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‘Black Diwali’ for Nearly 5 Crore MGNREGA Workers and Families

In November, unpaid wages stood at Rs 4,920 crore, with Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha accounting for the highest amounts, says PAEG.
Black diwali for NREGA workers

Representational image. | Image Courtesy: flickr

New Delhi: As the mainstream media gloats over nine lakh diyas being lit in Ayodhya on Diwali, creating a ‘Guinness World Record’, the glitter has failed to light the lives of nearly eight crore MGNREGA workers across India, including in Uttar Pradesh. For them, this will be a ‘Black Diwali’.

According to the government report 8.1.1 of the NREGA Management Information System (MIS), payments were pending for eight crore rural workers, as on November 3, 2021. 

“This means, for nearly 5 crore workers across the country this will be a Kali Diwali,” said a release by the People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG), a collective that does grassroots work in rural India.

Pointing out how serious the crisis currently is due to funds under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme almost drying up, the PAEG has found that the total unpaid wages amount to Rs 4,920 crore, with Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha accounting for to the highest unpaid wages. Some of the wages have been pending since June this year.

“On such a festive occasion when people not only expect to be paid their due wages and hopefully a bonus, NREGA workers have not been paid wages for the work they have done. The hope of being paid in the near future is also bleak,” said the statement.

The PAEG pointed out that the nodal Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) had claimed that Rs. 8,900 crore was available for work to carry on.

“But this is not borne out by the facts of allocations, payments made and pending liabilities. If MoRD’s claims are indeed true, then what explains 8 crore pending transactions as on November 3, 2021?” said PAEG.

It also pointed out that “as on November 3, 2021, 24.15 lakh transactions adding up to approximately Rs 300 crore of NREGA wages were rejected due to technical reasons.  It is worse for those workers whose payments have been rejected because they are not available to them unless corrected.”

Accusing the Narendra Modi government of not treating all workers equally, especially those who are living on the margins of society, the PAEG said: “ The Central Government did find money to pay its own employees 28 per cent Dearness Allowance and 3 percent Bonus for diwali, but chooses to look away from existing dues for NREGA workers, leave alone their situation during festivals like Diwali.”

It pointed out that from the time the Central government allocated Rs 73,000 crore, reducing last year's revised estimate by 34%, it became clear that money would run out approximately half way through the year.  

The festival of lights this year has meant crores spent on laser shows and diyas, but will even a speck of these lights reach the doors of eight crore MREAG workers who are running from pillar to post, waiting to be paid for work already done?

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