TN: Agricultural Workers Protest ABPS in MGNREGA, Demand Higher Budget Allocation and Timely Disbursal of Wages
M Chinnadurai MLA, the state president of the Tamil Nadu AIAWU, leading the protest in Tiruvarur district
The rural agricultural workers across Tamil Nadu protested against the multi-pronged attack on the workers registered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). Per the latest notification, each worker must link their bank account and job card with the Aadhar. The Aadhar Based Payment System (ABPS) is also being made compulsory from January 30, 2024.
Agitated over the deletion of several lakh beneficiaries in Tamil Nadu, the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) burned copies of the order mandating the ABPS. Thousands of workers participated in large numbers across all the districts, expressing their displeasure over the destruction of the scheme.
The AIAWU claimed that around 25 lakh poor workers would be left out of the MGNREGA in the state alone and urged the union government to withdraw the order. The union also condemned the delay in payment of wages for three-four months for the workers in various districts, who rely solely on the income from the scheme for their living.
The union has also urged the union government and the Department of Rural Development to increase the budgetary allocation to the scheme, increase the number of working days to 200, revise the wage to Rs 600 per day, and extend the scheme to urban areas to ensure the poor in such areas receive a minimum assured income to meet their ends.
WITHDRAW AADHAR BASED PAYMENT SYSTEM
The registered workers under the MGNREGA who are unable to link their Aadhar with their job cards are deprived of wages from January 1, 2024, while the ABPS is being made compulsory from January 30, 2024. The workers have to link the Aadhar, bank account and job card.
The workers in rural areas, with limited banking facilities, are unable to complete the linking process. The deletion of their names from the system has left them struggling.
Speaking to NewsClick, N S Kannan, Kanniyakumari district president of the AIAWU, accused the union government of making attempts to destroy the MGNREGA through multiple activities. “We are opposing the different conditions imposed for the workers of MGNREGA. The elderly people depending on the scheme must be ensured their right to receive work and wages as per the earlier procedure. The government must withdraw all such notifications to link Aadhar with job cards and bank accounts,” he said.
The AIAWU has claimed that around 25 lakh workers have been removed from the scheme on various conditions, including not working for a single day in the last three financial and lack of linking processes.
“The government has not been providing a sufficient number of days of work to the workers. Had the government ensured 100 days of work per year, all those registered would have worked. Blaming the workers is evading responsibility,” Kannan said.
As per the AIAWU, of the 92 lakh workers registered for MGNREGA, around 67 lakh workers have linked their Aadhar. The union also accused the Rural Development Ministry of failing to provide adequate time and support for the workers to complete the different linking processes.
‘MGNREGA SHOULD BE STRENGTHENED’
A statement of the Tamil Nadu unit of the AIAWU accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led union government of continuously slashing the budget allocation for the MNREGA aimed at providing minimum wages for the rural masses.
“The struggle is held across the state on the martyrdom day of Mahatma Gandhi, on whose name the scheme was launched in 2004 under the Common Minimum Program (CMP) framed between the left parties and the union government. For the past several years, the BJP government has been reducing the allocation, leading to lesser number of working days and lower wages,” the statement read.
The union has demanded an allocation of Rs 2 lakh crore in the upcoming budget to ensure a minimum of 100 days of work for all eligible workers. “The allocation was reduced to Rs 69,000 crores in 2023-24 from Rs 1.6 lakh crore in 2021-22. The allocation must be increased in the 2024-25 budget,” the statement said.
The AIAWU has demanded an increase in the number of working days to 200 and a revision of wages to Rs 600 per day. “A large number of rural people, from economically and socially backward sections rely on MNREGA. The government should initiate steps to strengthen the scheme to provide an honourable living”, Kannan added.
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