Twenty high school students from various schools in Vishakapatanam district have taken up a research study on Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and have pointed out that workers lack social security entitlements despite eligibility. The children have written to the District Collector and Andhra Pradesh Labour Department in open letters seeking their intervention.
The students over a course of two months studied the problems of MGNREGA workers from Munagapaka Mandal, some 45 kilometres from Vishakapatanam. The study was undertaken as part of ‘understanding rural realities’ project undertaken by Samalochana Association. The children interacted with more than 150 MGNREGA workers from six different work sites and came up with a report on the problems faced by the workers and possible solutions to them.
Some of the observations made by the students in their report range from issues related to unpaid leave, the lack of a welfare board for workers, poor working conditions and no support systems for the workers in case of injury.
B Niruthi an eighth-grade student from Delhi Public School in Vijayawada told TNM, “The workers were toiling in the hot sun and carrying heavy loads on their heads. They don’t have any shade. The workers told us they have no health insurance and that there is no security for them in case of accidents,”
MGNREGA workers in Andhra Pradesh earn wages in tune to Rs 211 per day for 8 hours of work.
The students also submitted a memorandum to the officials of the Labour Department in Anakapalle on Wednesday demanding that social security benefits under the Unorganised Workers' Social Security Act 2008 are extended to MGNREGA workers in the state.
Under the Act, social security benefits are extended to those working as daily wage labourers or those engaged in 90 days of the same work, be it construction work or digging wells. Many of these works are also done under the MGNREGA scheme.
However, labour cards are not extended to MGNREGA workers even though they work for 100 days.
" Though the MGNREGA workers automatically qualify for the social security scheme the problem is that NREGA provides 100 days of work per family and not per individual," points our Chakradhar Buddha, program coordinator with Libtech India, "So presently it is possible that only one person from one family can work for 90 days and get a labour card and the social security it offers, others from the family are left out. Thus nearly 80 % of the MGNREGA workers get excluded from the social security scheme by default," he added.
Recently when 10 MGNREGA worker women we killed when a mud hill collapsed on them, they were awarded a compensation of Rs 50,000 based on entitlement. Owing to pressure the Telangana government released an additional Rs 7 lakh per family, Chakradhar points out that "If these women were covered under the social securities act, they would have got the compensation as an entitlement rather than an act of benevolence by the state government,"
The Andhra Pradesh Government in 2017 had even reduced the number of days from 90 to 50 to make more people eligible under the scheme. But owing to opposition from the Centre this was never implemented, "The NDA government was of the view that extending social security to MGNREGA workers would impact the scheme being available to others. The labour card does not necessarily improve the economic status of the workers but it does give them some form of social security," added Buddha.