90% of MGNREGA Funds for 2021-22 Financial Year Utilised, Remaining Cover Just 13 Days of Work: Report
Representational use only.
On Friday, the "NREGA National Tracker" report, authored by People's Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG), was released for the April-September period of this year in a virtual press conference jointly held with Liberation Technology (LibTech) India. The latter released a report on the delay in wage payments under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme.
The PAEG's report highlighted that almost 90% of the total allocated funds to the MGNREGA scheme for this year had been utilised, even as five more months are left for the current financial year to end.
This will have a considerable impact on employment generation under the scheme, noted PAEG in its report, as remaining funds can cover at most only 13 days of work – as opposed to the stipulated 100 – per household till the end of March next year.
The PAEG's tracker, based on the MGNREGA Management Information System (MIS), noted that 17 crore job cards have been registered to date under the rural job scheme, out of which 9.71 crore are 'active job cards.'
According to the tracker, 6.68 crore active job cardholders – 40% of the total registered cards – have demanded work under the scheme this year. Out of these, 13.25% of the total households that demanded employment did not get employment under the scheme this year.
Jayati Ghosh, an Indian economist and professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), flayed the central government on Friday for decreasing the total budget allocation for MGNREGA for this year – it is 34% less than the revised budget for the previous year.
Having struck by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian economy is "not looking at a speedy recovery at the moment," Ghosh said, adding that the "extensive material distress" is still prevailing within the working population and that in such times, "MGNREGA is a lifeline for the many rural working families."
In such a scenario, she added that the need of the hour is not just to strengthen the existing job guarantee scheme but also to "extend" it in the urban areas.
In this regard, what was raised in the virtual press conference on Friday was also to press for the social audits of the MGNREGA, which have not been done this year, according to PAEG. "These are statutory mechanisms that are aimed to monitor the [rural job] scheme," said Nikhil Dey, a social activist, who added that they must be conducted regularly, with their reports available in the public domain.
Caste-Wise Split of MGNREGA Wage Payments Causing Issues Among Workers
The Narendra Modi–led central government's decision earlier this year to divide wage payments under the rural employment guarantee scheme into separate caste categories has prompted "caste-based and religious tensions" among workers in the villages, as per a report released by LibTech India.
The report studied the delays caused by the central government in making wage payments under the MGNREGA scheme during the first half of the ongoing financial year.
On March 2 this year, the Union Ministry of Rural Development had sent an advisory to all the state governments, directing them to divide wage payments under the employment guarantee programme into separate categories for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and others from the financial year 2021-22.
LibTech India, however, on Friday, in its press conference with PAEG, said that the move is "at odds with the universality" of the rural scheme. It reached this conclusion after studying 18 lakh wage transactions, under the scheme, from ten states between April and September this year.
The central government pays labour wages under MGNREGA. As per the scheme's Act, the payment of wages is mandated to be completed within 15 days of completion of a muster roll of work, failing of which the workers enrolled under the scheme are entitled to a delay compensation of 0.05% per day the wages earned.
The payment process under the scheme consists of two stages – a Funds Transfer Order (FTO), with workers' details, is first sent to the central government after the work is done. After that, the FTOs are processed at the second stage, and wages are directly sent to the workers' accounts. The responsibility in the latter stage lies entirely with the central government.
In the first half of the current financial year, 71% of the wage transactions under MGNREGA exceeded the mandated period at the second stage, LibTech India noted in its report titled, "Heavy Wait", adding that poorer states like Jharkhand had experienced higher delays. It also added that 45% of the central government's wage payments to West Bengal are pending as of October 13, 2021.
The study was conducted in Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
While earlier work by LibTech India, a coming together of engineers, social workers, and social scientists, also showed that the central government was only taking more than 50 days to credit wages, the recent report analyses the completion of wage payments on caste terms.
The group found out that 46% of the wage payments to SCs were completed in the mandated period at the second stage. However, this figure was only 37% for the STs and 26% for the 'Other' category.
Importantly, LibTech noted that no delay compensation is being calculated, as has been the case over the years, for any of these delays in wage payments to the MGNREGA workers.
Furthermore, the report by LibTech India noted that the division of wage payments under MGNREGA on caste terms has also increased the workload of the officials who oversee the scheme's implementation at the village block levels by "at least three times."
Sharing the results, Rajendran Narayanan, co-author of the study report, said on Friday that the results show that the caste-based payments "create very little protection" for marginalised communities.
"The circular is irrational, and it was bizarre that it was introduced by the central government. Based on our study, we can conclude that it is resulting in caste-based and religious tensions among workers in the villages," he said while addressing the journalists.
Narayanan added that while affirmative action to address the wage payment delay is important, segregating payments by caste "is not the answer." Now, some news reports do indicate that the [said] circular will be rescinded. There is no official communication yet.
Questions were also raised on the continuance of the Aadhaar Payment Bridge System (APBS) to make the payment of wages to workers under MGNREGA, along with another way that uses an Account-Based System. It was so because the study conducted by LibTech India found no "evident difference" in terms of efficiency between the both.
On the contrary, Narayanan said that the Aadhaar based payments only add to the woes because there are more chances of "misdirected payments". "Also, resolving payment problems for the Aadhaar based payments are much more complicated. These are among the issues that are unique to Aadhaar based payments system," he said.
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