Smt. Brinda Karat, member, Polit Bureau of Communist Party of India (Marxist) had written today the following letter to Shri Giriraj Singh, Minister of Rural Development, Government of India drawing his attention to the negative impact of several policy decisions taken by the government regarding MGNREGA.
We are herewith releasing the text of the letter for publication.
Shri Giriraj Singh ji,
Namaskar. I write this letter to you to draw your attention to the negative impact of several policy decisions taken by the government regarding MGNREGA. As one who was actively involved in the finalisation of the Act and the clauses regarding the rights of workers, it is a matter of deep concern that workers’ rights for demand based work are being compromised. The fund allocation is woefully inadequate. According to the data on the Ministry’s website 91 per cent of funds allocated have been already spent. At present average workdays are at a low of just 35.4 days. In such a situation MGNREGA workers will face acute problems. Moreover, mandatory stipulations such as online registration of attendance at worksites as well as Aadhaar based payments are converting unconditional rights embedded in the law into restricted access for job card holders.
Introduction of Aadhaar linked payments of wages has not resulted in much change in timely payment of wages. In June, the government in a press release from PIB had assured that the Ministry was not insisting on Aadhaar enabled system of payment but on Aadhaar based payment system (ABPS) which would be more flexible. However, a most revealing survey conducted by an organisation reported in The Hindu, August 30, 2023, shows that out of the “total 26 crore job holders, 41.1 per cent are still not eligible for this mode of payment. From five states with the largest number of active job holders, 1.2 crore workers will not be eligible for payments as they do not have ABPS accounts”. The survey also shows on the basis of an analysis of data recorded in the central data base of the government that there is statistically very little difference between ABPS and normal account transactions as far as the amount of time taken for payments are concerned or as far as percentage of rejections are concerned. In other words, while so far there is no significant benefit, there is certainly evidence of significant losses for workers.
In the last six months I have visited MGNREGA sites and interacted with workers across states. A common complaint has been the introduction of the attendance system through online registrations at the worksite at specific times during the day. Given that the connectivity is very poor in vast areas of rural India, particularly in remote tribal areas, mandatory online registration is leading to great difficulties for the workers. Women workers who comprise the majority of MGNREGA workers in many States, have been particularly affected. As you know, women workers are charged in our patriarchal cultures for the main responsibility of domestic work and care of families. Before and after their MGNREGA workday women put in many more hours of work. However, they complain that because of the lack of connectivity, sometimes they have to spend one hour extra getting their attendance registered. There are also examples of attendance not getting registered leading to denial of wages.
In my interaction with women workers, I found that the SORs and the piece rates decided are extremely difficult to complete. In the current situation as far as women’s work norms are concerned MNREGA sites are illustrations of the extraction of female labour at low rates to create public assets. There has been no Ministry initiated recent time use surveys on MNREGA sites. Earlier in many states, work norms for women were decided after such surveys. This is an urgent requirement.
I hope you will consider the issues I have raised and take appropriate action.