The landmark MNREGA scheme brought by the Congress-led UPA government guarantees hundred days of work in a year to every household that is willing. In the current financial year alone, over 152 crore person-days’ worth of work has been generated through the scheme. The Act mandates that workers must receive their wages within 15 days of completing a work week, failing which a compensation will be paid to them at a rate of 0.05% per day of delay. However, there are long delays in wage payments.
In September 2017, the Central government blocked funds for 19 states since many of them had not submitted audited reports to the Centre. The issue persisted and wages were delayed for several weeks before they finally began to trickle in. In this tussle between the Centre and States, it is the workers who suffered. In many cases, the workers were not even compensated for the full extent of delays. In FY 2016-17, it was found in a sample of over nine million transactions that merely 21% wages were paid in the stipulated 15-day period. Contrary to the government’s claims of 85% payments made on time, the analysis of the sample indicates that only 32% of wage payments have been made on time, with some wage payments pending for over 200 days. In such a scenario, it is not only the worker who is impacted but also the family which is dependent on the income to sustain itself.
There are many entities involved in the payment process – the Centre, States, payment agencies and other administrative bodies. For payments to be on time, there must be seamless coordination and constant communication between all. However, that is not the case. Moreover, some bodies lack clearly defined responsibilities.
There are several cases of failed transfer payments to worker’s accounts. These payments are rejected due to technical glitches such as a mismatch of names etc. For such payments, a ‘fund order’ is regenerated. However, due to lack of accountability, such orders generally end up taking several days to be processed. In merely two quarters of this financial year, over 80 million rupees worth of payments were rejected. The National Electronic Fund Management System (NeFMS) was supposed to iron out the glitches and reduce the number of days taken to transfer funds to workers’ accounts. However, as mentioned before, less than one-third of payments were transferred in the stipulated 15 days. The NeFMS system is also completely in the hands of the Centre, and state governments have little to no say in the payment of workers’ wages. This is quite dangerous and has created the possibility where the Centre can politically shift the blame on the States for not giving the wages.
It is certainly not the labourer’s fault for non-payment of wages due to ’technical glitches’, despite finishing the stipulated work. The government needs to sort out the bureaucracy and plug the infrastructure bottlenecks. Most of all, it needs to get its house in order and define clear-cut responsibilities so that people are aware what is happening behind the curtain. As of now, the government has completely failed in its responsibility. This is adding to the growing rural unrest.