Several villages in Dahanu taluk of Maharashtra’s Palghar district conducted a novel protest on Monday, demanding that the administration provide them with employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme.

The scheme guarantees 100 days of work a year for families in rural India.

Workers in several villages in Dahanu gathered in the fields with their tools, maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks. The pictures of the protest were then sent to the district collector and other officials over WhatsApp by Kashtakari Sanghatna, a non-governmental organisation working on labour rights.

Brian Lobo, an official of the Kashtakari Sanghatna, said applications for work under the scheme, which is a right of the workers, were sent in the last week of April to gram sevaks and senior officers of the district administration via WhatsApp. However, despite repeated requests, work has not begun in these villages.

While 7,617 workers have demanded work in Dahanu, only 68 got it till May 10, according to the NGO.

Villagers in Palghar in Maharashtra protest seeking employment under the MNREGS. Photo: Kashtakari Sanghatn

Lobo said many tribals who usually migrate to work in construction sites and brick kilns were hit by the nationwide lockdown. Having returned to the villages without any income when the lockdown began, the workers had requested the administration to provide employment under the scheme.

“Instead of waiting for the relief payments of Rs 1,000 or Rs 1,500 the government gives, the work would give them a substantial sum,” he said. Even assuming that two members of a family are given work, the family could earn over Rs 8,000.

Lobo said as per the law, the workers were supposed to get jobs within 15 days of making the application. Since this did not happen, the villagers gathered in the fields with tools as a mark of protest. made several attempts to contact Palghar Collector Kailash Shinde but he was unreachable. This article will be updated if he responds.

Villagers in Palghar in Maharashtra protest demanding work under the MNREGS. Photo: Kashtakari Sanghatn