MGNREGA workers from across Uttar Pradesh congregated at the Eco Park in the state capital Lucknow demanding they be regularised and be paid better wages, among other things. CM Yogi Adityanath said would look into increasing their honorarium.
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
The four-day long protest by thousands of contract workers from across Uttar Pradesh, who look after the works carried out under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (MGNREGA), has been temporarily called off today. Since August 17, these workers had gathered at Lucknow’s eco-garden to stage an indefinite strike, to press their demands.
The protesting workers included the gram rozgar sevaks who gather the MGNREGA workers in villages and make lists of works to be carried out under the central scheme that promises 100 days of work guarantee a year to rural Indians. They also included technical assistants who do the assessment of the jobs to be carried out under MGNREGA, and assistant accountants who take care of the budgeting etc., and the additional programme officers who oversee and keep the higher authorities in the loop.
One of their primary demands is a raise in their wages. “We get an honorarium of a mere six thousand rupees a month. Sometimes even that is not paid to us in time,” Jeetendra Singh, from Kaushambi district in Uttar Pradesh, told Gaon Connection. He said he was a MGNREGA worker for 14 years now.
“No government has bothered to take care of the welfare of the contractual MGNREGA workers,” he continued. “Nearly forty five thousand MGNREGA contract labourers are standing on the threshold of starvation,” Jeetendra Singh said.
Although the striking workers have suspended the protest today (August 20), they said it was only a temporary break and promised to be back soon.
“I have two children and elderly parents to take care of. I have to feed, clothe and provide for medicines with the six thousand rupees I earn,” Ruma Singh, a gram rojgar sevak, from Sultanpur district, protesting at Lucknow, told Gaon Connection.
“There are approximately forty five thousand MGNREGA contract workers in the state who are very poorly paid. While the chief minister is sympathetic to the issue, the concerned authorities are not keeping him updated on the reality of the situation,” Sanjay Dixit, who is leading the protest, told Gaon Connection. He was also a member of the Central Employment Guarantee Authority, under the Union ministry of rural development between 2005 and 2014.
“We have no other alternative but to protest, but we are doing so in a Gandhian way,” Dixit added. “If the state government is sensitive to the issue, it should regularise the MGNREGA contract workers. Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh have already done that,” he pointed out.
The MGNREGA workers are also protesting the fact that there is a move to employ a panchayat sahayak in each gram panchayat.
“All we are asking for is to regularise the contract MGNREGA worker’s employment who has been doing the panchayat sahayak’s job for fourteen years, instead of giving the job to someone else,” RK Gautam a contract MGNREGA worker from Varanasi, told Gaon Connection.
The protesters are asking why the 58,189 gram panchayats are not employing MGNREGA workers as panchayat sahayaks instead of getting in someone else.
“We earn even less than daily wagers, and often are not even paid on time,” Gautam complained. The regular MGNREGA workers are assured of 100 days of employment, but contract workers have no such guarantees, he said. “We have no service manual, no insurance, no provident fund, nor any health insurance,” Gautam added.
“The MGNREGA contract labourers put their lives at risk and worked right through the pandemic, in the state,” Divendra Pratap Singh, additional programme officer, MGNREGA, told Gaon Connection.
“But the government has neither acknowledged them as corona warriors and nor has it made any effort to get the workers vaccinated. The families of the MGNREGA workers who lost their lives in the pandemic have also received no compensation or help,” Singh pointed out.
The agitation is also against the government outsourcing the recruitment of MGNREGA workers to service providers. “The recruitment process by these service providers is not transparent,” the additional programme officer claimed.
Gaon Connection made several attempts to reach out to Manoj Kumar Singh, additional secretary, and Keshav Prasad Maurya, deputy chief minister, to get their views on the MGNREGA protests, but they were both unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile, the day after the protests began, on August 18, during the monsoon session at the Vidhan Sabha, when the budget was presented, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that his government would look into the matter of increasing the honorarium of the contract MGNREGA workers.
Read the story in Hindi.