Patna: Dileep Choudhary, a Panchayat Rojgar Sewak (PRS) working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), is worried over the latest proposal of Bihar government to transfer PRS workers out of their home districts. As Choudhary’s monthly salary is merely Rs 12,500, he is upset and tense over how to manage his family if he is transferred as he would have to spend at least half of his salary on house rent alone. At present, most of PRS workers are working in their home district, not far away from their native places.
Choudhary, who is currently posted at a panchayat in his home district of Gaya, somehow manages his family with the low income. “I am staying at my native village, which helps me in not paying for house rent while working as a PRS in a nearby block. But in case I am transferred outside of my home district, I will have to rent a house and have to face problem of food and other difficulties. How can I manage my family back home with such low income?” he asked.
Another PRS, Dipu Thakur, a physically challenged person, said the government’s decision to transfer them outside their home districts is not rational because “we have been struggling to run our family with poor salary.” He told Newsclick, “If I am transferred from my home district of Gaya to another district, it will be torturous and will create more problems. At present, it is easier for me to manage my family with a meagre salary.”
Thakur said PRSs, who are working to create more job opportunities in rural areas for the poorest of the poor, remained neglected and ignored. "At a time when price rise of food items including edible oil, flour, rice, and vegetables is giving us sleepless nights and we have a low salary, how can we survive if transferred out of home districts? The cost of living will increase manifold but our salary will remain the same,” he told Newsclick.
Choudhary and Thakur are two of hundreds of PRSs ,who are contractual officials responsible for implementing MGNREGA on the ground,were directed by the MGNREGA commissioner of Bihar C P Khanduja through an official circular to fill up a form for inter district transfer till July 15.
Sekhar Kumar ,a PRS said it was essential to hike the monthly salary of PRSs from current meager salary if the government is keen for inter district transfer.” Our salary should be hiked and we should be provided house rent as well if the government goes ahead with inter district transfer”.
Left with no option, most of the 5,554 PRSs have filled the application form for transfer preference request under pressure from the top; it was made clear by the authorities that in case of those not filing options for transfer, it will be presumed that they are willing to go to any district.
According to the leaders of PRS workers, authorities have warned that if transfer preferences are not filled by them, those who have completed five years in a district, will be randomly allotted a different district.
In a letter dated July 5, 2021, the MGNREGA Commissioner asked all contractual officials working under the Bihar Rural Development Society for MGNREGA, including PRSs, to apply for transfer preferences for the government to consider proposals for inter-district transfer.
A group of PRSs have filed a writ petition in the Patna High Court seeking the court’s intervention or directive to cancel the state government’s proposal of inter-district transfer. The court has admitted their writ petition for hearing.
Arun Kumar Singh, one of the petitioners, said the decision of inter-district transfer of PRSs was in violation of the rules and contract norms. “We have pleaded to the court to direct the government to hike our monthly salary and provide us all the facilities like regular or permanent officials,” he said.
Singh said it was ironic that a PRS with his meagre salary would be transferred outside his home district, where he was appointed and had been working since joining. In contrast, a Panchayat Sachiv, with the salary of Rs 60,000 was working in his home district and there was no proposal for inter-district transfer.
MGNREGA appears to be the primary hope for sustaining livelihood in rural Bihar during the massive reverse migration, which occurred due to the lockdowns since last year. Opportunities in other sectors like industries and developmental projects are limited in the state.
Last year, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had demanded an increase in the number of work days under MGNREGA from 100 days to 200 days. The state government had sent a proposal to the Centre, requesting it to increase man-days (shramik karya divas) to provide a source of livelihood to the poor, mostly migrant workers in rural Bihar. The state has witnessed a significant increase in the number of people who have registered themselves as labourers under the MGNREGA during the lockdown this year.
However, the Centre has not approved the state’s demand as yet. The plan to increase capacity is dependent on approval from the Centre as MGNREGA is a central government-sponsored scheme, an official said.
MGNREGA was launched by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA-I) government in 2005 to provide a minimum of 100 days of employment out of 365 days in a year, to every rural household willing to do unskilled manual work.