Schemes like NREGA, Rajeev Gandhi Scheme and Sanjeevni don’t ensure employment and wages to the people, the subpar labour conditions are ignored by the officials
In a small village of Sougi, Savita and her husband Devraj work under the hot sun near their farmland. They start their shift early in the morning at 8 am and are instructed to work till 2 pm without any breaks. They are constructing a farm pond with 100 other people. They have no job security and haven’t received their salaries for three months.
Devraj has a family of four members and is worried about their well being. The money he and his wife borrowed from the private contractor is about to exhaust soon. He along with his friends have filed several complaints in the Panchayat regarding their salaries which should be sanctioned under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) scheme. But their complaints fell to deaf ears. They have no other job opportunities and continue to work under the NREGA scheme. They hope to get their wages soon as they work at the farm pond and try to complete the 150 days of work to avail the complete salary.
Many labourers near the village face similar issues. While the panchayat boasts about their commendable work in the rise in the number of people registered under the government scheme, the reality is far away from the numbers and the reports.
The northern region of Karnataka faces chronic issues like drought, unemployment, illiteracy, etc. Hoovina Hadagali, a small taluk has an employment rate for men at 56 % and for women at 30 %, there’s a rapid surge in unemployment rates in the taluk. This causes people to choose seasonal physical labour, resulting in periods of unemployment in the place.
Bovi Alamma, another labourer is destined to a similar fate. She works at the roadside. She buys Rs.5000 worth limestone. She crushes them and heats them with the help of coal; the resultant product is a paste which is used as a whitewash to paint walls. She earns Rs.150-200 per day. Most of her money is spent on transporting the big chunks of rocks. First, she collects the rocks from men who transport the rocks by trucks, she has to pay them Rs.200 per person for this job. They largely help her in procuring coal and limestone. She then manufactures paint out of the rocks and sells the paint to local shops. She is a widow and has to support her family on her own.
She does this work during major festivals. Most of the people don’t paint their houses other than at the festival time. She gets the opportunity to sell the paint only during these fests; she doesn’t have work after these fests. A seasonal job like this affects several other people in the taluk, this includes farmers and labourers who don’t get any benefits from the government schemes.
The taluk has been termed as one of the most backward taluks in North Karnataka, in terms of industries, medical setup, education, and infrastructure. The villages near Hadagali have no major factories or industries, people depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Most people depend on seasonal physical labour to earn money, but they don’t get jobs every day and face around four to five months of unemployment.
The monthly and annual reports on the employment generated in the year 2018 show an evident gap between the numbers of people registered under the scheme and the people who completed 100 days of work to reap the benefits of the scheme. According to the report, in Sougi village, only 1829 households have job cards and out of these only 203 completed their 150 days of work and got fully paid, others left the work and didn’t receive the complete amount. More than half of the families don’t get employment for four months.
Sogi is a living hell for labourers. As they work without food, job and life security, a man from the Gram Panchayat office arrives on the farmland to check the progress of the work. He keeps a count of the labourers present on each day at work, this is done under NREGA scheme to check the labourers and the work and collect information for data reporting.
Prabhakar S, data entry operator from Sougi spoke about how the panchayat officials and the state government feel helpless when it comes to NREGA. “It’s a central government scheme and we depend solely for funds from them. If they don’t allocate funds on time then it’s not our fault. We haven’t paid the labourers for three to four months. We aim to clear the dues as soon as possible,” he said while the men and women looked at him furiously.
On the contrary, Somashekhar UH, the newly appointed executive officer at Hoovina hadagali panchayat office talks only about the development and success. He said that there was an employment crisis in the taluk before his term. Now due to the efficient execution of NREGA, job opportunities are flourishing in the taluk. The process for registration under the scheme has been simplified and the process is feasible for all.
Several schemes have been launched by the government to help the poor. One of these is the Rajeev Gandhi scheme for employment that is also termed as Sampoorna Gramin Rojgar Yojana (SGRY) and was started in 2004. It provides supplementary wage employment, food security and focuses on improving the rural economy. Under the scheme, 5 kg of foodgrain should be provided as part of the wages at the rate of 5kg per man-day.
In 2011, a scheme called Sanjeevni was adopted by the Karnataka government. This scheme is diversified into phases which include Mahila Kisan Shashaktikaran Yojana (Woman Farmer Empowerment), self-employment career skills training program etc.
