Skip to main content

Govt of India's fresh 'experiments' add to delay in payments to NREGA workers

By Debmalya Nandy*

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) payments process has become no less than a technical conundrum which has not only resulted into workers’ predicaments but also diminished local accountability. The payments process is such that the workers will have no one to hold accountable for when their payments get delayed or in case of non-payments.
It has not only become an agonizing compulsion for the workers to work and then hopelessly wait for payments for a long time, but the centralized process has burdened local Panchayati Raj Representatives, who have no power to solve for the issues of payments.
The NREGA payments system is divided into two stages by the Centre. The payments generation stage at the local level is defined as stage-1 and the release of payments by the central government to the worker’s bank account is termed as stage-2.
Stage 1 comprises of different processes at the local level and is a responsibility of the local administration. In stage 1, the filled muster rolls (daily attendance sheets of the workers) need to be entered in the Management Information System [MIS] and collated in the form of a “wage list”( worker wise wage payment information) and several such wage lists are collated into different fund transfer orders (FTO) for processing of payments in different batches.
Subsequently the fund transfer orders need to be digitally signed by the authorized signatories. In most states panchayat secretaries are the first signatory while the second signatory is the Block Development officer. However, many states have also authorized panchayat heads (mukhia or sarpanch) as second signatories (which means they have the authority to sanction payments).
Once the FTO is digitally signed by the two authorized signatories, the stage-1 of payments processing system ends and stage-2 begins. In stage-2, the Central government requires to process the fund transfer orders from their end using National Electronic Finance Management System (NEFMS) through a single bank, directly to the workers account.
The central website shows that bulk of the payments are “generated” within 15 days. Which practically means that the stage-1 processes are being completed within 15 days. However, as per the Act, the entire payments process needs to be done within 15 days from the end date of the muster roll and the workers should get their payments within these 15 days.
Currently as on 7th September, 43% of Payments for the month of August are pending from the Central government as per the Report No R.8.8.1 in the official website, which involves about Rs.2846cr of wages but the same website shows that 99% payments have been “generated” on time.
Time and again the government has been referring to this data to claim that “all is well” in NREGA payments. However, workers across the country wait for a long time for their payments, beyond the stipulated timeline of 15 days.
The Supreme Court in 2018 had directed the union government to show the full extent of delay in payments on the website and pay compensations to the workers accordingly. However, the current reports on the website do not reflect the total number of transactions delayed beyond 15 days.
Instead, the ministry has come up with a report called Stage-2 tracking which shows the volume of pending payments from the central government at any given point but does not reflect the delays beyond the stipulated timelines. Once the Centre starts releasing ( even if they do it after considerable delays, violating the Act), the report will show reduced pending transactions and amounts.
An independent social advocacy group called Libtech recently studied the payments in Andhra Pradesh. Its published report reveals that the Centre takes 26 days on an average to process payments from their end (Stage-2). Adding the average time taken for stage-1 processes, the report reveals that the total time taken to credit the wages into worker’s account is 29 days on an average.
The group has studied all payments for all job cards for FY 2019-20, 2020-21 and up to July 31, FY 2021-22 in 130 Gram Panchayats of Andhra Pradesh (which is 1% of total number of Gram Panchayats in the State).
Adding more complexities to the issue, the government very recently introduced a caste-based payments processing system
This report clearly indicates that the extent of delay is significant. However, the government has been in denial. It is also not clear why the ministry does not put the data for extent of delays clearly in the public domain and instead use technical nomenclatures and processes which only mislead citizens.
In 2018, the Central government had stated in the Supreme Court that only 17% in 2016-17 and 43% of the payments in 2017-18 were paid on time (i.e. within 15 days), which means they keep a track on the exact delays but purposely do not place the report in the public domain.
Adding more complexities to the issue, the government very recently introduced a caste-based payments processing system wherein the fund transfer orders will be segregated into three different caste categories, i.e. SC, ST and Others, and will be processed separately.
This arrangement is unnecessary and likely to further delay the processes. While the government should simply focus on making on-time payments to all those who have worked under the programme, the Centre seem to be experimenting needlessly with workers' hard earned money.
The Centre time and again has claimed that all payments glitches have been resolved through Aadhaar-based payments systems. However, contrary to the claim of the Union government, the introduction of Aadhar into the NREGA payments system has proved to be detrimental and has created several challenges in ensuring on time payments to the workers.
The issues of misdirected payments (money being credited to someone else’s account instead of the worker), rejection of payments due to Aadhaar de-linking by the banks are some of the puzzling issues which are new add-ons to the various other causes of NREGA payments delays.
Also, the issues of NREGA payments are not limited to the matter of Aadhaar linkages and it has deep connections with the quality of local implementation. The government might want to claim success to promote the use of Aadhaar in social welfare programmesm but facts do not corroborate the Central claims.
Almost 70% of the centrally allocated funds have been exhausted this year (as on August 31, 2021) and payments have been delayed almost by a month, at-least twice within the first five months. In such circumstances, the ground implementation will be significantly slowed down in the absence of adequate allocation and on-time release of payments.
The Centre should ensure decentralized mechanisms for payments where local Panchayati Raj representatives will have more power in the payments processes as well as in dealing with grievances regarding payments. NREGA, when conceived in 2005, was considered to be a programme which can deepen the local democratic processes and promote decentralization.
However, the current over-centralization has not helped to smooth up local governance of the programme. The official website shows that 43% (worth Rs 2846 crore) of the August payments were pending as on September 7, 2021.
---
*With NREGA Sangharsh Morcha

Comments

Anonymous said…
digital india - non digital rural india. what a combination. add to that no funds and one has a superb mess. When did caste go digital ?

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

How GMOs would destroy non-GMO crops: Aruna Rodrigues' key submissions in SC

Counterview Desk The introduction of Bt and HT crops will harm the health of 1 billion Indians and their animals, believes Aruna Rodrigues, who has made some 60 submissions to the Supreme Court (SC) during the last 20 years. As lead petitioner who filed Public Interest Litigation in 2005, during a spate of intense hearings, which ended on 18 January 2024, she fought in the Apex Court to prevent the commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture. 

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

Corporatizing Indian agriculture 'to enhance' farmer efficiency, market competitiveness

By Shashank Shukla*  Today, amidst the ongoing farmers' protest, one of the key demands raised is for India to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO). Let us delve into the feasibility of such a move and explore its historical context within India's globalization trajectory.

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .

Interpreting UAPA bail provisions: Is Supreme Court setting the clock back?

By Kavita Srivastava*, Dr V Suresh** The Supreme Court in its ruling on 7th February, 2024 in   `Gurvinder Singh v State of Punjab’ held that its own well-developed jurisprudence that "Bail is the rule and jail the exception" will not apply to those charged under the UAPA.

A 'distorted narrative' of Indian politics: Congress failing to look beyond LS polls

By Prem Singh*  About 15 days ago, I told a senior journalist friend that there are not even two   months left for the Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi is roaming around on a delectation (tafreeh). The friend probably found my comment exasperating and replied that he is not on a delectation trip. The conversation between us on this topic ended there. 

Livelihood issues return to national agenda ahead of LS polls: SKM on Bharat Bandh

Counterview Desk  Top farmers' network, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has claimed big success of Grameen Bharat Bandh and industrial /sectoral strikes, stating, the “struggle reflected anger of farmers, workers and rural people across India”, adding, the move on February 16 succeeded in bringing back peoples’ livelihood issues in the national agenda just ahead of the general election to the Lok Sabha.