People's Democracy

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


No. 35

September 01,2013


Massive Protests of Agricultural Workers


"AGRICULTURE is the backbone of Indian agriculture" is what is still taught to children in school; but now the backbone has been tampered. Earlier, the main issue faced by Indian agriculture was the monsoon. But now many more factors have joined with monsoon and have disturbed agriculture, in turn affecting the farmers. The area of cultivable land is decreasing day by day. Cultivators who had small and little areas had lost their land and had turned into agricultural labourers. The census reports of 2011 also confirm that 8,70,000 farmers in Taminadu had lost their land and had become agricultural labourers in the past 10 years.

Mechanisation in agriculture and transfer of land into the hands of the corporates does not feed the increasing number of agricultural labourers and the number of days employed in agricultural activities has reduced to 50 to 60 days per year. The farmers are not able to continue their livelihood in villages. Unemployment has drastically increased among the agricultural laborers who are migrating to the nearby towns for employment.

Enhancing the livelihood of the villagers, improving the rural assets, ordaining the country men, water management for rural cultivation, furtherance of underground water, repairing and desilting of canals, creating new water bodies like lakes and ponds all in turn enhance the land, water and agricultural productions were the main aim of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Along with the above, creating job opportunities for agricultural workers, ensuring a fair wage, eradicating unemployment, stopping migration towards cities are the other motives of implementing MNREGA in India. Continuous struggle of the Left parties paved way for the implementation of MNREGA in 2006. This Act helped the poor peasants and agricultural labourers which could not be digested and accepted by the feudal elements.

There have been instances of malpractices and corruption in Tamilnadu during the implementation of the Act. As a result, the works have been stopped in few areas. In few, disbursement of salary has been stopped. In few areas it has been announced that, only those who have a bank account alone will be given work and the others are returned without any job for the day.

The CAG of India had spotted drawbacks in the execution of the Act in Tamilnadu in terms of work and fund allocation during the last year. The report has assessed that the work completed in Tamilnadu is not on par with the fund allotted and that the government should have more concentration in this work.

But unfortunately initiations to reach the motives of MNREGA are not found in the state. The reality is, no administerial setup was created right from 2006, the year of implementation. The revenue department and the panchayats were overburdened with the responsibility of implementing the Act along with their burden of work.

The officials considered this as one among their routine work and paid no special attention in implementing the Act or in scrutinising the work completed or to weed out the frailty.

The officials were not able to manifest the amount of work or time allotment for the jobs. Recently, the state government has started implementing the clause of "wages as per the work done" very strictly. As per the rule, a person should excavate 42 cubic feet mud approximately equal to two tones every day and fill it in another place. Nearly 85 per cent of the persons coming for the job are women. Most of the rural women are malnourished, anaemic and with not enough stamina. They are employed for 8 hours in hot sun to excavate 2 tonnes of mud. If the work done is assessed to be less than the allotted 42 cubic feet, then the wages are reduced and are paid only a wage of Rs 30 or Rs 40. The government does not follow any of the other rules and regulations, but strictly adheres to this rule of the Act. This should be made as a joint work of the men and women.

At this day of life with the prices shooting up, the wages of Rs 30 or Rs 40 are not nominal to run even a very small family. The workers struggle to fulfill the basic needs of their families. The increased workload and reduced wages has created anger among the workers and spontaneous struggles had come up in many parts of the state.

The Tamilnadu state committee of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) planned to streamline those struggles so as to achieve demands Emphasising the demands the AIAWU organised a siege struggle in front of all the district collectorates on August 20. Nearly 50,000 agricultural workers, including 60 per cent of women workers, actively participated in the struggle in every district headquarters. While presenting the memorandum to the district collectors, they assured that the demands will be taken to the notice of the rural development minister and to the chief minister.

This massive participation of the agricultural workers has thrown light over the real conditions of the MNREGA and the pathetic condition of the workers.

During the protests, the demonstrators raised slogans charging the officials of implementing the scheme with indulging in corruption by way of withholding portions of the amounts due to the workers. Against the full wage of Rs 148, amounts upwards of Rs 30 to the extent of Rs 70 were deducted at the time of payments. They condemned the district administrations for keeping the payments under the scheme pending for months together. They requested the central government to scrutinise the schemes implementation. The demonstrators wanted the work duration to be within six hours a day, and enhancement of the number of work days in a year to 150. The quantum of work must be registered on a daily basis, the workers insisted, saying that the productivity benchmarking was unreasonable at present. The protesters also demanded the work specification that beneficiaries should dig 42 cubic feet of earth should be reduced to 24 cubic feet a day. All amenities such drinking water, rest shed, medical facilities and child care service should be provided.

State president of AIAWU A Lazer MLA, state general secretary G Mani and all India vice president S Thirunavukarasu led the protests respectively at Pudhukottai, Theni and Thanjavur.