Several legislators and activists have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing their “alarm” at the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s attempts to “systematically undermine” the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employee Guarantee Act.

In a letter dated Thursday, they said illegal restrictions on budgetary allocations, severe payment delays and low wages were “crippling the programme and depriving people in distress of one of their most important legally supported structures”.

The group called upon the National Democratic Alliance government to strengthen the scheme on a priority basis and also asked for it to be formally included as a part of efforts to deal with the ongoing rural and agrarian crisis.

The signatories include former Maharashtra chief minister and Congress leader Ashok Chavan, Congress MPs Deepender Singh Hooda, Digvijaya Singh, Rajeev Gowda, Independent Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat, Swaraj India’s Yogendra Yadav, educationist Jayati Ghosh, activists Harsh Mander, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey among others.

The group suggested several measures to make the NREGA more effective, including provision of adequate and timely funds to meet work demand and ensuring that wages under the scheme are not less than the statutory minimum wages. Any delay in the payment of wages beyond 15 days should be calculated and compensated for by both the central and the state governments, and all financial institutions and payment agencies must be held responsible under the provisions of the law, the letter said.

The letter also urged the government to increase job entitlement from 100 days to 200 days in all drought-notified districts. “We call upon you to take swift, sensitive and timely action and demonstrate strong political will to protect the legal entitlement of millions of rural workers across the country,” the letter added.

Last year, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar were among the states that declared several districts as drought-hit. A study last year had also shown that three out of every five districts in India were not prepared for drought. Farmers held a number of marches and protests around the country to demandloan waivers and drought compensation.