The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha alleged that the claims of government about smooth functioning of the scheme were false and misleading
The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a national collective of trade unions, workers platforms and organisations, demanded February 24, 2023 that the attendance monitoring system introduced for those who are offered work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) be scrapped entirely.
The organisation made the demand at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, during the ongoing protest that reached its tenth day.
Aruna Roy, activist and founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), said the Union Ministry of Rural Development was misleading citizens by making false claims.
The ministry had stated after the announcement of Budget 2022-23 earlier this month that all wages under MGNREGA had been paid on time; the National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) was working smoothly and that technical issues were being resolved, with no major issues reported in the NMMS’s implementation.
The attendance system was made mandatory without a pilot study from January 2023. It has, since then, faced many technical issues. The ministry also stated that there was no unmet demand left for NREGA work and almost 100 per cent of work demands had been met.
It added that the budget allotment of Rs 60,000 crore was adequate to meet the massive work demands across India.
Roy refuted all the claims. “Workers in Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and others have faced issues at multiple levels as they cannot register attendance due to weak internet connectivity,” she said.
Roy said many workers had lost their daily wages as they could not register their attendance. “Many workers have held demonstrations in their respective areas. The ministry’s claims are false and contradict its earlier admission that ‘damage control modifications’ are being implemented,” she added.
The activist said denial of payment is a violation of the Right to Payment under MGNREGA. The Act assures payments within 15 days of work completion.
Roy said offline uploading of NMMS attendance and photographs had been introdiced recently. “But the facility is not operational in many places despite worksite supervisors being aware. It is an example of forcing an immature and unreliable system that has no fallback mechanism,” she added.
The organisation demanded that the constant rejigging of the payment systems should be stopped at once by putting in place a reliable and timely replacement.
Roy also said the Management Information System cannot serve as an indicator of the full demand for work as it only records formal requests.
“These work requests are often filled for formality by middlemen or implementing agencies. Field research has shown that work demand is much higher and that rural households want more work but do not know how to apply or be aware of their rights,” she said.
The Morcha, in its press statement, further observed that the ministry is deceiving citizens on budget allocation.
The Sixth Common Review Mission, a government assessment of rural development schemes, acknowledges that wage payments under MGNREGA are delayed and wages are often held up.
Roy said, “West Bengal has not received funds for almost 1.5 years because the Union government wants to settle political scores with the state government. The situation of the scheme is worse in opposition-ruled states. The budget allocation should be much higher.”
The Morcha said the ministry is cautious about mentioning the payments that are generated in 15 days in a majority of the cases.
“But it is aware that the wage payments are routinely delayed, a violation of the law and the Right to Work. A careful analysis of 1.8 million wage transactions during the first half of 2021-22 revealed that the Union government delayed 44 per cent of the payments beyond 15 days of stipulated time. This worsened in the second half as funds dried up,” Roy said.
Roy added that it is a shame that poor workers of the country are still fighting for their right to work and life and to earn food, clothing and shelter even after 70 years of independence.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.