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The Centre Is Making A Mockery Of The MGNREGA By Trivialising Poor Implementation

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The Union Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had stated in parliament that his government is not keen on continuing with the MGNREGA forever and added that the MGNREGA is for the poor and his government is working towards eradicating poverty.

The minister had also made outrageous claims that 99% of MGNREGA workers are getting their wages directly in their bank accounts and there are no middle men or brokers that exist in the system.

The rural development minister must be reminded that  the total allocation for MGNREGA for 2018-19 was ₹61084 crore which included a significant amount of pending liabilities from the previous years. Mr Tomar, as a minister, has responsibility to make people aware of the truth and not mislead them for his party’s political gain.

It seems that the rural development minister had not been in touch with the ground at all as even the hastiest of surveys at NREGA worksites would reveal the plight of the NREGA workers working under the scheme. The wages are routinely delayed and “brokers and middlemen” are everywhere. The Aadhaar-based payment through the fragile rural banking systems have further added to their predicaments.

The Union Minister seems to be depending on the central officials who have been feeding him with this nonsensical data. The highly criticized flawed and misleading NREGA management information system is being used to provide a false impression of the performance of the programme. The minister should visit some NREGA worksite to get a taste of the widespread corruption involved in the schemes, before insensibly making false claims.

It is a matter of delight that in his speech, Mr Tomar had acknowledged that the MGNREGA is for the poor but the next moment he had argued in favour of not continuing MGNREGA which is confusing and derisive.

The scrapping of the rural employment programme would mean that the government is against the poor and marginalized of this country. If the government wants to eradicate poverty, then it has to strengthen the MGNREGA and the people’s right to work by addressing the current issues involved with it.

Here are a few demands which have been voiced by many civil society organizations across the country who have been closely working on MGNREGA.

  1. Raising the wages under the MGNREGA and fixing the wages according to the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission.
  2. Making on-time payments to the workers.
  3. Making adequate budget allocation for the programme.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (or the NREGA), is an Indian labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work.’ (Photo: McKay Savage/Wikimedia Commons)

Let us look at the key issues and rationale behind these demands.

Dignified Wages

Workers across the nation have been demanding higher wages in accordance with the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission, but all their demands have been falling on deaf ears. Different committees constituted by the central government at different times have vouched for higher NREGA wages, but the government had conveniently ignored the recommendations.

The Union Minister for Rural Development Narendra Singh Tomar had recently announced the de-linking of NREGA wages from the national minimum wage recommended by the Anoop Satpathy Committee in January. He had said that NREGA wages will be governed by its own law. The minister seems to be having an inappropriate knowledge of the Act, which states that the NREGA wages cannot be less than the minimum wages.

Most states have much higher agriculture minimum wages than the corresponding NREGA wages. Wages under the NREGA in different states are simply non-lucrative and delays in accessing payment further creates disinterest among the rural workers who require immediate cash at the time of need.

Delay In Payments

The central government has defined the payments in NREGA in a puzzling manner. They have divided the process of payments into two stages i.e. stage I and stage II. The payments orders are electronically generated and signed by the local authorized functionaries and sent to the centre which then send the payments to the individual bank accounts of the workers through Ne-FMS (National Electronic Fund Management System).

Stage I is considered to be the set of processes till the signing of the pay orders and stage II corresponds to the time taken by the central government to credit the wages to the bank accounts of the workers. The faulty NREGA MIS does not account for the stage II delays and shows a misleading figure of on-time payments.

So while ideally the delay should be calculated if wages are not credited to the worker’s bank account within 15 days from the last date of the filled muster roll, in reality, the delay from the central government is not accounted for in the current system. While it is simple that the government should come up with only one delay payment report which will account for the entire time taken and delays during the closure of the muster roll and wages getting credited to the worker’s bank account, the current conundrum of stage I and stage II is a smart technical move by the centre to create a false impression.

It is also to be noted that a constant freezing of funds from the central government is also a major reason for the delays in payments. Every year the bulk of the allocated budget gets exhausted within the first few months of the financial year and due to the shortage the central government stops the release of funds and slows down the implementation.

Inadequate Allocation

There are currently about 13 crore job card (JC) holding families in the nation out of which 7.5 crore households have worked at least one day in the last three years ( these JCs have been termed as active JCs) according to the official website of the central government.

Even if the government intends to provide funds for at least 50 days of employment for the active job card holding families, then nothing less than 89000 crores will be required annually (taking per person per day expenditure as ₹232 as per the official MIS).

Also important to remember is that the allocations of a certain year include the pending liabilities of the previous years. In the last 3 years, it has been observed that pending liabilities of the previous years worth 5000-10000 crore have been adjusted with the next year’s budget resulting in further reduction in the budget in real terms. Additionally, inflation adjustments are never made during the calculation of the budget.

There is another perspective to understand the inadequacy in fund allotment. Considering that each work demand application made for NREGA work has a minimum 14 days of demand for employment, as per the 2018-19 data for demand creation, the government should have allocated funds on the lines of ₹310 crore person days (number of people working per day times number of days worked) but in the actual scenario, the government had an approved labour budget of ₹256 crore person days in 2018-19 and ₹258 crore person days for 2019-20. This also goes to show that the government does not even have funds for meeting the current minimum work demands even after supplementary allocations are made.

Civil society organizations like NREGA Sangharsh Morcha and People’s Action for Employment Guarantee who have been closely associated with the issue have been saying that the NREGA cannot run smoothly with anything less than ₹88000 crore.

Failing to acknowledge the current demands, the ministry had reduced the allocation by ₹1084 crore this year. The total allocation for 2018-19 was ₹61084 crore.

As the Union Minister for rural development, Narendra Singh Tomar must be aware that the demands and need for work under MGNREGA have been increasing with each year. In the absence of other employment opportunities, the rural population have been depending more on the MGNREGA for cash income despite the glitches in the payments system. In such a scenario, the statements made by him are completely unnecessary and untimely.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia Commons.
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