New Delhi: Hundreds of daily wagers on Monday launched an agitation here to protest against delayed and stagnant wages given under the MGNREGA scheme and demand timely release of and increase in wages.
Rallying under the banner of NAREGA Sangharsh Morcha, the workers will continue their protest till September 15 and also present their charter of demands to various political parties on Tuesday.
The organisers contended that budgetary allocations for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme was being continuously cut for years and reduced by almost half since 2009-10 in nominal terms.
"After peaking at 0.6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, the central government expenditure on MGNREGA came down to 0.31 per cent in 2015-16... even this year's Budget is grossly inadequate and with half of the year still left, about 75 per cent of the funds allocated have been spent," Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangthan and one of the organisers told the media here.
He said the MGNREGA wages were below even the minimum wages in several states.
Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Nagaland were the states left with no funds to pay workers' wages for the remaining year, having spent all funds allocated so far, he claimed.
"The work is done, but they do not have the money to pay wages. Uttar Pradesh has a negative balance of Rs 335 crore, Nagaland Rs 196 crore, West Bengal Rs 313 crore, Andhra Pradesh Rs 136 crore, and Haryana Rs 21 crore... the figures apply till this month," Dey said.
The delay in disbursement of wages has become a dissuading factor for workers, who did not find any incentive in working under the scheme anymore, said Sakina Dhorajiwala, an independent researcher working on government policies.
According to a survey done in 3,446 gram panchayats, only 21 per cent of wages were paid on time.
The Act stipulates payment of wages within 15 days of completion of work. The organisers demanded wages be paid within a week and compensated with interest of 0.5 per cent per day in case of delays.
The Act allows for compensation of 0.05 per cent everyday, but in the last four years only 4 per cent of compensation payments have been approved and only 60 per cent of these paid out, Dey said.
The organisers also demanded the work under the scheme be approved on recommendation of local bodies and not through the central government which "seems to focus on schemes that help in meeting infrastructural requirements of other centrally sponsored programmes".