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Deficit in wage payments reaches Rs 481 crore: Additional Rs 40k sought for NREGA

By Our Representative

The civil rights organization, People's Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG), which has released three trackers over the last two months claimint to focus on "core issues" and "performance" of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) amidst the COVID-19 crisis, has estimated that, as on September 9, 2020, five months in the current financial year (2020-21), there is already a deficit of Rs 481 crore for providing jobs to the rural poor.
Given this situation, a PAEG statement, providing details of the actual allocation and the amount spent on NREGA in 2020-21, said, “Unless the additional promised amount of Rs 40,000 crores is released immediately, delays in wage payments that have already begun will compound the woes of the marginalised.”
Wondering there is a shift in Government of India (GoI) policy, PAEG conceded, till now it was treating NREGA as a supply-driven programme instead of a demand-based employment guarantee scheme. However, for the first time in six years, it recognised, albeit because of the special situation arising out of the Covid crisis, the importance of the scheme, leading to the allocation of Rs 40,000 crore, in addition to the original allocation of Rs 60,000 crore.
“So far this year, timely and adequate allocation of funds has implied timely payment of wages”, it said. However, it pointed out, “While in absolute terms, this is the highest ever allocation, but the financial year (FY) began with pending wage liabilities of around Rs 16,000 crore.”
Hence, it said, “Fresh allocation for the current FY is actually around Rs 84,000 crore. Even considering Rs 1 lakh crore as the allocation, as a percentage of the GDP (~0.48%), it is still like what it was in 2010-11. Even before the half-way mark in this FY, about Rs 64,000 crore have already been spent”, suggesting, GoI urgently needs to allocate more funds." 
This is required because, it said, “The unplanned lockdown has resulted in a massive crisis of livelihood and high levels of food insecurity. Having endured severe hostility and distress, the majority of migrant workers returned home to their villages over the lockdown period and many are yet to return to cities.”
It added, “With limited employment opportunities in rural India, the only viable dignified livelihood option for many of these migrants as well as the rest of the rural poor, is the NREGA.” Things failed to picked up initially amidst lockdown because over the last six years, NREGA was “routinely under-funded, resulting in it becoming a de facto supply driven programme, with massive delays in wage payments.”
“In several states, the NREGA wages have been below the minimum wages which has discouraged workers from seeking employment in the programme”, PAEG said, adding, the problem further got compoinded because of the move “away from community asset creation to promotion of material-intensive, individual assets”, adversely impacting the generation of adequate employment for landless workers.”

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