Scores of workers and activists today staged a protest here demanding an increase in wages and work days under the NREGA scheme. They also alleged that the Centre is "diluting" the scheme through budget cuts, low wages and delay in payments. "Its like slow poison to kill the National Rural Guarantee Act (NREGA)," said activist Anuradha Talwar. The women working under the rural employment scheme complained of low wages and delays in payments in their respective states. "I get 10-15 days in a month and the payments are never on time. The wages are also less than what is expected to be paid," said Galku Devi from Rajasthan. Under NREGA, workers from rural areas are guaranteed 100 days work. They are also eligible for a stipulated wage of Rs 192 per day within 15 days of completion of work. Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghtan said the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, the umbrella organisation seeking improvement in implementation of the scheme, has raised the demand of hiking the wages to Rs 600 and increasing number of work days to 240. "NREGA wages have been held constant in real terms since 2009.
In the last two years, the wages have increased by as little as one rupee per day in some states," he said. The activists also charged that the use of technology has further "hampered" smooth functioning of the scheme. "The workers as needed to get their numbers listed with Management Information System(MIS) and bank accounts where the wage payments are to be made. This is just one example how cumbersome it could make the scheme," said Professor Ritika from IIT Delhi. Another NREGA activist from Rajasthan, Mukesh, highlighted "glaring lapses" in social audit of the scheme and how, despite a demand from the rural workforce, no jobs were available for them. "After demonetisation, large number of workers have returned to their villages and want work. But, there is no work for them due to several reasons including budget cuts," he said. NREGA budgets have been "inadequate" for several years, Dey said. "After peaking at 0.6 percent(of GDP) in 2009-10, Central government expenditure on NREGA declined steadily to 0.3 percent in 2015-16 and 2016-17," he said.
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