The government is trying to "strangle" the rural job guarantee scheme as well as other welfare programmes by periodically cutting budget allocations, the CPI(M) has alleged.
The latest editorial of the Left party's mouthpiece People's Democracy also criticised the introduction this year of the compulsory marking of attendance by workers under the scheme through mobile-based application 'National Mobile Monitoring Service (NMMS)'.
"This has led to chaos at worksites across the country. With patchy internet connectivity, workers are reported to be spending hours just to get their attendance recorded. It is a life and death issue for them because failure to mark their attendance would mean loss of wages for the day," it claimed.
"Imposition of this kind of hi-tech measures is a well known ploy of this government, ostensibly to tackle fraud. It has been imposed earlier in PDS distribution, in marking attendance of government school teachers, etc - all with similar chaotic and tragic consequences for the people," the editorial in the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said.
Hitting out at the BJP government at the Centre, it said ever since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, it has been "trying to somehow strangle the rural job guarantee scheme (MGNREGS)".
"Driven by its commitment to the discredited neoliberal dogma that public expenditure should be cut down in order to allow the private sector to have its way and guide the economy more 'efficiently' and 'productively', the government has not only periodically cut budget allocations to various welfare schemes, including MGNREGS, but it has also taken other devious measures to squeeze the schemes," the editorial said.
The editorial also claimed that apart from internet connectivity issues, thousands are deprived of Public Distribution System (PDS) rations due to a slew of "errors", including Aadhaar mismatch, bank account mismatch and fingerprint recognition failure.
"Similar problems are being faced by workers in MGNREGS. The effect of such rules is to discourage workers from approaching the MGNREGS system for work," it said.
Raising the issue of "delay" in wages for workers, the editorial claimed it went beyond the 15 days leeway that is allowed.
According to the government's own data, Rs 3,630 crore worth of wages were paid after more than 15 days delay in the current year while Rs 1,010 crore was pending as unpaid wages, it claimed.
"For workers doing backbreaking drudgery for a pittance, holding back of wages at this scale is unbearable often forcing them to opt for other work where cash earnings are available immediately, even if these are less than MGNREGS wages," the editorial said.
"The government has with usual fanfare announced a measly hike in MGNREGS wages ranging between two per cent to 10 per cent which works out to increases between Rs 7 to Rs 26 per day. Inflation has been raging between six-eight per cent in the past several months while food inflation is higher at eight-10 per cent," it said.
The editorial also pointed out that the average number of days of work given to workers under the scheme was just 47 in this year although the law mandates a minimum of 100 days of work.
It claimed that according to official data, about 8.6 crore persons found work in the scheme in the current financial year compared to 10.6 crore last year, which is a dip of two crore or nearly 20 per cent over last year.
"MGNREGS is a lifeline for crores of households despite the low wages and insufficient number of days of work. The meagre earnings are precious because there are hardly any job opportunities in the country, prices are destroying family budgets and the resulting economic distress is relentless," the editorial said.
"What is needed is ramping up the job guarantee scheme, increasing wages and workdays, extending it to urban areas and an end to the cat and mouse game with it," it said.
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