Wednesday, November 26, 2014
It is rare when a Chief Minister stages a sit-in protest in Delhi. But Delhi’s Jantar Mantar witnessed this rare spectacle when the Tripura Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar led thousands of people from various states and sat on a dharna today. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau member was joined by General Secretary Prakash Karat and other members of the Polit Bureau and the Central Committee in initiating an agitation against the Modi government’s moves to curtail and restrict the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to 200 most backward districts in the country. The protest in Delhi was part of the call given by the CPI(M) for a countrywide protest on the issue.
Speaker after speaker reminded the audience that the MNREGA was enacted by the UPA-I government because of the pressure mounted by the Left parties, on whose support they were dependent then. They lamented the fact that instead of making improvements in the implementation of MGNREGA to increase the number of workdays from the current dismal national average of 45 days to its full potential of 100 days, the BJP government is seeking to curtail and subvert the character of the employment guarantee scheme. They termed the moves to curtail the MGNREGA as a serious onslaught on the “rights and livelihood of the rural poor”.
Inaugurating the protest, CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat bemoaned the fact that even the 45 days of employment being provided currently will be reduced if the government is allowed to go ahead with its plans. He said that the government instead of plugging the loopholes in the scheme and providing 100 days of work as envisaged in the Act is resorting to curtailing the scheme to 200 districts in the country. Karat said that the Modi government is acting at the behest of the corporates and the vested interests in the rural areas who are now compelled to pay higher wages since the implementation of the scheme started seven years back. The poorer sections in the countryside, the landless, the agricultural workers and the poor peasantry who have benefitted from the scheme, stand to lose, he said.
While on the one hand the government claims that it does not have the resources, on the other hand it is giving lakhs of crores of concessions to the big business houses. While an allocation of Rs. 34,000 crores would be enough to meet the expenditure towards MNREGA, the government which talks of a resource crunch is giving tax concessions worth Rs. 5 lakh crore every year. “This is a government of the capitalists and the rich”, he asserted. While it gives concessions to industry it is cutting subsidies given to the poor.
Tripura is the best performing state in the country as far as implementation of the scheme is concerned. It has provided double the national average of work. However, what the state got as a reward is a reduction in the central allocations. Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said that this would adversely affect the implementation of the scheme in the state. He said that “the scheme has not only helped generate employment but has also helped develop infrastructure in the rural areas”. “Right from the beginning the vested interests in the rural areas, big landlords, money lenders, big capitalists and corporate houses were opposed to the programme”. Cautioning against changing the material-labour ratio from the current 60:40 to 51:49, he said that this “would lead to an increased proportion of expenditure on material and reduced use of labour, thereby altering the very nature of the scheme”. The decision to curtail MNREGA he said “will adversely affect Tripura which is the best performing state in this regard”. Terming the attack on the scheme as “barbaric” he warned that “this will not be tolerated”.
CPI(M) Polit Bureau Member and leader of the Party in the Rajya Sabha, Sitaram Yechury informed the participants that the Left parties had staged a walk out on the issue in both houses of parliament. He lamented the fact that while such important issues affecting the lives of the poor have to be discussed in parliament, the Prime Minister is on foreign tour. He also attacked the erstwhile UPA government for going back on its promise of extending the job guarantee scheme to the urban areas. Taking a dig at the promise of ache din made by the BJP during the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections Sitaram drew a parallel with the Garibhi Hatao slogan of Indira Gandhi.
CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat addressing the participants said that “The attack on MGNREGA should also be seen as a reflection of the BJP’s idea of development. It is a government which is pandering to the likes of the Adanis and the Ambanis. The adivasis, the women, the poorer sections who have benefitted from the scheme will now all stand deprived” she said while appealing to the people to carry forward the struggle.
Leaders from other parties also came to express solidarity and support to the initiative taken by the CPI(M). CPI General Secretary Sudhakar Reddy, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, Congress MP Manishankar Aiyar and RSP leader Abani Roy also addressed the gathering. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan President, Aruna Roy also greeted the participants.