Published On: Sat, Mar 4th, 2023

Attack on MGNREGA is an undeclared war on rural poor: Brinda Karat

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat. File

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat. File

The Modi government is waging an undeclared war on the legal and constitutional rights of the rural poor, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat said, addressing a press conference in solidarity of the MGNREGA workers who have been sitting on a 100-day protest at Jantar Mantar against additional hindrances put up by the government in implementation of the programme.

Ms. Karat said that the foremost step on their [government’s] agenda is to “dismantle many of the laws, which were enacted through decades of struggle.” The only reason the government has been unable to completely eliminate the law, she said, is because off the legal mandate it has.

There are three major areas of concern in the implementation of MGNREGA — recent budget cut of 33%, turning away workers who demand work and dismal wages offered under the programme.

The budgetary cut, she said, has to be read along with the tax policies of the government. “The tax policies are favouring the 1% of the rich of this country who control 40% of the country’s wealth. The government has not come up with a single paisa of extra tax in this budget. Then, you make the poor suffer by saying we don’t have enough revenue, we have to control our deficit. If this is not criminal, I don’t know what is,” she said.

The government narrative that funds will be made available according to the demand is a lie, Ms. Karat asserted, citing numbers. In financial year 2019-20, 1.5 crore workers who demanded work were turned away; this figure went up to 2.1 crore in 2020-21, 1.7 crore in 2021-22 and 1.6 crore in 2022-23. “This myth of the government that we are giving work as per demand is nothing but lie and the government figures themselves show that crores of workers are being turned away,” she said.

Ms. Karat also underlined the need to revise the average national wage rate, which currently is at ₹218, far below the market rates. “You are exploiting the labour of the poor with such dismal rates,” she added.

Food rights activist Anjali Bharadwaj, who also addressed the press conference, highlighted the alarming levels of unemployment in the country, which only became worse after the pandemic. Runaway inflation is further victimising the country’s poor. Yet the Centre is pushing the narrative that all is well, she said.

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