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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 49, New Delhi, November 20, 2021

Himachal Unions and Panchayats Demand Early Payment of Delayed Wages to NREGA Workers | Bharat Dogra

Friday 19 November 2021, by Bharat Dogra

Himachal Pradesh has been experiencing several adversities in recent times including erratic weather conditions. The year 2021 started with a prolonged drought spell and unseasonal, widespread forest fires. After this there have been several spells of very heavy rain concentrated in a short span, sometimes accompanied by hailstorm, which have caused extensive damage to seasonal crops and horticultural produce from from time. Combined with serious policy mistakes manifesting in avoidable ecological ruin and tree-felling, this has led to significant increase in harm resulting from landslides and floods.

The long shadow of COVID has also led to several adverse consequences on livelihoods, including those relating to tourism and travel. Many people in villages also benefit from tourism activities during the peak season. These opportunities decreased during COVID times significantly.

In these difficult times the importance of livelihoods provided under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MG-NREGA) has increased further. In this hill state wages tend to be somewhat high as the work often has to be done in more difficult conditions. Hence NREGA wage cannot be considered an attractive wage here. Nevertheless more people have been coming in for this work despite its relatively lower payment by the standards of this hill state as they have faced more difficulties in COVID times and also because they have trust that this being government work they will get their payment promptly.

In this situation and in condition of growing difficulties of villagers particularly weaker sections, it is nothing short of a betrayal of interests of people that MGNREGA wages for work completed have been delayed unduly even in these exceptionally difficult times, causing avoidable distress to waiting workers.

There have been several delays of MGNREGA payments, particularly during the last two to three months, despite the legal stipulation to pay the wages within 15 days. So one question that has been raised is whether the workers who have suffered will be compensated. Workers from poorest households particularly dalit workers have suffered the most. For some this has led to a situation of hunger and denial of basic needs due to the already stressed economic situation of recent times.

As there is obviouly higher demand now than earlier for such livelihood options, the government should plan in advance for the remaining part of the financial year so that as per mandate of NREGA the demand for work conveyed by villagers can be met promptly. The wage delays are also causing worry that if there is such a funds crunch, then how will the demand for employment be met in the coming months of the financial year up to March 2022.

According to a recent report in The Tribune dated November 8 titled ‘MGNREGA workers sans wages for over 2 months’ by Subhash Rajta, “ panchayat pradhans claim it is for the first time that the wage component has been delayed for this long.” Some newspapers have drawn attention to other grievances of workers, particularly women workers, including examples of broken promises.

Another recent report in Dainik Bhaskar dated 15 November and titled MGNREGA Mazdoor Union ne lagaya mantri par jhooth bolne ka aarop (MGNREGA Union accuses Minister of lying) has stated that as per the allegations made by Dharampur branch of MGNREGA and Construction Workers Union a minister who made specific promises to MGNREGA women workers at the time of election has forgotten all about the promises. In this news report the state secretary of MGNREGA and Construction Workers Federation Bhupendra Singh is quoted to have said that the union will be stepping up its movement to highlight the demand of 120 days of MGNREGA work in a year at a rate of Rs. 300 per day, leading to an assured earning of Rs. 36000 per year for a household within the village, as well as the fulfillment of specific demands to women workers.

This issue should be taken by the authorities on the basis of urgency and all pending payments of MGNREGA workers in the state should be cleared up on this basis. In addition existing systems should be reviewed to find out where exactly the problem is being experienced and suitable remedial action should be taken so that such distressing and frustrating delays are not experienced by MGNREGA workers in future.

(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Man Over Machine.)

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