In what is seen as a victory for workers under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act here in Jharkhand who had faced hardships because of delayed payment of compensation, as many as 174 of them from 10 villages of Khunti and Murhu blocks have received Rs. 2,000 each under the Payment of Wages Act, the total adding up to Rs. 3.48 lakh.
The payment was ordered by M.A. Haque, Assistant Labour Commissioner, Chotanagpur.
This came at the end of a month-long struggle. A team of student volunteers from Delhi University and elsewhere have been running a "sahayata kendra" (help centre) for NREGA workers here since May 1.
The first problem that came to their attention was that of delayed payments in the district. In most of the villages of Khunti and Murhu blocks that were surveyed, wages had not been paid for weeks, even months. In some cases, the delay added up to years. In the absence of timely payments, rural workers had developed an aversion to the NREGA.
NREGA workers should receive payment within 15 days, failing which they are entitled to compensation under the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, of Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 3,000 each.
After the sahayata kendra alerted the district administration to the delays, wages were swiftly paid at many sites, without prejudice to the compensation claims.
The demand for compensation received a boost on June 4 when G. Krishnan, Adviser to the Governor of Jharkhand, sent instructions to Khunti for such payment. The Union Ministry of Rural Development also took a serious view of this matter.
K.K. Soan, the NREGA Commissioner for Jharkhand, and Dr. Haque, the Assistant Labour Commissioner, held a "camp court" in Khunti on June 6 at the sahayata kendra. NREGA workers from Tapinsara, Kota, Chamratoli, Gumpudu, Bududih, Simbukel, Belahathi, Taro Siladon, Chukru and Irud gram panchayats submitted applications for compensation. During this initial hearing, the focus was on cases where the delays were evident from official records, such as muster rolls and payment advices.
The camp court proceedings were swift; compensation was arranged the same day. Further hearings are to be held from June 11.
The Block Programme Officers of the State government explained the cause of the delays. In most cases it was found that the Junior Engineers were responsible for delaying payments by stalling work measurements. Dr. Haque said he would impose penalties on the officers responsible. According to reports reaching here, there is evidence of similar problems elsewhere in Jharkhand, and also in some other States.
The Hindu / 10 June 2009