Over 12,000 workers from Jharkhand have signed a petition demanding that their wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act be increased.

Collectives of individuals and organisations celebrated International Labour Day in Jharkhand on Tuesday, the organisation NREGA Watch said in a press release. Thousands of workers gathered in 25 blocks across Jharkhand to commemorate the day, which ended a week of celebrations.

A sample of the signatures on the petition the workers have signed. Image credit: NREGA Watch

The workers have asked for an increase in the number of days of work to 200 under the scheme, a social security net for universal old age pensions and maternity entitlements, removal of the mandatory Aadhaar card requirement for processes under the scheme, action against guilty officers, and no dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

NREGA Watch said that in the days leading up to International Labour Day, its Sahayta Kendras had found “shocking irregularities” while examining data on the scheme. The organisation said that 15% of labourers in two gram panchayats in the state had not completed even 100 work days, and that only 2% of problems related to rejected payments were resolved in Basia tehsil.

(Image credit: NREGA Watch)

“In Jharkhand alone, the pending rejected payments amount to Rs 56 crore in 2016-’17 and Rs 15 crore in 2017-’18,” the organisation said. “Needless to say, not a single functionary has been held accountable for these violations.”

“Despite these crippling supply side deficiencies, workers are still fighting for their right to work and hundreds have demanded work over the past week, and over a thousand pending complaints have been filed in West Singbhum district itself and over sixty in Shikaripara,” the press release said. “The relentless injustice and humiliation meted out through the depressed and delayed wage payments under NREGA is a particularly charged issue.”

NREGA Watch also claimed that the Ministry of Rural Development had flagrantly violated the recommendations of its own appointed committees on wages. The non-governmental organisation said that since all peaceful means of raising these matters had failed, workers would now “make their demands heard in the 2019 General Elections”.