(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
October 27, 2013
KERALA SHOWS THE WAY
MGNREGA Workers Unite Under NREGWU
M V Balakrishnan Master
THE National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which came into force in September 2005, offers job for each family for a minimum of 100 days in a fiscal year. The act was renamed as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in October 2009. It was first implemented in 200 districts and later extended to the whole country.
While reviewing the experiences of the past eight years, there is no doubt that the NREGA has helped many poor families through income generation and in poverty alleviation. But the fact is that the labourers do not fully get the benefits and rights which are provided for in the act, and denial of rights to them continues.
There occur various problems at the implementation stage. The union and the state governments and their bureaucracies keep harassing the unorganised labour under MGNREGA. There is no guarantee that one would get jobs for 100 days, which is the primary objective of the act. The labourers do not get their wages regularly; sometimes it takes too long a time, and there is no provision of compensation liability in the act. In Kerala, the payment of wages was getting delayed up to 193 days. Preparation of project details does not take place in time. Gram Sabhas do not discharge their role in stipulated time. Project budgets are not prepared in time. The governments at the centre and in states do not allot sufficient fund and at proper time.
Another major problem is that labourers do not get a job when they demand and apply for it, though the law stipulates that they must get a job within 15 days after they submit an application for it. For such an eventuality, the act provides for joblessness allowance, but it is denied in practice. There is no proper social audit. The act aims at sustainable development through strengthening the rural resource base and rural livelihoods, but this thing is virtually lacking in the projects. Absence of engineers and other officials is a big hurdle in the implementation of the Act, and the state governments do not make serious efforts to deploy officials as provided for in the act. Physical verification of the works completed does not take place in time. Due to the delayed measurement of the works done, it is the labourers who are in loss and suffer wage cuts.
The union and state governments have been downsizing their allocations for the MGNREGA at a time when the registration of families for job cards has been increasing year by year. Neither governments nor local bodies make any arrangements for drinking water supply, first aid kits and retiring facility at the worksites as provided for in the act. The authorities do not buy and provide the tools and equipments required; they even do not pay rent if the labourers themselves arrange the tools. The act says labourers must get gloves and shoes, especially at the dirty and/or dangerous worksites. But this is observed more in its breach. There is no facility for proper treatment and protection at most of the worksites if a mishap occurs. There is no consciousness of taking care of the day to day needs of a labourer if s(he) cannot come to the worksite due to any mishap.
TAKE UP CUDGEL
The rural poor have been facing all these problems in the state of Kerala as well. It was in such circumstances that the Kerala unit of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) decided to mobilise the unorganised labourers working under MGNREGA in the state, which led to the formation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Workers Union (NREGWU) here. The union came into existence on September 4, 2011, and held its first state conference at Alappuzha on November 24 and 25, 2012. It was inaugurated by S Ramachandran Pillai, a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau who was then the president of the AIKS. As many as 720 delegates from different parts of the state participated in that conference. The NREGWU now has committees at the state, district, area (zone), gram panchayat and ward levels. In Kerala, the union is now functioning in all the 14 districts of the state, and has 193 area (zonal) committees, 978 GP committees and 14,680 ward committees. In Kerala, as many as 26,11,116 families have by now registered themselves for jobs under the MGNREGA. The NREGWU is an organisation which seeks to rally all these people without any political, religious or caste consideration. Workers have been found participating in the unionís programmes with great enthusiasm --- irrespective of their political affiliations.
So far the NREGWU has undertaken several programmes including strikes, dharnas, other protest actions and jathas etc during the short period since its formation. It has organised marches to the government secretariat and assembly in the state capital and to the collectorates at district headquarters. It also organised different protest actions at the level of the local self-government institutions (LSGIs).
MGNREGA labourers have joined all these campaigns en masse. It has been noticed that labour participation in different programmes of the union has ranged from 2.25 lakh to 3.5 lakh in number.
So far the efforts of the NREGWU have led to achievement of the following advantages ---
1) Hike in daily wages,
2) One hour cut in the total working hours per day,
3) Increase in the number of workdays,
4) Resolution of the issue of delay in payment of wages,
5) An award of Rs 1,000 to a labourer who completes 100 days of work,
6) New dress materials worth Rs 400 for each labourer in connection with Onam celebrations,
7) A pension scheme for the labours.
A major problem today is that the centreís guidelines for 2013 have put agriculture in the negative list. This means that the instrument of MGNREGA cannot now be used in case of agricultural operations, as it was being used in the past years. It results in further denial of jobs to the rural poor. The union has decided to take up this issue in a big way.
The awareness created by the NREGWU among the labourers and officials has resulted in an increase of workdays and the number of labourers who have completed 100 days of work. The union also strives to make the communities aware about the act and it has published a handbook in Malayalam, the regional language. The union has conducted learning programmes at different levels. Its state committee published a pamphlet titled "Employment Guarantee: Issues and Solutions" in Malayalam and circulated it widely. The union had adopted its own bylaws and a document on organisation, which describes how to build up the union from the base upward, i.e., from the ward level up to the state level. A special state level workshop of the mates was held at Thrissur on June 30, 2013.
In the meantime, the NREGWU has submitted a demands charter to the union and state governments. The charter stands for proper implementation of the MGNREGA, for its sustainability, and for securing the benefits to the labourers under the act. The main demands put forth by the union are as below ---
1). Provide a minimum 200 days of work to each family every year.
2) Hike the daily wage to Rs 320.
3) Reschedule the working hours from 9 a m to 4 p m, including one hour of recess.
4) Form a welfare fund board for labourers engaged under the MGNREGA.
5. Union and state governments must withdraw their orders which bypass the MGNREGA.
6) Provide educational benefits to the children of these labourers.
7) Scrap the negative list that has dropped agriculture from the purview of the MGNREGA work. In particular, paddy cultivation must be covered by the MGNREGA as it is essential for ensuring food security in Kerala.
8) Make sure that wages are paid week by week; the delay, if any, must not be more than 14 days under any circumstances. If any further delay occurs, give compensation for it.
9) Insure all labourers who work under the act.
10) Provide drinking water and first aid kits at the worksites.
11) Sanction maternity leave with wages to female labourers.
12) Allot travelling allowances and other facilities to the mates.
13) Increase the death claim to a minimum of Rs one lakh.
14) Implement the Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Programme, which was declared by the previous LDF government in the state and allot sufficient fund for it.
15) Cover the MGNREGA labourers under the public distribution system; supply them 35 kg of foodgrains per month at the rate of Rs 2 per kg.
16). Increase the pension up to Rs 1,000. Pass legislation for proper implementation of the pension scheme.
17) Prepare a five year plan at district level exclusively for MGNREGA.
18) Recruit and deploy officials in sufficient numbers.
19) Ensure the availability of required technical support and monitoring.
20) Ensure that all the benefits and rights provided for in the act reach the MGNREGA labourers.
For a resolution of various issues, some of which are listed above, the NREGWU has called for further intensification of propaganda and actions. The union is quite optimistic in this regard, as MGNREGA labourers have expressed firm unity and enthusiasm while rallying under the union.