ALL India convention on MNREGA was organised by AIAWU on November 4, 2019 in Mavlankar Hall, New Delhi. The meeting was presided over by S Thirunavukkarasu, B Venkat, Suneet Chopra, Susan Kodi, and Amiyo Patra. More than 520 delegates from 12 states attended the convention. Brinda Karat, member Polit Bureau CPI(M), inaugurated the convention. She underlined the importance of the land issue and land reforms in the present scenario and congratulated AIAWU for their struggles on the land question. She denounced the policies of the Modi 2.0 government for not giving any importance to the issues of the common people and for its complete pro-corporate policies.
On MNREGA Brinda underlined the struggle led by Left, which gave it a unique nature. This struggle was primarily for two aspects. The first was whether MNREGA will be a targeted scheme like all social welfare schemes. Congress was of this opinion, but Left forces opposed this and ensured that it will be an act with universal nature. This means anyone in India, who seeks to work, can apply on simple paper and the government is bound by law to provide her work on prescribed minimum wages. The second was the question that who will decide the work to be given. Here also ruling party was of the opinion that the government will decide the work but Left argued and ensured that work will not depend on the will or convenience of the government but will be decided by the demand by the worker. It means MNREGA is a demand based and the government is bound to provide work according to the demand by the people. She also discussed the present attack by the Modi government when both these aspects of the act i.e., universal nature and demand-based character is being indirectly targeted with insufficient allocation in the budget. She further added, “When the spectrum of unemployment is haunting every single family in India, it becomes very important to save the universal character of MNREGA and its demand-based nature. In this situation of a huge unemployment crisis, the central government is not responding in the desired manner but is forging the data on employment rate or completely hiding the truth from the public. It is heinous crime by the Modi government to conceal the reality of unemployment. It is a matter of huge disappointment that the Indian government does not publish any employment and unemployment index. It should be brought to the public every three months and according to the situation the government should form its policies.”
The resolution was placed by A Vijayaraghavan and seconded by S Thirunavukkarasu. The convention expressed its deep concern on the effect of agrarian distress; unemployment and hunger that has taken a serious turn in our society. Today landless labour has increased to over half the village population, unemployment has reached its highest in 50 years, with farm labour being left to only 52 to 38 days work in the year from over 100 days in 1990. As a result, we must concern ourselves immediately to maximise work opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed.
MGNREGA is an important step towards the realisation of the right to work and to ensure the security of survival in the rural areas of the country. While we must keep in mind the limitations of this act, as it does not guarantee full time work, but only employment for 100 days per household per year on prescribed minimum wages. Still the MGNREGA offers the legal right to get work on demand. It also specifies that it is a law for manual labour and no machinery will be used to replace it, no contractors are to be employed and equal wages for equal work, crèches for children, medical facilities, shade and drinking water among other things are ensured. There is also a provision for the gram sabha to enquire into charges of corruption and delay of wages. However, while no less than 13 crore rural labourers have applied for work reflecting its need, the central government has failed not only to provide adequate work at adequate wages but has failed even to pay wages in time to those living on the verge of starvation. The convention firmly commits itself to ensuring that these demands are fulfilled and the legislation is carried forward effectively in every part of the country.
The most oppressed and exploited sections have made better use of the legislation all over the country. The participation of women in the programme in 2017-18 was 54 per cent according to the Economic Survey of India, which is higher than their share in the population. The percentage of Scheduled Castes was 17.82 per cent of the population in 2011, but their participation in 2009-10 reached a high of 28.60 per cent. In the same period the participation of Scheduled Tribes was 18.25 per cent more than their percentage of the population which was 10.63 per cent. Since then, the lack of financial support from the central government and discouragement in most states has brought the figure down marginally but the participation of women, Scheduled Castes and Tribes in MNREGA work continues to be strong. This should encourage our movement to intensify its efforts to bring these sections to seek greater advantage from this legislation than ever before as opportunities of work for them have declined sharply in the period since then. There is considerable opportunity in mobilising these sections to ensure better implementation of this legislation if we organise them and lead their struggles with more passion than ever before.
This is even more important today as the NDA government has done everything in its power to discredit and suppress the proper implementation of this legislation.
The convention discussed issues in the country and in specific regions where poverty and hunger are the most brutal. Twelve delegates participated in the debate and shared their experiences at the ground level. Gulzar Singh Goria, general secretary of Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Union extended greetings to the convention and explained the similar work of their organisation while showing commitment for joint struggle. Leaders from other fraternal organisations also greeted the convention; Tapan Sen, general secretary CITU, Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary AIKS, V P Sanu, president SFI and Asha Sharma, AIDWA also extended their greetings to the convention and solidarity for struggle of agriculture workers for MNREGA.
The convention adopted a demand charter with the following demands and gave a call for action on December 10, 2019 at the state and district levels:
- Provision of minimum 250 days of work in a year.
- A minimum of Rs 600 daily wage for both men and women.
- Full payment within 15 days according to MNREGA rules.
- Registration of all workers working under MNREGA with state labour welfare boards and the provision of a welfare fund.
- No use of machinery in MNREGA work.
- Pension of Rs 3,000 for all MNREGA workers after 60 years.
- Work must be given to all on 15 days of application or unemployment relief if they fail to do so.
- No contractors to be employed in MNREGA work.
- Ensure provision of maternity leave, crèches, medical facilities, shade and drinking water in all sites.
- Concrete provision of compensation for accidents.
- Provision of a ratio of 90:10 between labour and material costs.
- Regular gram sabha meetings to look into the provision of proper facilities in all sites of work, eliminating contractors, machinery and corruption in implementing the legislation and taking decisions on future work to be allotted.