdown also led to the increased demand for work under MGNREGA as workers returned to their home villages. According to a report written by activists and academicians based on government data, over 1 crore more households took up MGNREGA work in 2020 compared to 2019.
However, amidst demands for expansion of MGNREGA, following the trend of its anti-workers policies and actions, the BJP government in its Union Budget for the financial year 2021-2022 has allotted Rs 73,000 crore for MGNREGA which is 34.52% less than the revised estimate of Rs 1.11 lakh crore for 2020-’21. The highly underestimated allocation is bound to adversely affect the employment generation under the scheme.
Meanwhile, demands for an increase in the number of days of work allotted under MGNREGA along with the creation of an urban equivalent of the act to provide a safety net for migrant workers in urban centers are being raised in the country.