HRF and Samalochana demand immediate stoppage of MGNREGA works – COVID-19 pandemic.

Press Release

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) and Samalochana demand immediate stoppage of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) works as they pose danger to the lives of NREGA workers given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We call upon the government to pay all registered NREGA workers (including inactive workers) their full wages as advance at the earliest during the entire lockdown period. These wages should not be paid as unemployment allowance but instead as wages for the period when they should have been working but were unable to do so.

With over 93 lakh registered workers, AP is one of India’s leading States in NREGA implementation. The scheme has been the lifeline for lakhs of households in providing livelihood security especially during the lean summer months.What is worrisome is that more than 8.3 lakh workers attended NREGA workson Wednesday (April 15) across the State including districts that have a fairly high spread of the Coronavirus. For instance, Prakasam district,with a number of mandals declared as containment zones, has recorded the highest number of NREGA workers (1.95 lakh)reporting for work yesterday.

In the present circumstances, continuing NREGA works, as the April 15 Central government’s order specifies, amounts to a violation of the basic human rights of the workers as it would not be possible to ensure physical distancing in the very nature of the works performed. Working inthese circumstances places them at grave risk.

While NREGA pending dues have been cleared, many workers are in no position to collect them as banking correspondent services and customer service points are shut down. Given this reality, the government should ensure door delivery of cash through village volunteers.

We also call upon the government to automatically enrol all NREGA workers as registered workers under the Building and Other Construction Workers (BoCW) Act so that they can access various social security benefits in the form of insurance, scholarships for education of children, pensions etc. The State government must set a precedent by paying 1% cess to the BoCW.

The unprecedented lockdown and its extension continue to have a devastating impact on the lives and livelihood of crores of migrant workers, agricultural labour, small and marginal farmers, NREGA workers and those in the unorganized sector, sex workers, transgender, destitute and homeless people. Unlike those from the rich and middle classes, the poor have the additional burden of dealing with hunger and acute distress. The Central government’s apathy towards rural workers and its neglect of the massive economic fallout of the lockdown on the poor has rendered their lives even more perilous and vulnerable.

As is known, NREGA is the largest rural job programme in the world but the ongoing lockdown has hit the workers hard.In the context of a large number of migrant workers returning to their homes due to the lockdown, over the next year many more people resident in the rural areas would need access to NREGA works given the scheme’s potential to serve as a critical source of livelihood.Unfortunately, as most migrant workers are not attending works they would have slipped into the inactive workers category or had their job cards deleted in the NREGA workers lists.Bearing this in mind, we urge increase in person days of work to 200 days per job card and for automatic re-enrolment of all deleted job cards for the next year in order to accommodate more workers. There must be commensurate budgetary allocation.

B Chakradhar (Samalochana)

VS Krishna (HRF AP&TS Coordination Committee member)

16-4-2020

Visakhapatnam

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