June 13, 2021

CPI(M) Questions Govt Intent Behind MNREGA Advisory

THE union minister for rural development and panchayati raj, Narender Singh Tomar, sent an advisory to state governments on March 2 to ensure social categorisation of workers working under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The CPI(M), questioning the necessity of the move, objected to the advisory on “disbursement of wage payment to wage seekers according to the category of SC/ ST and Others” under the MGNREGS, and said that it could lead to unequal budgetary allocations to the SC, ST sections.

Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of CPI(M), in a letter to union minister Narender Singh Tomar, said that the advisory mandates states to ensure social categorisation in every aspect of the implementation of the law – from the projected expenditure for anticipated demand among the SC/ST households in the labour budget, to separate state level accounting for wage payments to SC and ST categories, to utilisation certificates and so on. She said that however, no reason has been given for this extreme bureaucratisation which will, given past experience of the delays on various counts on payment of wages, affect precisely the SC/ST sections who will become victims to these separate accounting and banking procedures.

While the advisory doesn’t give any cogent reason for implementation of social categorisation of the workers, a sentence in it, “All stakeholders may ensure action in a time bound manner so that funds maybe released accordingly”  raises serious doubts on the intent of the government, said Karat.

She reminded that MNREGA is a universalised programme for any adult living in rural India who is willing to do manual work and that the budgetary provisions are made for the implementation of the law as a whole. “Thus, this cannot be determined by any new interpretations of the law to introduce a policy of divisible allocations by social categories, which is what the advisory appears to be,” she wrote.
Karat said that in a demand-based universal programme for provision of work, allocations can only be based on expected demand for work. “Linking categorisation with allocations will undermine the basis of the law which is both demand-based and also universal in its eligibility criteria. We therefore request you to clarify why this has become necessary,” she wrote in the letter to the minister.

She also highlighted that the advisory has been issued without any discussion held either in the parliament or on any public domain. She pointed out that such an important advisory that is linked to the fund allocations is not even published on the website of the ministry. She pointed out that it was not even discussed by the standing committee on rural development and stressed that it should not be implemented without such a discussion.

Karat said that the CPI(M) has always promoted the protection of rights of SC and ST communities and women within the universal programme. “We have strongly argued for the prioritisation of SC and ST households in the list of convergence programmes such as choice of individual beneficiaries in private land development programmes. However, we find that the government has not set up any monitoring mechanism for such convergence programmes to reach SC and ST beneficiaries,” she wrote.

She also pointed out that there is no effort from the government to ensure the recruitment and training of persons from the SC and ST communities for the post of “mates” or “barefoot technician” and therefore there is no information as to how these oppressed communities are represented in these posts. She said that such training and recruitment programmes would constitute concrete measures to enhance the rights and interests of SC and ST communities within NREGA.

She highlighted the clause in the NREGA where it is stated that the ministry mandates provision of 50 days of wage employment, beyond stipulated 100 days, to every ST household in forest areas who have no private property except land provided under FRA 2006. “Is there any record of the ministry of how many ST households have been given 150 days of work a year? No such record is available in the public domain,” she wrote in the letter to the ministry.

“I would like to point out that the main issue here is the lack of work under NREGA. The average days of work in April-May this year of just 20 days per household is less than last year. This at a time when the second wave of the pandemic has eliminated job opportunities, and provision of work under NREGA is essential to prevent widespread hunger and deprivation,” she wrote and urged the ministry to consider the issues.