Lucknow: Having not had a since increase in their honorarium over four and a half years of the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government, around 45,000 MGNREGA contractual workers from across the state will reach state the capital of Lucknow on September 1 to stage a ‘Dera Dalo, Ghera Dalo’ protest.
The workers have been demanding that the honorarium paid to contractual Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) workers include technical assistants, accountants, gram rozgar sevaks and additional program officers, and that it be increased from Rs 6,000 to Rs 10,000 a month. The other issue the workers have been demanding is the regularisation of their employment.
“We are willing to camp in Lucknow for no matter how long it takes for the government to increase our wages. Contractual MGNREGA workers from across state held a demonstration in Lucknow on August 18 but our voice couldn’t reach the chief minister. Therefore, we have decided to surround Lucknow on September 1,” Suman, one of the contractual workers from Sitapur, told Newsclick, adding that even her Rs 6,000 honorarium per month is not being paid on time.
“It is due to low wages and the long time that it takes in the disbursement of our salaries that we are staring at starvation. None of us is able to meet our monthly expenses and we are taking on loans to keep our families going and to pay our kids' school fees. The situation is worsening with each passing day,” a distraught Suman, who is a gram rozgar sevak, said.
Parvesh, an assistant accountant from Barabanki, said: “Nearly 45,000 MGNREGA contract workers in Uttar Pradesh are on the brink of starvation. This situation has not come about in four years; no government has paid heed to the grievances of contractual workers and our situation has gone from bad to worse,” he said, adding that the workers were at the front-lines during the second wave of COVID-19 but their pleas to the government were “falling on deaf ears”.
The contractual MGNREGA workers have also been opposing their recruitment through service providers and have been demanding permanent employment status for long. Sanjay Dixit, former member of Ministry of Rural Development, Employment Guarantee Council, who is leading the protest by workers, alleged that government officials were not taking the matter up with the CM.
“About 45,000 contractual workers have been working under MGNREGA for the last 14 years and most of them are in a vulnerable situation due to the negligence of the government. Many workers are committing suicide due to financial constraints or due to a lack of medical care. Since it is not being reported by media widely, the government is not taking cognisance of it. Hence, we have decided to begin a satyagraha from September 1 in Lucknow,” Dixit told Newsclick.
Narrating the ordeal of contractual workers, Dixit said: “Days after our demonstration in Lucknow last week, Yogi Adityanath has ensured that he will look into the matter of increasing the honorarium during the monsoon session in the Vidhan Sabha. If the government is so concerned for the workers' welfare, it should regularise it like the Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh government have done it. The ruling government should revised the honorarium in the wake of rising inflation."
Brij Bihari, general secretary of the Mazdoor Kisan Manch, who has worked extensively with MGNREGA contractual workers in Sitapur and adjoining districts, said: “The honorarium was not revised ever since the Act came into existence. Panchayat mitras are getting Rs 6,000 per month, technical assistants (TA) are getting Rs 15,000 while assistant project officer (APO) receive Rs 20,000. Besides, the key issue is that contractual workers are not getting work for more than 30-35 days in a year. The MGNREGA scheme guarantees 100 days of employment a year,” he told Newsclick.
He went on to add that the “contingency fund of contingency which was supposed to be used for spades, tents, bucket and food for the contractual workers, are now being used to disburse the salary of panchayat mitras, leading to differences between gram mitras and labourers.”