‘Centralisation, focus on tech undermining MGNREGA’

Concerns flagged over delay in wages, absence of grievance redressal

New Delhi, September 11:  

Citing cases of Aadhaar linkage with wrong accounts, delayed and inadequate wages, especially to thousands of women, preparation of muster rolls in English and centralisation of the programme, workers and organisations from across the country are on dharna in Delhi to reaffirm their “legal entitlements’ under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

“Even based on the (Rural Development) Ministry’s incomplete method of calculation of wage delays, barely half of all NREGA wage payments were made on time (i.e. within 15 days) in the past five years,” said Nikhil Dey of the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a country-wide coalition of organisations and individuals, at a press conference here on Monday.

Sakina Dhorajiwala, an independent researcher, said according to their recent analysis of over 90 lakh wage payments made in 2016-17 in a random sample of 3,446 Gram Panchayats across 10 States, only 21 per cent of wage payments were actually made on time.

Often vouchers are made and are counted as wages paid, she said, adding that the government was not calculating the delay which actually meant erosion of real wages.

As per the Act, all NREGA wage payments must be made within a week, and under no circumstances later than 15 days of doing the work.

Richa Singh from Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, said there were several cases of wrong Aadhaar linkages leading to wage transfer to some other account.

“Complaints have been made at all levels, but there is no redressal. So, where is the transparency”, she said.

Technology is undermining NREGA and Aadhaar and is, in fact, making things less transparent. In some cases, it has taken more than a year to find out where the problem lay. Earlier, you could go to a person and complain, said Reetika Khera, a social scientist from IIT Delhi, adding that the push for technology started during UPA-II. MGNREGA, which remains a lifeline for rural households, boosting rural wages and purchasing power, is under-funded, as its budgets have been inadequate for several years, said Dey.

After peaking at 0.6 per cent in 2009-10 (as a proportion of GDP), Central government expenditure on NREGA declined steadily to 0.3 per cent in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

“This year’s (2017-18) NREGA budget is also grossly inadequate – while half of the financial year is left, 75 per cent of the funds allocated for this year have already been spent with no indication from the Ministry of Finance of any supplementary budget,” said the Morcha, which is demanding a hike in wage rate to ₹600 and the number of days of guaranteed work to 240 days per person.

(This article was published on September 11, 2017)

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