The Centre claims that fund flow to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MGNREGA) for wage payments have smoothened over the years, but much seems to be left desired in some states, particularly those affected by drought.
This, unless addressed, could impact the implementation of the scheme at a time when several states are facing drought-like conditions.
Recently, Jharkhand, which has declared drought in 129 blocks of the state spread over 18 districts out of the 24 districts, recently wrote to the union government seeking early clearance of funds for payment of wages for the months of August and October-November in the absence of which labour payments haven’t been made.
The state said that in the drought-affected blocks, demand for MGNREGA labour is expected to increase due to which water and soil conservation works have been taken up in a big way. But unless pending wage payments are cleared at the earliest, the scheme’s implementation could suffer.
The Centre, however, claimed that in the last 15-20 days, lot of pending wages have been cleared and funds to the tune of almost 1-1.5 billion are being released every day to the states for clearing MGNREGA wages.
“There has been additional demand for work due to drought in several districts of the country for which we have sought additional funds from the finance ministry,” a senior official said.
He said adequate funds have been released to the states for making timely wage payments, while further funds are being released in the next few days.
The Central government had allocated around Rs 550 billion for MGNREGA in 2018-19 of which till date around Rs 520 billion has already been released, but with several states declaring drought due to low rainfall in this monsoon season, demand for MGNREGA works is bound to increase.
The Centre provides 150 days work under MGNREGA in drought-affected districts against the usual 100 days to provide additional employment opportunities.
So far, Maharashtra and Jharkhand have sought Rs 80 billion and Rs 8.16 billion as drought relief from the Central government, respectively.
Parts of Gujarat, along with South Interior Karnataka and also Bihar are reeling under severe water stress as the southwest monsoon in these parts have been 20-30 per cent less than normal this year.
The rural development ministry has sought additional funds to meet the extra demand for work under MGNREGA. According to its estimates, around Rs 30-40 billion from internal savings will be channelled back into the scheme.
“We have sent out a requisition to the finance ministry for additional funds and it is being worked out,” a senior official said.
Civil society has repeatedly questioned Centre’s claim of ensuring over 90 per cent timely payments on the grounds that it does not capture delay in wage pay-out entirely. Despite repeated orders, it said the government’s MGNREGA MIS continues to capture only stage-1 delays that captures the time taken by the blocks to generate electronic pay order called Funds Transfer Order (FTO). However, the system does not capture delay to release wages after receiving FTOs.
“This makes the ‘payment on time figure’ used by the ministry meaningless,” the MGNREGA Sangharsh Morcha says.
To this, the ministry said around 92 per cent wage payments under MGNREGA has been generated within 15 days so far in 2018-19 against just 26.85 per cent in 2014-15.