Somashekhar talked about the Rajeev Gandhi scheme and the Sanjeevni scheme and said, “We do encourage people to join the workshops and help them in registering. A lot of women and youngsters join these schemes for skill development but end up leaving these schemes.” he added that the people stick to agriculture and women leave jobs after Sanjeevni scheme. “Their will to work is not strong and they don’t like to work in other sectors.”
Women labourers like Gauramma and Savita are not even aware of such schemes. They wish they knew about other schemes and could work outside the farm. Men at the farm were curious about the NREGA scheme, nobody had ever questioned them about their job. They didn’t know the structure and function of the scheme under which they worked. They complained that the government doesn’t help them and the panchayat is “corrupt and useless since they never explain the labourers about the scheme and the benefits and the authority which overlooks the functioning of the scheme,” said Mohammed Ilaaj after discussing his problems with fellow labourers. Only 203 families were paid under the scheme, others left the work because of the delay.
Labourers in Sogi village work for farmers, landowners or other contractors, they get employment for two to three months in one year; this work comes under NREGA or other schemes. Most of the women labourers earn Rs. 100-150/day. They work for 12 hours every day and mainly cut maize in fields. The unemployment issue is not limited to one village but affects several villages.
Jaya Bai, a labourer from Holagundi said, “under NREGA, we were supposed to get 100 days of work. I completed the term but wages weren’t provided to me. I received Rs.200 from my employer and was told I would get my wages later.” Jaya Bai was amongst the many women who were staging protests on Feb.11, 2019 in front of the Bus Stand at Hoovina Hadagali.
The labour class in Hoovina hadagali suffers as they are ignored by the panchayat officials, who are their employers. Parmeshwara GS, Panchayat Development Officer at Holagundhi said, “labourers who work under us gain wages up to Rs 35 lakhs in a year. We spend Rs.410 per person per day and get more than sufficient funds to construct water supply systems, drainage systems, roads, street lights etc.”
The officer then called the labourers who spoke well about him and the scheme. They were surrounded by three officials who kept on asking them whether they were satisfied with the work they were assigned or not. The old labourers said what their employers wanted to hear.
Not far from the Panchayat office in Holagundhi, worked Ashok Soppan, a labourer. He revealed what lies underneath the tip of the iceberg. He claims, “the government is running a sham scheme. They stage work-related events like road, dam or well construction. We are invited to work for a day or two, they click photographs of us working. The photographs are then sent to the bank to fetch loans/funds. We get Rs10-20 for this act and the rest of the money goes into their pockets.”
Hanumanta Raju, Asst. Commissioner of MNREGA in Bangalore said, “all the wages under NREGA are paid through bank transfers. Although there are exceptions to this rule. NREGA workers who are assigned to work under agriculture allied works are paid cash instead of bank transfers. Last year due to lack of funds, several labourers have not been paid but the central government will soon release funds for the labourers.”
NREGA was introduced in 2005 and was structured to lower the unemployment rates in the rural parts of India since SGRY wasn’t beneficial for everyone and didn’t ensure minimum work days for the poor. According to reports, 2,65,308 people were offered employment last year in Bellary district; another report shows how 2.08,303 people had their accounts frozen and their wages weren’t provided to them on time.
Shashikala, a Sanjeevni scheme case worker said, “we don’t get enough funds for the training required in the scheme. Also, the aspirants who get fully trained aspire to migrate elsewhere for jobs. We don’t have enough job opportunities here, people often get disappointed and some leave the training mid-way since our training doesn’t guarantee them job placement outside the taluk.”
The labourers can’t rely on government schemes for jobs; the officials believe that agriculture is enough to generate jobs and income for the taluk. In the year 2018, farmers like Neelkanta S incurred huge losses at the farm due to less rainfall. Reports suggest the average rainfall be 639 mm in one year. In 2018, the rainfall was recorded at 208.3 mm. There was a clear depreciation in the rainfall, reports suggest the rate has decreased by 100mm. Most of the farms in Hadagali are affected by less rainfall.
Other than a sugar factory and some carpet weaving work, the taluk has no other factories or industries.
Chandrashekhar Doddemane, a worker at JSW Steel Ltd said, “I was dependent on NREGA and hoped to get work. The work assigned to me didn’t require 100 days of labour and the wages weren’t paid regularly. It was after the completion of my term I was told to make a bank account. Half of the labourers have no knowledge of how the scheme functions. I shifted to Bellary to work and earn.”
Lack of knowledge regarding labour laws in India is turning into a crisis for the unemployed. This is benefitting the officials as they delay wage payment and work allotment.