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Delhi: NREGA Workers’ Protest Completes 30 Days, no Response from Govt yet

The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha condemned the detention of activists and students in a public meeting in DU on challenges facing NREGA.

New Delhi: The protest by MGNREGA workers in the heart of the national capital, New Delhi, entered its 30th day on March 25, with no word from the government yet. The protest had started with demand to revoke the app-based attendance system, Aadhar-based payment system, the recent budget cut among other issues.

 On the 30th day of the protest on Saturday, activists associated with the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha held a press conference at Jantar Mantar here and raised serious concerns over the government's intention on addressing challenges facing the rural job guarantee scheme.

The Morcha also condemned the recent Delhi Police action of detaining some activists along with some Delhi University students, who were holding a public meeting highlighting the struggle of NREGA workers and the alleged assaults on the scheme in recent times.

On Thursday, the Delhi Police had interrupted a public meeting and detained senior economist Jean Dreze along with the other activists and students.

Addressing the press conference, Richa Singh, a senior member of ‘Sangathit Kisaan Majdoor Sagthan’, who is from Uttar Pradesh said Friday’s police action was an attack on the constitutional right to peaceful assembly. According to her, the the police continuously kept saying that any kind of ‘agitation’ cannot take place despite their appeals to them that the public meeting was to educate the people about the NREGA workers’ struggle and not an agitation.

Speaking on the problems of NMMS, the mobile app-based attendance system, she said that the attendance-based payment system had killed transparency as the workers were unable to confirm whether their attendance had been properly recorded in the app, unlike in the old registered-based muster system.

Activist Suresh Rathor, who hailed from Varanasi and was detained by Delhi Police on Friday, said he belonged to the constituency represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and had seen the severe impact of budget cuts there. He said they had made several attempts to hold meetings with the Ministry of Rural Development, but till now only one official had met them. But, no solution or a way forward was presented to them yet by the ministry, under which the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) operates.

 On Saturday, the month-long protest was joined by NREGA workers from two forest-dense districts of Karnataka -- Belgaum and Chapoli. Newsclick spoke with a few workers of the area who said that introduction of the NMMS app and Aadhar-based payment system had increased migration from the area as people were unable to register themselves on the app, resulting in them not getting any payment. So, the workers are choosing Goa or the nearest city to migrate in search of work.

 Sharda Gopal, who was accompanying these workers, highlighted two recent modifications to the NREGA scheme -- the Attendance Based Payment System and the Aadhaar-based payment system – which, she claimed, had wreaked havoc on the rural economy of Western Ghats. The Aadhaar-based payment system requires workers to link Aadhaar to their bank accounts. According to government data, only 50% of NREGA workers have linked their Aadhaar to bank accounts. Gopal, therefore, questioned how the government could assume the success of implementing this scheme given the low adoption rate.

 A key member of the Haryana NREGA Mazdoor Union, who spoke at the press conference, also questioned the Delhi Police's action against them. Somnath was one among the activists who were detained. He alleged that the police told them that the ‘MGNREGA’ is not an issue of students and has no place for discussion at the university campus. He said the police action was a clear indication that the government was trying to prevent other communities, such as students and citizens, from knowing about the protest and the struggles of the workers.

 In an effort to raise awareness about the challenges faced by MGNREGA, which plays a vital role in the rural economy, the Morcha plans to organise more public meetings to educate both rural and urban citizens.

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