Systematic Attack on the Rural masses by the BJP Government
UNDER the pressure of long struggles of working peoples’ organisations for the right to work including the All India Agricultural Workers Union(AIAWU), the UPA-I government which came to power with the Left support, brought in a National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005. This was later renamed as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
SUCCESS OF MGNREGA
Despite all its limitations and problems in implementation, MGNREGA has proved its utility in rural India in periods of economic and agrarian distress in the last decade. Studies have shown, it also resulted in poverty alleviation and marginal increases in wages where it has been implemented properly. For example, in Tripura, effective implementation of it has shown impressive results in poverty reduction and improving the livelihood of the people of the state. Tripura had 44.5 per cent rural population in poverty during the year 2004-05 which was reduced to 19.8 per cent during 2009-10. This shows the potential of this programme despite the fact that the present act has only 100 days of work; work on the basis of households and not on the basis of individual workers.
Other positive aspect of the experiences of MGNREGA includes its stress on mass participation of job seekers. But it has special importance for the weaker sections. For example, the percentage of SCs in the total population was 17.82 per cent in the year 2012, but MNREGA data shows that their participation in work was 22.02 per cent of the total work done. (the same was ever highest with 28.60 per cent in 2009-10). Similarly, participation of STs in MGNREGA work was 18.25 per cent, which is also more than that of their percentage in the population (10.63 per cent). The percentage of women workers is also much higher in MGNREGA work. However, analysis of past four years under the Modi rule gives an entirely different picture.
DENIAL OF WORK
In the year 2017-18 the average days of work provided to rural households was 45 days as compared to 49 days in 2015-16. There is also regional variation in work availability to the rural households under MGNREGA as the average days of work provided per household was 29 in Assam, 36 in Bihar, 41 in Jharkhand and 40 in Odisha in 2017-18. These were the years when several states were under severe drought and the NDA government had promised 150 days of work a year which was never implemented. Even those states that tried to implement the act effectively, like Tripura were refused additional grants. Not only the number of days of work had to be reduced but the number of individuals were also forced to be cut back as over 1.62 crore job card holders under MGNREGA were struck off from the register in 2017-18 under various false excuses. 8.4 crore persons had demanded work in year 2017-18 but 7.2 crore got the opportunity to work. A huge 1.2 crore persons, which is 15 per cent of the total applicants were denied their right. In the year 2013-14 this percentage was 10 per cent, which has increased to 18 per cent during the current year. According to the official website on MGNREGA, job cards were not issued to 54,78,592 households till January 2, 2018 despite applying for them.
LACK OF BUDGET
The lack of funds from the central government is the major reason for reduction in the number of days of work. There is no increase in the allocation for MGNREGA; in the last budget a total of Rs 55,000 crore was allocated. The allotted money is exactly the same as the revised estimate for the year 2017-18. Even by the conservative estimates, more than Rs 80,000 crore will be required for the proper implementation of the programme. In fact, there is an increasing gap between the budget allotted and real spending by the states. The states are finding it difficult to effectively manage in the absence of allocations from the centre. For example, in the year 2014-15, Rs 36,033 crore were released and Rs 37,495 crore was the total expenditure in that financial year on MGNREGA with a deficit of Rs 1,462 crore. This balance or deficit has reached to the level of Rs 4,150 crore in the year 2017-18 with total expenditure of Rs 65,576 crore and released fund of Rs 61,426 crore only. This is the basis of all the problems related to MGNREGA implementation. By reducing or freezing funds for MGNREGA in the budget, government is converting this demand based law into a target based scheme with predefined limits of spending. Even the central government is not ready to acknowledge this fact and is repeatedly ignoring huge amount of dues for last year in the budget on MGNREGA.
In 28 states the scheme provided wages continue to be lower than the minimum wages for the agricultural labourers. Average wages are as low as Rs 179.59 per day. There is variation among different states in this wage rate for MGNREGA with a wage rate as low as Rs 141.65 in Rajasthan, Rs 146 in Telangana, Rs 166 in Chhattisgarh and Rs 170 in Madhya Pradesh. Last year the wage revision was the worst wage revision in the history of the rural employment guarantee scheme, when MGNREGA workers in 10 states did not have any hike in their wages for financial year 2018-19, according to the revised wage rates issued by the union government. There was no change in the rate of wages in states like Jharkhand (Rs 168), Bihar (Rs 168), Uttarakhand (Rs 175) and Arunachal Pradesh (Rs 177) where the wages are already the lowest, while another five states got a negligible wage hike of Rs 2 per day. These include Gujarat (Rs 194), Maharashtra (Rs 203) and Madhya Pradesh (Rs 174).
Minimum wages of agriculture workers (in Rs)
2018-19 (in Rs)
Difference (in Rs)
PROBLEM OF DELAYED PAYMENTS
The importance of timely wage payments for MGNREGA workers, who are amongst the poorest in rural India, needs no elaboration but delay in the wages is an accepted practice in rural India, though there is a provision of compensation for delay in payment within 15 days of completion of work. According to estimates of India Spend, 56 per cent of the wages were not paid on time in 2016–17. This rate of delayed payments was even higher in the preceding two years. Last year, this delay in payment of wages beyond 15 days was about Rs 7,014 crore. Last year, some 5.6 crore transactions were delayed beyond 15 days.
NON-PAYMENT OF WAGES
Many workers do not receive their wages at all, due to reasons such as administrative lapses and fraudulent withdrawal of wages from their post office or bank accounts. The mandatory requirement of linking the implementation of MGNREGA with the Management Information System (MIS) of the programme and Aadhaar has engendered new reasons for non-payment of wages. For instance, mistakes in entering details such as workers’ attendance, bank account number or Aadhaar number in the MIS can cost them their wages. In case of errors in seeding of Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts, workers’ wages can get credited in someone else’s bank account. Due to poor enforcement of norms of transparency and accountability, workers are seldom able to complain in case they do not receive their wages.
MGNREGA is targeted to be diluted and destroyed by the Narendra Modi led NDA government through a relentless fund squeeze, delays in payments, technological anomalies, lack of any avenue for grievance redressal etc. Presently, it is estimated that approximately 38 per cent of India’s population is poor. According to 2011 census, more than 75 per cent of poor people are living in rural areas. Low productivity and unemployment are the main reasons of rural poverty. Out of these rural poor a large section is agricultural worker for whom it is becoming difficult to find work in agriculture due to continuous agrarian distress and decrease in the cultivated land. In this scenario, in order to alleviate rural poverty by generating employment, MGNREGA has potential to lead the economy towards a labour-intensive growth path. All the rural masses have to unite and launch unified struggle against the efforts of BJP led central government to snatch the rights of MNREGA workers.