People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 30

July 24, 2011


AIAWU not to Allow MGNREGA Suspension


The All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) issued the following statement on July 15, on the issue of proposed suspension of allotment of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). 


IN the face of a 9.4 per cent increase in inflation, with food prices more than double what they were last year, it is deplorable that the secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, has written to his counterpart in the Ministry of Rural Development to suspend MGNREGA work during the peak farming season. As it is, the percentage change in agricultural wages does not meet the increase in prices and certainly not the loss of nearly 20 days of work a year since 2000-01. The condition of agricultural labour is worse than that of the peasantry, with most of them living below the poverty line. It is already appalling and any such step can only increase the figure of over 2 lakh 25 thousand suicides of farmers and labourers over the last ten years. Already the urban-rural gap in 2009-10 has increased to 88 per cent over 2004-05, showing the extent of the growing misery.


Further, increases in the wages of agricultural labour vary considerably, from of 32 per cent in Punjab, to 27.8 per cent in Andhra and 27 per cent in Kerala, to a meagre 10.41 per cent in Gujarat, 15.9 per cent in Haryana, 17.7 per cent in Bihar, 21 per cent in MP and 22.8 per cent in UP, in January 2010 over January 2009. Worse, the ministry complains that the MGNREGA prevents people from migrating. It is shameful that a government whose record on train accidents is miserable, with 2763 accidents between 2000-01 and 2009-10, killing 2651 people and injuring 5464 more, should call for more migration. Also, in 2007, more than 1.13 lakhs were killed travelling on roads. Knowing the appalling conditions of travel for migrant labourers, the majority of those who died are these. In these conditions, it is a wonder that anyone, except the most distressed, would migrate. That the Agricultural Ministry wishes them to do so at the risk of their lives is appalling.


The crisis in agriculture is not because of the lack of labour. In fact, our agriculture is being increasingly mechanised and depends on diesel whose prices the government continues to raise making farming unviable. The contribution of the state to agricultural production has come down to a third of what it was in the 1980s, bringing the contribution of agriculture to the GDP down from 32 per cent in 1991 to 15.7 per cent now. The increase in subsidies in money terms does not tell one anything when one realises that only six states --- Punjab, Haryana, UP, AP, Karnataka and Tamilnadu --- got 56 per cent of the total subsidy for fertilisers while they had only 37 per cent of the gross cropped area. The food subsidy remained almost unchanged from 2005-06 to 2006-07, as did that for electricity. And while grain rotted in government godowns, allocations to the states under PDS were cut down drastically.


Farmers, faced with volatile prices and failures in procurement are forced to sell both land and livestock. In the beginning of the 1990s the landless were 22 per cent of the rural population. Today they are 41 per cent. If these are now denied jobs under MNREGA, they can only starve, beg or become criminals. The Ministry of Agriculture is calling for that. The terms of trade depict a comedown from 20.33 per cent in 1996-97 to 10.25 per cent in 2008-09, reflecting the fact that the removal of quantitative restrictions has harmed us in the long run.  So unless these policies are changed, adding to rural distress by reducing employment of agricultural labour will not help.


Let it be clear that we will not tolerate any such step. Already the union is aware that considerable funds are being allocated to panchayats for conducting work under this law and they will be diverted if a proper use is not made of them. The AIAWU will not allow the suspension of MNREGA. Its implementation ensures that liquidity is brought into an already fast declining village economy that employs the vast majority of our working people.  MNREGA is a measure that saves farming by creating the infrastructure that farmers need to remain alive and productive. It must not be allowed to wither away. The AIAWU not only calls for the proper implementation of MNREGA but will resist any attempt to curtail it, with militant actions all over the country.