NREGA breeds exploitation of poor labourers in organised manner
WHATISUP BY SAJJAD BAZAZ
A few days back official figures revealed that an amount of Rs 775 crore has been spent under MG NREGA during the year 2011-2012 for accelerating the socio-economic development of rural and far-flung areas of the state.It’s notable that an amount of Rs 2030 crore has been earmarked as labour budget under MGNREGA for the current financial year.
But do the benefits of the scheme percolate to the targeted populace. Here in our state those associated with MG-NREGA as labourers are crying foul. What is wrong with them? Last week I came across an interesting situation. A group of labourers who had worked under the scheme received only 60 per cent of the money as labour charges. As per the entitlement of the scheme, if they were eligible, for example, to get Rs.100 per day, they got only Rs.60.
How this happens? Before I explore this, let me first generalise the issue of wages being paid to the workers employed under NREGA.
Presently, the wages paid to the workers are less as compared to the market conditions. In others words, the stagnant wages have made the NREGA workers succumb to pressure of rising food price inflation. In fact they receive less than minimum wages, which is indeed violation of statutory provisions.
The statutory provisions envisage that the Minimum Wages Act (1948) established powers of the State Governments and the Government of India to fix minimum wages for scheduled employments. The Act holds that minimum wages should be revised at intervals not exceeding 5 years. The 15th Indian Labour Conference (1957) put forward a “needs based” formula for fixing minimum wage that is based on minimum food requirements, clothing requirements, cost of living and fuel costs.
So, the first and foremost thing would be to link the wages of the NREGA workers to the consumer index. This way they would be able to bear the high food price inflation. Secondly, the violations of the statutory provisions need to be looked into.Currently the situation is funny. When others have observed hike in their remunerations due to high inflation, the labour force in NREGA have observed decline in their wages due to this rising inflation.
Now let me explain the issues which our work force engaged under NREGA faces. The scheme is in a big crisis as the labour component of the scheme is being exploited by the Sarpanches and others associated with the implementation of the scheme.
The switch from cash to bank payments of wages under the scheme has been acclaimed as the “world’s largest ever financial inclusion scheme”. But this switch has raised certain questions. Has it really served as an effective check against the embezzlement of NREGA wages? Has the siphoning off by intermediaries ceased? Have workers really gained greater control over their wages?
Even when genuine workers are listed on the muster roll and they are paid through banks, it does not guarantee no fraud. Most of the NREGA workers in a particular area said that after withdrawing the wages (alone or accompanied with someone), he gave a share to the sarpanch or concerned official involved in the release of his wages. The ground reality is that, before the work begins, some workers make a “deal” with the sarpanch (or contractor), whereby they get work in return for agreeing to work for less than the minimum wage. The sarpanch or contractor shows full payment of minimum wages on the muster rolls, and retrieves the difference from the workers after the money is credited to their accounts.
So, what’s to be done to protect the interests of a NREGA worker? Since the wage pattern is illegal, in the first instances, the NREGA wages be indexed on the minimum wage for workers. Then measures should be taken to arrest the common practice of sarpanches and other concerned panchayat officials where they accompany the NREGA worker to the bank at the time of withdrawing payment from the accounts. Run educative programmes among the villagers making them aware about their rights as NREGA workers and as a bank account holder. Special under cover teams should be constituted to monitor the distribution of employment cards and the beneficiaries’ names entered in these cards. Otherwise, NREGA breeds exploitation of poor labourers and the efforts to achieve the mission of employment and development of rural areas as envisaged under the scheme is going down the drain.
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Lastupdate on : Fri, 13 Apr 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 13 Apr 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 14 Apr 2012 00:00:00 IST
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