MGNREGA workers who completed 30 days of protest at Jantar Mantar in the capital on Saturday say that the Centre has failed to respond to the issues they have raised, including the 33% cut in the Centre’s budget for the rural employment guarantee scheme and other policies that have made it harder for workers to benefit from the scheme. Though Ministry officials have met with workers, no solutions have been forthcoming, according to the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, an umbrella group of the scheme’s workers.
The protest is against the government’s “three pronged attack” on the scheme, said NREGA Sangarsh Morcha leader Raj Shekhar, addressing a press conference on the 30th day of the agitation. Three recent decisions by the government have been flagged: cutting the Centre’s MGNREGA budget by a third; introducing a mobile app (National Mobile Monitoring System) to capture attendance; and making Aadhaar-based payments mandatory. Together, this has severely hit workers, making it difficult for them to find work, to record their attendance if they manage to get the work, and to get their wages if the first two fall in place, because of the necessity of having an Aadhaar number linked to their bank accounts and job cards.
The sit-in protest will go on for 100 days, with batches of MGNREGA workers from across the country coming to Jantar Mantar in turns. “In these 30 days, the officials of the Union Ministry of Rural Development have met us only once. The official who met us patiently heard our side of the story, but there were no solutions forthcoming,” Richa Singh of the Sangatin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan said.
Currently, workers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi are camping at the protest site. Ms. Singh pointed out that even in Uttar Pradesh, there is a huge pendency in the MGNREGA wage bill. “Didn’t they say that U.P. has a double engine government? How come there are pending wages here too?” she asked.