At a time when migration is increasing in Jharkhand, both the central government and the state government are hard at “undermining” and “weakening” the constitutional guarantee for employment in rural areas.
This February marked 13 years since the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) was enacted in Parliament; however, the right to work has clearly become a mockery in today’s time.
Each rural household can demand 100 days of work as per the Act.
But only an average of 40 days’ work in the mineral-rich state were provided to each household over the past three years, according to Jharkhand NREGA Watch (JNW).
Further, the proportion of Adivasi and Dalit households in the NREGA workforce has fallen from 50 per cent to 38 per cent in the same period, as per the JNW figures.
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Against a total demand of 71 lakh person-day of work in Jharkhand in the previous financial year, only 43 lakh person-day of work was provided. About 39 per cent of the work demand was not met.
“In the last three years, the state government has deleted 7 lakh job cards. Many of these belonged to households that did NREGA works and were unaware that their job card was canceled,” alleged James Herenj, Convener, JNW.
The government had conducted the ‘Yojna Banao Abhiyan’ with a lot of publicity in 2015-16, he said.
The workers and Gram Panchayats had even chosen about 10 lakh works to implement in their panchayats.
“But instead of taking these into consideration, the state government has imposed schemes of their choice on the people. Besides, they have violated the NREGA and undermined the Panchayati Raj system by forming Adivasi and Gram Vikas samitis,” he added.
JNW Co-convener Taramani Sahu says the claims made by the Jharkhand government that 99 payments were made within 15 days are “completely false”.
“In about 50 per cent of cases, the delays are not even accounted for,” Sahu said.
“Issues like incorrect entry of Aadhaar and account numbers in the MIS, wrong linking of Aadhaar to bank account, work done without muster rolls, closing of works when there was lack of funds, etc — many workers have not been paid. In the past 4 years, Rs 170 crore wage payments were rejected while Rs 100 crore worth of payments are still pending payment to workers.”
In addition, he said workers faced severe hardships when their bank accounts are frozen due to issues in e-KYC (know your customer) and other reasons. While the Act mandates if there is delay in wage payments beyond 15 days, the workers must be compensated for that.
“But only 5 percent of the compensation amount is paid,” he said.
“The BJP government has made tall claims about the economic development in the state and the country, but has not increased the wages of the NREGA workers even by a rupee this year.”
In fact, the NREGA wages are Rs 71 lesser than the minimum wages in Jharkhand, he said.
“Working at such meagre wages is akin to bonded labour. Payment has been stopped several times this year due to paucity of funds. The workers consistently suffer due to the administrative bottlenecks of the government,” Sahu added.
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The Jharkhand government’s attitude is reflected clearly in the fact that the State Employment Guarantee Council, of which Chief Minister Raghubar Das is the head, has met only once in the past four years. There has allegedly been no action against the officials held responsible for violating rights of the workers as per the social audit reports. And the position of the Lokpal is vacant in 19 districts.
What’s more, 40 per cent of the posts of NREGA personnel are lying vacant.
There have been at least 18 deaths allegedly due to hunger in the state in the past two years. These families had allegedly not got any NREGA work in the past few years, and yet without investigation, the Jharkhand government sent a report to the Centre stating there was no connection of these deaths with NREGA. Many of these families continue to be devoid of their right to work.
Read More: Even After 18 ‘Starvation’ Deaths, Jharkhand Govt Continues to Remain in Denial