Nearly 90 lawmakers, several prominent civil society members, activists and leaders of farmers' movements have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising concerns over fund crunch in rural employment scheme MGNREGA.
The letter, which has 250 signatories, urged the prime minister to work for strengthening of the scheme on a priority basis and "formally include it as part of the set of measures being considered to deal with the current rural and agrarian crisis".
On January 1, over 99 per cent fund of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MGNREGA scheme was reportedly exhausted, three months before the end of the financial year.
"Despite repeated public statements by your government promising employment and job creation that will boost the country's growth, we are alarmed to note that the country''s only employment guarantee is being systematically undermined," the letter read.
"Illegal restrictions on its budget allocation, severe payment delays and low wages are crippling the program and depriving people in distress of one of their most important legally supported structures," it added.
A statement issued Monday by the lawmakers and the activists said the fund crunch came amid a situation of distress across rural India with "massive unemployment, declining farm incomes and rising inequality".
A functional right to an employment guarantee at such a time would be a critical means of support for protecting lives and livelihoods of the rural population, it added.
Instead, the implementation of MGNREGA has been subject to persistent attacks by vested interests and power elites at all levels, it said.
The letter was written after a meeting between the lawmakers, activists and civil society members was held to discuss the potential and challenges of MGNREGA in response to rural distress.
Among the signatories of the letter were agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan, artist Mallika Sarabhai, Mary E. John of Centre for Women's Development Studies, Avik Saha of Jai Kisan Andolan, Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, CPM's Sitaram Yechury, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Congress' Deepender Singh Hooda and Digvijay Singh, Jignesh Mevani, Yogendra Yadav, JNU professor Jayati Ghosh and activist Aruna Roy.
The letter reflected a strong consensus across party lines to ensure MGNREGA is protected and strengthened as a political commitment to improve the lives of millions of rural workers across the country, the statement said.