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Unpaid, delayed NREGA wages: Govt of India "fails" implementation despite Supreme Court order

By Our Representative
India’s top civil societies network campaigning for the rural jobs guarantee scheme has revealed that despite the Supreme Court dated May 18, order to “prepare an urgent time bound mandatory program to make the payment of wages and compensation” to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the Government of India has refused to do it.
All that the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, has done following the order, which was in response to a Swaraj Abhiyan Public Interest Litigation (PIL), is to organise a consultation on this matter on 27 June, in which no representative of the civil society was invited.
Pointing this out, the NREGA Sangharsh Samiti (NSS) said, “In a press release issued on 13 July 2018, the Ministry claimed that it is implementing Standard Operating Protocols (SOPs) for ensuring timely payment of wages”, regretting, however, “These protocols are unavailable in the public domain.”
NREGA workers are supposed to receive their wages within 15 days of doing the work, failing which they are entitled to compensation. There are two stages in the processing of wage payments.
  • The first stage comprises of all the steps to be completed within the state/Union Territory (UT), i.e. measurement of work, entry of workers’ attendance in the Management Information System, generation of wage list, generation of Fund Transfer Order (FTOs) and approval of FTOs by the first and second signatories. 
  • The second stage includes generation and forwarding of fund release order by the Ministry of Rural Development, crediting of the state account with funds in the sponsor bank and crediting of wages in the worker’s account.
According to the NSS, there is “lack of uniformity in timelines for first stage processes across states”, noting, “As per the Ministry’s guidelines, FTOs should be approved by the second signatory within eight days of the closing date of the corresponding Muster Roll. This leaves a week for the completion of the second stage processes.”
“However”, asserted NSS, “As per the Ministry’s own data, only 11 states/UTs follow this rule. Other states allow their functionaries to complete the first stage processes till up to 15 days after the closing date of the corresponding Muster Roll. This subsequently delays the completion of the second stage processes.”
Claiming that the PIL forced the Ministry to admit that what it had been touting as the rate of timely payment of wages is in fact only the proportion of FTOs approved on time by the second signatory, NSS said, “The submissions made by the central government to the Court reveal that the rate of timely processing of wages in the second stage is very poor: only 17% in 2016-17 and 43% in 2017-18.”
“Currently, compensation is only calculated for the delays in the first stage of the wage payment processes”, NSS says, adding, “Further, Programme Officers have the untenable discretion of rejecting this compensation. It is thus a matter of little surprise that from 2013-14 to 2017-18, only 4% of the calculated compensation was approved. Further, only 61% of the approved compensation amount was actually paid to workers.”
According to NSS, “Scores of workers do not receive their wages at all. Amongst the various reasons for non-payment of wages, one is rejection of FTO transactions for technical reasons. In the last financial year, 2.4% of the total wage payments – amounting to about Rs 500 crore – were rejected across the country. The year before, the rate of rejection of wage payments was as high as 16%. There are no less than 206 reasons for rejection of wage payments!”
The reasons include says NSS, “closed/transferred/blocked” account, “no such account”, “network failure”, “invalid Aadhaar”, “Aadhaar not mapped” and also a residual category of “miscellaneous”. The Ministry has no document in the public domain which explains the reasons for wage payment rejection or the remedial action to be taken in each case of rejection.”

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