This Article is From Oct 31, 2010

'Black Diwali' for NREGA workers in Rajasthan

Jaipur: Salaries of MPs, MLAs and bureaucrats have seen huge hikes recently but for workers under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), wages have remained static ever since the scheme was launched five years ago.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot recently announced a Diwali bonus for the government employees in the state.

"For Diwali we have decided to give bonus equal to 30 days salary. This will cost us Rs 223 crore and it will cover six lakh government employees of our state," he said.

This announcement might have thrilled the government employees but it's almost like rubbing salt into the wounds of lakhs of NREGA workers in the state.

NREGA, the UPA's (United Progressive Alliance) flagship program to combat rural poverty began five years ago but shockingly, wages of the workers under the NREGA have been unchanged.

For nearly a month, they've been on a Dharna to demand a minimum wage of Rs 135 a day. However, the government has refused to budge, claiming a financial crunch.

Unwilling to tolerate the government insensitivity any longer, the workers have now decided to observe a ''Black Diwali''.

"After a full day's work, we get just Rs 100 as wage. But we can't even feed our children properly through that. So how can we celebrate Diwali? It's only government employees who can celebrate the festival," said one of the NREGA workers. 

So far, the plight of these workers has failed to move both the central as well as the state governments. The Gehlot government has done little to support the workers' demand besides writing a letter to the Centre where ironically, the Rural Development Minister CP Joshi is also from Rajasthan.

"The state government says it doesn't have money for NREGA workers but they are giving bonus to their employees. And the Centre says the same but they've hiked DA for central employees by 10%. Both governments are trying to pass the responsibility to each other, our workers are being tossed around like a football," says Nikhil De, Social Activist.

If both the governments continue to dither in the same manner, Diwali this time will indeed be a dark one for the NREGA workers.