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Lockdown hits NREGA workers hard

Workers’ collectives are demanding relief in the form of wages, payment of dues and extension of scheme.G. N. RaoG. N. Rao

Workers’ collectives are demanding relief in the form of wages, payment of dues and extension of scheme.G. N. RaoG. N. Rao  

Support becomes critical as thousands of migrant workers return to villages

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme has been officially shut down in at least seven States, while it is effectively closed in many more, as COVID-19 lockdown comes into effect across the country.

Workers’ collectives are demanding relief in the form of wages during the shutdown, payment of pending dues, and extension of the scheme in the next financial year to accommodate more workers and additional days of work. This is critical as thousands of migrant workers stream back to their villages, leaving the cities following the lockdown.

Civil society groups have written to the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and senior State officials, demanding an emergency relief package of Rs. 7,000 a month for all poor households for April and May.

“We had already reduced the size of groups at work sites to less than 50, and shifted measurement of work from group attendance to individual attendance. However, in districts where there is curfew, we will pay unemployment allowance for those who have already registered for work as the government is responsible for not providing work,” a senior Rajasthan government official told The Hindu .

“Over the last two days, MGNREGA has completely stopped in Karnataka. We are demanding that unemployment allowance at least must be given to those who have already applied for work under the scheme,” said Abhay Kumar, State coordinator of the Grameen Coolie Karmikara Sangathan, a union for rural workers.

“MGNREGA workers are often employed in construction related projects. As their employer, the government must pay a 1% cess on their behalf, so that they can benefit from the welfare schemes,” Mr. Kumar added.

All these are included among the demands listed in a letter by civil society representatives, including economists Jayati Ghosh and Jean Dreze, Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, and activists Kavita Krishnan, Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy.

The letter, appealing for a Rs. 3.75 lakh crore emergency package, was sent to State and Central government representatives on Monday. It demanded that MGNREGA be expanded beyond 100 days of guaranteed work in 2020-21, with full wages being paid during the lockdown. Pending wage and material payments, amounting to Rs. 8,396 crore must be paid immediately, it said.

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