Nearly 27,000 gram rojgar sevaks (GRS) under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) across the state are on an indefinite strike, stalling major administrative work. The strike, according to MGNREGA officials, is also one of the reasons behind low person-days generated in the state this year. The strike has been on since February 15, with the workers demanding a fixed salary that should be directly credited to their bank accounts by the state government. They are also demanding that they be given status of ‘muster assistant’ and clerk. “We have been fighting to get our demands fulfilled since 2007 now. It’s time the state government must intervene and stop the exploitation of gram rojgar sevaks by the gram panchayat office-bearers,” said said Ramaji Patil, a gram rojgar sevak from Amaravti.
The Maharashtra Rajya Gram Rojgar Sanghatana have been apprising the state government about the plight of grassroot-level MGNREGA staff.
Patil added, “Even after receiving funds from the Central government, gram rojgar sevaks get only Rs 700 to Rs 800 each month. The present pay is not enough to meet the daily expenses and requirements of our families…”
Another GRS from Nasik said the situation might push many to suicide. “There is no other option left with us. We have been working round the clock assisting in various tasks under the MGNREGA. Initially, we were even promised a fixed salary of Rs 2,500 every month. This never happened.”
Appointed by the gram panchayat concerned, a GRS is assigned areas where the person is supposed to get the work muster rolls filled, collect the work demands and take it to the MGNREGA commissionerate through the gram panchayat. They also distribute job cards to workers and mark their attendance. Recently, these sevaks were also involved in conducting a survey of landless casual labourers who want work under the MGNREGA.
“We double up as clerks, muster assistant, supervisors and assistants to engineers on many occasions. We expected the state government to provide us fixed pays after a few years. Gram rojgar sevaks in other states get a salary every month. After eight years of working hard, we feel cheated and exploited as we continue working without pay for months in a row,” added Patil.
They demand a minimum monthly pay of Rs 18,000 considering the additional work they are asked to do.
“The demands of these gram rojgar sevaks are policy matter and can be fulfilled by the state. Currently, they are paid on the basis of work they do. If there is no work, they are not paid, as they are contractual employees. We cannot decide on their position as they are appointed by the gram panchayat. Hence, their salary too is disbursed by the gram panchayat,” said Varsha Gaurkar, Assistant Commissioner MGNREGA, Maharashtra.
This year, till the end of February, the state managed to generate only 73.98 per cent person-days. It had projected 850 lakh person-days, while it managed to generate 628 lakh person-days. Total person-days generated in the state in 2015-16 was 763 lakh.
“Major reason for decrease in person-days is because the situation in drought-hit areas is better than last year. People have work in their own farms, so there was less demand in work under MGNREGA. The strike too has hit the work to some extent, but it will be called off soon,” said MGNREGA Commissioner Abhay Mahajan.