The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) workers, who were paid a paltry Re.1 for a day's work in Tonk district of Rajasthan, returned the amount to the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.

The workers, in all 99 of them, under the banner of Suchana Evum Rozgar Adhikar Abhiyan, chose Gandhi Jayanti for their protest act of handing over a cheque worth Rs.1, 307 to Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Bharat Singh as thousands of MGNREGA workers started an indefinite dharna near the Statue Circle here.

“We will do full job but we should get full payment as well,” the victims of the worst kind of bureaucratic apathy told the Minister. The group, led by Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), told Mr.Bharat Singh that in the past three years none of the workers got the full remuneration of Rs.100. In Rajasthan the average payment under MNREGS was Rs.75, they informed.

“We came to you because we consider you as our representative in the government,” Ms.Roy told Mr.Singh, who is known for his sympathetic approach to rural causes after being a sarpanch himself for years. “I don't take this personally,” the Minister said well humouredly. “If we can make use of this instance to ensure payment of wages in future I will be gratified,” he said. Mr. Dey told the Minister that he personally went to the village in Uniara tehsil of Tonk district to check the work for which 99 persons were paid Re.1 each for many days. “It was the mistake of those who took the measurement. How can it be possible for anyone to do so little to get a payment of Re.1,” he wondered.

The dharna, which marked the culmination of the “Mazdoor Haq Yatra” (March for the rights of workers) reached from five different destinations — Ajmer, Jodhpur, Kota, Rajsamand, and Udaipur — after 16 days journey. The dharna was to establish “dignity and justice” of those worked under the job scheme, said Shankar Singh of the MKSS. “The satyagraha raises the issues of the ‘last person' referred by Mahatma Gandhi. By merely pre-fixing MG to the NREGS the government has not in any way improved the legal entitlement of workers,” Ms. Aruna Roy noted. The workers were addressed by noted writer Arundhati Roy.

Social audit

“Of specific concern is the exercise of social audit, a mandate entitled in the MNREGS. Innumerable problems have been created both at the level of amendments to the schedule of the Act in the Union Ministry of Rural Development and in the organised reaction of those who are being monitored for mismanagement and fraud at the village and the panchayat levels,” Mr.Dey charged.