With pending wages and not enough work, MGNREGA workers migrate in big numbers; launch letter campaign to PM

Workers in as many as 16 districts of Karnataka have written to Narendra Modi seeking payment of pending wages and increase in man-days to 150

Updated - December 18, 2023 06:37 pm IST

Published - December 16, 2023 07:40 pm IST - KALABURAGI

MGNREGA workers posting letters addressed to the Prime Minister in Kalaburagi demanding payment of pending wages and increasing the guaranteed wage employment from 100 to 150 days.

MGNREGA workers posting letters addressed to the Prime Minister in Kalaburagi demanding payment of pending wages and increasing the guaranteed wage employment from 100 to 150 days. | Photo Credit: ARUN KULKARNI

Amid heated arguments between the Union and State governments over dues payable to the latter under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and Karnataka’s demand for increasing man-days from 100 to 150 because of prevailing drought, rural labourers have launched a letter campaign, addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanding payment of pending wages and increase in the man-days.

Under the aegis of the Grameena Koolikaarmikara Sanghatane (GRAKOOS), which works with rural labourers at the grassroots level, MGNREGA labourers in 16 districts en masse wrote letters and dropped them in post boxes on Friday.

“The rural labourers are heavily dependent on the MGNREGA as there is little agricultural activity due to drought. The government is neither paying them for the work they have completed nor giving fresh work on demand. Since our repeated requests on both counts went in vain, we have launched the campaign. Labourers have posted letters in the headquarters of 16 districts now. The remaining would continue to post letters in their respective gram panchayats for the next few days,” Sharanagouda, a local leader of GRAKOOS, told The Hindu.

Extent of dues

The Union government said there are no MGNREGA dues payable to Karnataka in the current financial year. However, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister Priyank Kharge has made it clear that the Union government is yet to pay ₹468 crore as on December 11, 2023.

The Union government, in response to Lok Sabha member Sumalatha, also claimed that it had not received any request from Karnataka to increase the man-days. Countering this, Mr. Kharge said in the winter session of the State legislature recently that the State wrote to the Centre on September 14 and 16. He said he wrote personally to Union Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh on September 20 and sent a reminder on October 18, which was, Mr. Kharge claimed, acknowledged by Mr. Singh on October 31.

Meanwhile, MGNREGA labourers in Kalaburagi, Yadgir, Raichur, Koppal, and Ballari districts, contacted by The Hindu, were unanimous on two issues — they said they had not received wages for the work they had completed nor had they been provided with work on demand even for 100 days a year as guaranteed by the Act.

Burdened by loans

“My husband and I have only one acre of land where we normally cultivate red gram. It is not enough for us to sustain. With drought this year, the crop is destroyed. The loans we borrowed for the cultivation are on our shoulders. Since we were not paid for the work we did under the job scheme for the last six months, we had to borrow additional loans from the local lenders on inflated interest to survive. The interest is growing and the government is not paying our wages,” Neelamma, a labourer from Mahagaon village in Kamalapur taluk of Kalaburagi district, told The Hindu. She was among around 30 MGNREGA labourers who posted letters to the Prime Minister from Kalaburagi post office on Friday.

Abhay Kumar, the founder of GRAKOOS, attributes the widespread migration from rural areas in Kalyana Karnataka region to the denial of work and delayed payment of wages under the MGNREGA.

“Drought has left fewer livelihood options in the rural areas of arid Kalyana Karnataka. The job guarantee scheme, if implemented properly, could be a saviour. Unfortunately, the government is showing the least interest in it. As per the MGNREG Act, the government should give jobs to labourers within 15 days of receiving applications. But it is not giving jobs even after six months. Inordinate delay in wage payment is another big issue. So people are now migrating to cities such as Bengaluru in search of work,” Mr. Kumar said.

Headed to Bengaluru

Shekhar, an MGNREGA labourer from Wadnalli in Yadgir district, said that 25% of the population in most of the villages have already migrated. “My father, my mother, and I have been waiting for the payment of back wages for the last two months. Now, we are planning to go to Bengaluru to work as construction labourers. Around 50 families from my village have already left for Bengaluru,” Mr. Shekhar said.

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