Rs. 3,000 each awarded to 78 persons who had worked at three sites

After a long struggle, 78 persons who had worked at three sites in Jharkhand under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, but had not been paid, have secured compensation for their ordeal. Deputy Labour Commissioner Mahendra Murmu awarded Rs. 3,000 per worker at a Labour Court here on Monday.

This is seen as a breakthrough for the aggrieved workers, who have been waiting for their wages for more than two years. Their plight initially came to light in May 2009 when a Sahayata Kendra, or help centre, for NREGA workers was set up here by a group of university students and local volunteers.

The payments were found to have been delayed at three worksites in Tirla. The first site was ‘Makka Munda ke zameen mein sinchaai koop nirmaan' in Bududih village of Tirla gram panchayat. The second was ‘Raukand ka talaab ke jameen mein talaab nirman' in Tirla village, also of Tirla gram panchayat. The third site was ‘Simbukel mein chua nirman' in Simbukel village, of Tirla gram panchayat. The payments related to work done in 2007 and 2008.

The district administration was alerted to the problem and urged to ensure payment. In June 2009, Pooja Singhal, Deputy Commissioner of Khunti, in response to a request from the Ministry of Rural Development for an “action taken report” on delayed wage payments, certified in writing that no wage payments were due in the district. Nevertheless, when another team of student volunteers initiated a follow-up survey in Khunti in May 2010 in collaboration with the Sahayata Kendra, it was found that nothing had changed in Tirla: wages were still due at these three worksites. The aggrieved workers were angry and agitated.

On May 14, a public hearing was held in Khunti in the presence of Ms. Singhal and the officials concerned agreed to resolve this matter. It was agreed that since the records were missing, the workers would be paid a flat compensation of Rs.3,000, as per Section 30 of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The Deputy Commissioner publicly assured the workers that they would be compensated. The names of workers listed in the ‘kaccha khatas,' or informal attendance registers, were verified in public.

Two months later, however, compensation was yet to be paid. The Sahayata Kendra then approached the Labour Commissioner of Jharkhand, who agreed to sanction a compensation of Rs. 3,000 per worker and sent the Deputy Labour Commissioner to hold a Camp Court here on August 9 for that purpose. The Camp Court was held in the presence of all concerned parties and a compensation order was issued on the spot. The amount is being credited into the workers' bank accounts by the Block Development Officer.