Demands Raised to Clear Rs 5000 Cr Pending Wages, Increase Allocations as NREGA Runs out of Funds
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Amid a deepening crisis of payment and work under the central government's flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has demanded the release of pending wages, more job creation and fund allocation for the same under the scheme.
The Morcha The MGNREGA provides 100 days of unskilled work to any rural household in need. During the COVID-19 induced lockdown in 2020, the cental scheme was allocated its highest ever budget of Rs 1.11 lakh crore. However, the 2021-22 budgest saw a steep slash of funds, reducing the amount to Rs 73,000 crore. By October, 21 states had a negative balance in NREGA funds, amounting to total Rs 8,686 crore, according to reports.
While activist say the actual demand for work is not fully met by the scheme, the funds running out in the middle of the financial year has come as a big blow to about five crore workers employed by the scheme nationwide.
"While the actual demand and need for work has only increased on the ground, the programme has run out of funds. More than 90% of the central budget allocation for the programme had already been exhausted with about 5 months remaining in the current financial year," the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha said in its statement.
The Morcha further highlighted that as on November 14, 2021, as many as 3.46 crores transactions were pending for response. Table 1 shows the details of wages pending from the Centre in various states for the current financial year.
Amid the fund crunch, the unclear rationale for the trifurcation of fund transfer order (FTO) in NREGA based on the caste categories of workers was causing unnecessary tension among workers, the Morcha said. The new FTO system, introduced earlier this year, disburses salaries through three accounts, each for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and an others category. A conflict emerged when members of one group received their wages before the others.
Following complaints from state governments, the Centre on November 1 decided to revert the system of caste-based wage payments to the earlier single FTO.
However, the single FTO would entail a revised accounting procedure to allow expenditure to be captured under three Minor Heads for Scheduled Castes and Tribes and others.
Further, the total budget allocation for NREGA went down by 34% in the current financial year than the revised budget for the previous year, according to the half-yearly NREGA tracker released by the People's Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) amid the crisis of payment delay and low fun availability with states. Meanwhile, the pending liabilities from previous years amount to 17,180 crores, 23.53% of the total budget allocated.
To address these issues, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha network in various states, including farmers, labourer’s and rights organisations, sent similar deputations to the respective chief ministers. Their major demands are immediate release of pending wages by the Centre, additional allocations to create more employment under NREGA, provision at-least 150 days of work for each job card holding household in FY 2021-22, and revocation of the caste-based payment system.
The network also urged the states to communicate these demands to the central government for proactive action.
"In such trying times, the spirit of MGNREGA as an entitlement for people’s right to work with dignity and social protection must be strengthened. We sincerely hope that the government of India will make much awaited provisions at such a critical juncture," the Morcha said in its statement.
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