Ranchi: Twelve thousand workers from Jharkhand have signed a petition in the past week to put forward three demands before the government – increase the wage rate under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), increase the number of days of work under NREGA to 200 days per year, removal of mandatory Aadhaar linkage with NREGA processes, strict action against officials found guilty of fudging the social audits, filing panchayat level vacancies and strict monitoring of field functionaries. The demands made were later made public through a press communiqué issued by NREGA Watch, a non-government organization.
It further mentioned that the International Workers Day or “Mazdoor Diwas” was being celebrated across Jharkhand by collective of individuals and organisations, culminating into a week-long series of intensive activities. Thousands of workers gathered in over twenty five blocks across the state including, Kisko (Lohardaga), Chattarpur (Palamu), Manika and Mahuadandh (Latehar), Raidih and Basia (Gumla), Topchanchi (Dhanbad) and Jaina More (Bokaro). Along with workers, pensioners and other rural residents, many social activists including Bezwada Wilson (convener of Safai Karmachari Andolan), Jean Drèze (economist), Anil Anshuman (Jharkhand Jan Sanskriti Manch), Balram Jo (Right to Food Campaign), Vijayanand (ex-Chief Secretary Kerala) and representatives of the CPI (ML) and National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) among other organisations were seen in attendance.
Workers further demanded the immediate payment of maternity entitlements (Rs 6,000 per child without conditions) under the National Food Security Act, no dilution of the SC/ST Atrocities Act and an increase in pension amounts from the prevailing rate of Rs. 600 to Rs. 2,000 per month or at least half of the minimum wage.
In a run up to May Day, NREGA Sahayta Kendras went on a verification spree of MIS data and found some shocking irregularities. A 115 percent discrepancy was found in the list of ‘workers who completed 100 days’ in data furnished by two Gram Panchayats and after concerted effort only 2 percent of rejected payments issues were resolved in Basia. Despite these crippling supply side deficiencies, workers were seen upbeat about fighting for their right to work. Hundreds of them, in fact have demanded work over the past week, and over a thousand pending complaints have been filed in West Singbhum district itself and over sixty in Shikaripara district of Jharkhand.
Due to the incredibly complicated architecture of the wage payments, there is a growing phenomenon of “rejected payments” which are simply lost in the transit. This has also been raised in an ongoing Public Interest Litigation where the Ministry of Rural Development has repeatedly made attempts to mislead the Hon’ble Court insisting that “real time payments are made within 48 hours.” The ground reality, of course paints a completely different picture.
In Jharkhand alone, the pending “rejected payments” amounted to Rs. 56 crore during the financial year 2016-17 and 15 crore in 2017-18. Needless to say, not a single functionary has been held accountable for these violations. The growing culture of e-banking with no documents or passbooks given to workers is being abused and despite the workers demanding a full and complete receipt of all their banking transactions.
Slogan were also raised during the May Day celebration . “Before they ask for a vote, we ask for our rights, ” stated Bezwada Wilson, but now it seems, that this slogan will now be owned by the workers.