Severe fund crunch, tall claims of the ruling government time and again, and widespread corruption – these are the main causes behind the “monumental failures” in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme, as per the reports. Quite accurate in their analysis, most of the media reports, however, fail to include the woes and cries of the rural masses – the supposed-to-be direct beneficiaries of the scheme who take the brunt of its failure. Earlier this month, one such protest of the MGNREGA workers in Haryana went unreported.
On August 9, in a town named Cheeka, rural labourers of various villages came together under the banner of MGNREGA Mazdoor Union to protest against the anti-labour policies of the current BJP government of Haryana and Centre, and to demand the authorities at the local level to address the prevailing shortcomings in the implementation of the scheme.
Their grievances include non-creation of job cards, disregarding of MGNREGA provisions and non-transparency in planning work and social audits among other things. A memorandum enlisting these demands was sent to the Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
Also read: Another Lifeline Smothered: MGNREGA in Shambles
According to the state committee member Karamjeet Kaur, even job cards of many labourers pending in the offices, waiting to be made online, which causes several impediments for the workers to secure work under any scheme. In other cases, the labouring family members who are looking to get a new job card are not being provided with a family code number, due to which their job cards are not being made.
In addition to this, most often the workers don’t get to mark their presence in the muster rolls at the workplace. Later, the employment assistant and the Sarpanch arbitrarily make an appearance and manipulate the workers by reducing their wages.
A large number of rural labourers also work in building and other construction work besides MGNREGA work. These workers, in order to enjoy the social benefits, have to undergo a verification process and get registered under the Haryana Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Welfare Board. However, the workers are harassed – physically and mentally – just to get signatures of the authorities or in some cases a mere rubber stamp under their signature, causing delay in the verification process, eventually depriving the labourers of their social benefits.
NewsClick spoke to Som Nath, Haryana State Secretary of Jan Sangharsh Manch, according to whom many fake names have also been added to the list of beneficiaries who receive wages without doing any work and at the same time, those who discharge their duties often do not get paid for months.
Also read: Rural Development Minister Made a Mockery of MGNREGA, Says Activist Group
The lacklustre approach of the government officials at the local level adds to the ruling government’s efforts to turn the MGNREGA scheme into a fiasco.
“Do you think, I will put an end to the scheme? My political wisdom does not allow me to do it. This is a living monument of your failure to tackle poverty in 60 years. With song and dance and drum beat, I will continue with the scheme,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in Parliament during the 2015 budget session, undermining the importance of the rural employment guarantee scheme.
Earlier this year, Members of Parliament and other eminent personalities wrote an open letter to PM Narendra Modi “calling for an urgent response to the crisis MGNREGA is facing.”
Keeping in view the scheme’s importance in improving rural distress, the scheme must be economically prioritised and further be strategised to deliver results – especially in times when the rural to urban migration is on rise while at the same time unemployment in the country has reached record high marks.
While every year, the scheme is reduced to debates between national political fronts on ‘highest ever’ allocation of funds, the rural masses on ground demand more than that – a systematic framework covering all levels for the development of the scheme.
Also read: Demand For MGNREGA Jobs Highest in Eight Years