Low wages, fewer work days bring MGNREGA work to a head in Rajasthan
Written By News Root | Published on Updated: Sep 19, 2022, 15:22 IST | 1663581124794Labourers in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan not paid the government-stipulated Rs 221 per day; work days are far and few, not reaching the prescribed 100 days; payments delayed by months together in several villages
Amarpal Singh Verma
Hanumangarh, Rajasthan: A whopping amount of Rs 63 lakh in payments is due for 3,295 workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme for the months of May and June in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan. A zila parishad official told 101Reporters on condition of anonymity that payments up to August 23 have been cleared, but they have not reached the beneficiaries due to several reasons, including non-linking of Aadhaar-bank accounts and incorrect IFSCs.
Such inefficiencies affect the lives of poor labourers in profound ways. “After harvesting rabi crops in April–May, I look forward to MGNREGA work until mid-September. But I did not get any in the last two months… I have been in the muster rolls for around 12 years now, but have never received anything above Rs 180 a day,” said Sarabjit Kaur from Nathwana village in Sangaria block. “On the contrary, if I go to work in the field, the farm owner pays me Rs 300 per day.”
This year has been particularly bad for MGNREGA workers, with tasks allotted only in June end, instead of April. “We have been seeking work since April. At last, all the labourers staged a dharna in front of the gram panchayat office in June. Only then did the officials allotted work starting June 24,” informed Baldev Singh of Mala Rampura.
As per the Act, all labourers are entitled to 100 workdays a year. They can expect work within 15 days of application, failing which they are entitled to unemployment allowance. In February, the Rajasthan government increased the number of workdays to 125. However, labourers claimed they struggle to get employment even for 100 days, leave alone 125 days!
None of the villagers ever received an unemployment allowance, despite the launch of a government helpline on March 10. Many were not even aware of the helpline or the fact that they were entitled to an unemployment allowance.
As per the rules, the rate of daily unemployment allowance should be at least one fourth of the wage rate for the first 30 days in a financial year, and at least half of the wage rate for the rest of the year. The programme officer should ensure that all entries relating to unemployment allowance are made only through the e-Governance system, NREGASoft.
Mala Rampura Village Development Officer (VDO) Balkaran Singh claimed that not a single worker in Rajasthan has received unemployment allowance till date as the process has not been initiated. For this, it is mandatory to accept applications in the prescribed format 6. “We have the workers’ interests at heart. They will get only a meagre amount by applying for an allowance. On the other hand, we can offer them more days when the work resumes,” Balkaran told 101Reporters.
However, like countless others, Jagaseer Singh of Mala Rampura said he was not aware of any unemployment allowance. “We labourers keep asking for work for months together, but we do not get any. Work allotment depends on the will of the panchayat secretary. I got only 90 days last year.”
Lower than minimum wages
Another major complaint is that labourers do not receive the entire payment for the work done. The daily minimum wage for MGNREGA work in Rajasthan is Rs 221. Nevertheless, labourers get only Rs 160 to 180.
Raj Kaur from Nathwana said she was promised Rs 221 for canal clean-up and filling of pits on its bund, but got only Rs 181 in the end. Randhir Singh of Bhagatpura said he got work for 100 days a year, but never received anything above Rs 190.
When contacted, Sangaria Panchayat Samiti Development Officer Pawan Suthar explained that numbers are extracted based on the records provided by MGNREGA mates. It accounts for the wage rate for work done, the wage rate for the group and the wage rate per member. "The muster rolls from gram panchayat are received at the samiti office, where a junior technical assistant checks the tasks completed, enters them in record books, and certifies the same. This is a purely technical job," he says, adding that no money is deducted or reduced at any stage. "As per the state government rules, we try to give maximum wages to the labourers.”
Workers from Bhakranwali, Santpura and Dholnagar villages recently staged a protest at the samiti office demanding clearance of dues. Samiti member Vikram Singh Kalhari, who led the workers, said even payments of several people for the work done for a fortnight in March were pending. CITU state vice-president Rameshwar Verma said the issue was common in several villages, with money pending for one to two months.
Quizzed about the delayed payments, Chhagnaram Baraich, Executive Engineer, Hanumangarh Zila Parishad, responded: “We complete all the procedures in time. But if you say payments are due, I will speak to the development officials about it.”
Meanwhile, Pawan Suthar insisted that they try to allot work quickly, whenever a labourer seeks it. “This year, the MGNREGA software did not accept new jobs as it is still showing incomplete work from last year. The reason for this is the payment of dues. We have sent a letter to the higher authorities seeking software updates,” he said.
Both Jagaseer and Randhir claimed that amenities — tents for sun protection, drinking water, cradles for babies, first-aid and other essentials — provided earlier by the government have all been discontinued.
Explaining the reasons behind it, Mala Rampura VDO Balkaran said, “When MGNREGA was launched, we had facilities like durries to sit on and cradles for kids. But they all worn out long ago, and we still have not received replacements.”
Nathwana Village Employment Assistant Shishupal Singh added that there were plenty of trees for shade. “The workers bring drinking water from home. If needed, we bring medicines from the sub-health centre.”
(The author is a freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)