The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) Sangharsh Morcha, a network of individuals and organisations agitating for the rights of workers covered under MGNREGA, has pointed out that 99 percent of the wages under the scheme remained unpaid in April 2018.
Delayed payments and low wage rates had been the major problems with the MGNREGA scheme ever since its implementation. Concerns about the existing wage rate, delay in the wage payments, states which were unable to complete the work on time etc. had been highlighted in an audit called Common Review Mission (CRM) which was done in 2017.
Only 44 percent, 37 percent, 27 percent and 50 percent of the wages being paid on time in the financial years 2016-17, 2015-16, 2014-15 and 2013-14 respectively, the audit found.
According to the Sangharsh Morcha, "Stagnant wage rates are not the only rude shock that workers of the MGNREGA received this month. Most of them also remain unpaid for the work done by them in the past few months."
“Ninety-nine percent of the Fund Transfer Orders (FTOs) for MGNREGA wage payments, sent to the Public Finance Management (PFMS) in April 2018, remain unprocessed. The bulk of FTOs of the last two months are also yet to be processed – 86 percent of the FTOs of March and 64 percent of the FTOs of February,” the letter from NREGA Sangharsh Morcha reads.
Though the Centre had introduced the National Electronic Fund Management System (NEFMS) to streamline the MGNREGA wage payment process in 2016, this system tightened the Ministry’s control over the funds.
“Now it routinely withholds the processing of FTOs. Also, in NEFMS states are no longer able to make payments to workers from their revolving funds to tide over delays in the release of funds by the Ministry.”
During 2017, the Ministry had frozen the processing of FTOs worth over Rs 3,000 crores due to lack of MGNREGA funds. In August 2017, the Ministry of Rural Development demanded a supplementary MGNREGA budget of Rs 17,000 crores. However, the Ministry of Finance approved only Rs 7,00 and that too in January 2018.
Though the Supreme Court has instructed the government to ensure the payment within 15 days of doing the work, the delays in MGNREGA wage payments continue. Also, the workers did not get any compensations for the wage delays after the generation of FTOs. Later the Ministry of Finance accepted a partial payment of compensation.
“It goes on to state that payment of compensation for the entire duration of delay will be a heavy financial burden on the government. This exposes the deliberate underfunding of the employment guarantee programme,” NREGA Sangharsh Morcha alleged.
“As the Modi government failed to curtail MGNREGA through overt measures such as restricting the programme to the poorest districts or reducing the wage – material ratio, it has resorted to undermining the Act by starving it of funds.”