New Delhi: Singing songs of resistance in the scorching heat, over 6,000 workers have been sitting on an indefinite strike for the past eight days in Badwani, Madhya Pradesh. The Adivasi workers from across 20 villages have not been paid for the work they did under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, for the last three months. Their dues amount to more than Rs 3 crore.
The protest is being led under the banner of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS). Speaking to Newsclick, Tejasvita from JADS said, “Our Sangathan had taken out a big rally against the cutting down of funds in MGNREGA, and the pending payments under the scheme. A day before the rally, we checked with the government’s department, and found that the payments for the work that was completed from between December and February have been processed, and FTAs have been done. However, the banks have not processed the payments.”
“Despite this, in the month of March, our karyakartas (members) went to the offices multiple times only to be told that the payments have been lying pending with higher authorities in Bhopal,” she said.
Several attempts were made by the villagers to reach out to the state administration. An IAS officer, along with the superintendent, had written to the state administration on March 27, demanding immediate clearance of the dues. Instead of taking cognisance of the dharna by the tribal workers, the state government is taking measures to ensure that the voices of the tribals are suppressed. Villagers on the ground informed Newsclick that over fifty police personnel have been deployed outside the panchayat premises where the dharna of the workers is ongoing. The state has also imposed Section 144 on the villagers to ensure that the protest does not amplify.
The workers have vowed to not give up until their wages are paid, despite regular crackdowns by the state. Many are asserting that this is a complete betrayal of the trust of the scheme workers, and the state is putting their livelihood on the line. Tejasvita added, “If the government did not have the funds, why did it employ workers? The workers should have been paid within 14 days of the completion of tasks. But now it has been over three months, making it a question of survival of the Adivasis.”
The crisis of payments under the scheme is one spanning across the country and not just Badwani. As per the MNREGA website, run by the Rural Development Ministry, as of March 30, Madhya Pradesh has a deficit of Rs.202.04 crore. In addition to this, the dues of the unpaid workers are amounting to over Rs. 44 crore in the state.
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