A total of Rs. 5.17 lakhs paid as compensation to 91 workers
Workers who have been denied wages for over two years under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act were awarded compensation of Rs. 2,000 each in a landmark order passed by the Jharkhand Labour Commission in Murhigram panchayat, Khunti block.
According to the MGNREGA Sahayata Kendra which pioneered the move, on Tuesday, a total of 91 workers were paid pending wages and compensation money amounting to Rs 5.17 lakhs.
Of them, 79 workers came to the Khunti block office to receive the money. Eight workers have either migrated in search of work or could not come because of ill-health and four have died.
The compensation amount was recovered from the Block Development Officer, Block Programme Officer, Rodger Sevak and Panchayat Sevak.
“Delay in payments under MGNREGA is common but very rarely are workers awarded compensation,” Ankita Aggarwal, a volunteer with the centre told The Hindu .
“This case is also significant as the order passed by the Commission was based entirely on the records of the Gram Sabha and workers’ testimonies,” she added.
All the workers were awarded compensation for irregularities in wage payments in Murhi village. Of the several workers who had worked on this site in December 2010, 55 were paid partially in June 2012, and the remaining did not receive any wages. In October 2012, again eight workers worked on the worksite, but were not paid. After the monsoon in 2012, officials agreed to pay the pending wages, but on the condition that workers first fill potholes which had formed on the road due to rains. Even though they completed this extra task, their payment was still not made.
According to members of the Khunti MGNREGA Sahayata Kendra, the workers were threatened to withdraw their complaint that they were not paid. After much persuasion by the workers and the help centre, in January 2013, the Block Development Officer agreed to a joint enquiry into the matter along with the Kendra.
However, the investigation did not take place as the officials failed to turn up on the proposed date of enquiry.
Following this incident, the Kendra conducted a social audit of the work to learn the exact amount pending and helped workers file a case for payment of unpaid wages and compensation. “This should send out a signal that those involved in the implementation cannot embezzle funds,” added Ms. Aggarwal.