MGNREGA: Supreme Court agrees to enter petition highlighting plight of rural poor who do not receive wages

New Delhi, April 20: On Wednesday, the Supreme Court agreed to list to hear a plea seeking directions to redress the situation of workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MNREGA) Act 2005 in the country, saying their Pending salaries accumulate with negative balances in most states’ funds.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana agreed to register the case after lawyer Prashant Bhushan appearing for NGO petitioner Swaraj Abhiyan mentioned the matter for urgent registration. Bhushan asked the bench to list the case to be heard as MGNREGA workers are not being paid.

“I will list it,” said the CJI.

Swaraj Abhiyan had filed a request asking the central government to ensure that all pending salary, material and administrative payments are settled within 30 days.

The plea said millions of workers were in crisis, as fund-starved states had raised payroll contributions by Rs 9,682 million under the Centre’s flagship 100-day jobs programme, MGNREGA, which saw an increase in the number of beneficiaries due to the pandemic. Violence in Jahangirpuri: Supreme Court ends NDMC-led demolition campaign, orders status quo.

He said that as of November 26, 2021, state governments were facing cumulative payroll dues of Rs 9,682 crore and 100% of the funds allocated for the financial year had been exhausted.

The plea asserted that payroll contributions were accumulating under the MNREGA because most states had not received sufficient funds under this program. The lack of funds that was cited was a clear violation of the law, the plea added.

The NGO sought urgent court instructions to provide an additional 50 days of employment per year under MGNREGA to each household, allow accurate registration of the work application directly on the NREGA Soft website and issue dated receipts, automatically calculate and pay unemployment benefit at 1/4th the wage rate, and pay for late payment of wages to workers.

The plea stated that the lockdown and subsequent closure of industries had caused massive unemployment in urban areas, leading to large-scale reverse migration to rural areas and demand for labor under the NREGA, exposing strain the economy of the village.

According to government estimates, more than 32 million migrants have returned to six states – Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. Some other estimates suggested the figure was 45 lakh, the NGO said.

He cited a 2016 high court judgment on Swaraj Abhiyan’s claim that the non-payment of NREGA wages constituted a violation of Article 23 of the Constitution, which deals with forced labor and prohibition of trafficking.

In its verdict, the Supreme Court had ordered the Center to ensure payment of wages under the MGNREGA within 15 days and to ensure that no beneficiary was deprived of food grains under the National Law on Food Safety.

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