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Black Diwali? NREGA deficit Rs 6,518 cr, payments pending for 5 cr rural labour

By Our Representative 

Reacting to the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) response to the People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) tracker claim that, though five months to go, 90% of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) budget has been used up, even as this financial year 34% budget has been reduced, the top advocacy group has said, “Lack of funds has a direct bearing on delays in wage payments.”
Pointing out that MoRD’s response “leaves many questions unanswered”, PAEG quotes MoRD as stating, “During the current FY, so far more than Rs.63,793 crore funds have been released for the implementation of the scheme in the States/UTs. Currently Rs 8921 crore funds are available which can meet the wage liability equal to this current availability.”
Explains PAEG, “As per R 7.1.2 in the NREGA MIS, the cumulative expenditure for financial year 2021-22 is Rs 52,993 crore, the total pending liabilities from previous years is Rs 17,451 crore. As per R 7.1.1 of the NREGA MIS, the pending liabilities of FY 2021-22 is Rs 9,075 crore. This adds up to Rs 79,518 crores implying that the Government of India (GoI) is already running a deficit of at least Rs 6,518 crore."
“This has resulted in mounting wage delays, as evidenced by the recent LibTech India report titled Heavy Wait. It is also corroborated from R 7.1.1 that 20 States have a negative balance as on November 1, 2021”, it adds.
Continues PAEG, “The LebTech reports shows that only 29% of the wages were transferred by the Government of India (GoI) within 7 days. The GoI had issued a circular in March 2021 to segregate wage payments by the caste category of workers. 46% of payments to SC workers and 37% of payments to ST workers were transferred by the GoI in 7 days while this was just 26% for non-SC/ST workers.”
According to PAEG, “Poorer States like Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal bore the maximum brunt”, adding, “The Ministry’s promise of providing work on demand (as the law requires) appears vacuous. Lack of funds has a direct bearing on delays in wage payments. Since the Supreme Court orders of 2018 in the Swaraj Abhiyan vs Union of India case, delays by State governments have reduced but delays by the GoI (called Stage 2 delays) continue.”
“Worse still”, PAEG says, “Stage 2 delays are not even being calculated. Consequently, the GoI stands in violation of the Act and the Court orders.” Further, “The MoRD order on wage payments to be segregated by the caste of workers has led to a threefold increase in work for block officials and, as a news report demonstrates, has led to unwarranted caste tensions.”
“Most critically, it is in violation of the Act. While the Ministry has stated that it will “streamline” this futile and legally questionable order, the caste-based segregation of Funds Transfer Orders (FTOs) need to be rescinded immediately”, it adds.
Asserts PAEG, “Such denial of statutory obligations by the GoI violates the Constitutional rights of crores of workers. Adequate funds must be made available immediately. NREGA workers cannot wait for the next session of Parliament to receive work or payments.”
Adequate funds must be made available immediately. NREGA workers cannot wait for the next session of Parliament to receive work or payments
It insists, “Instead of making misleading statements, we hope that the GoI takes urgent cognizance of these findings and respects the Act in letter and spirit by (a) making adequate funds available for the programme (b) ensuring timely payment of wages, and (c) rescinding the caste-based segregation of FTOs.”

Eight crore pending payments

Meanwhile, PAEG, quoting Report 8.1.1 of the NREGA Management Information System (MIS), has said that a whopping eight crore NREGA payments are pending as on November 3. "This means, for nearly five crore workers across the country this will be a Kali Diwali", it says.
Recalling "the raging debate about NREGA funds running out with 5 months remaining", triggered by an official denial of funds shortage, PAEG insists, "On such a festive occasion when people not only expect to be paid their due wages, and hopefully a bonus, NREGA workers have not been paid wages for the work they have done. The hope of being paid in the near future is also bleak."
It continues, "MoRD claimed that there are Rs. 8,900 crore available for work to carry on. But this is not borne out by the facts of allocations, payments made and pending liabilities. If MoRD’s claims are indeed true, then what explains eight crore pending transactions as on November 3, 2021?"
According to PAEG, "These payments are calculated from FTOs that have been generated but not paid as of today. Each transaction represents a worker who has worked for a week or 15 days. There are some cases where one worker would have several pending payments due, which only intensifies the distress. It is worse for those workers whose payments have been rejected and yet not corrected."
It adds, "As on November 3, 24.15 lakh transactions adding up to approximately Rs 300 crore of NREGA wages were rejected due to technical reasons. It is worse for those workers whose payments have been rejected because they are not available to them unless corrected."
PAEG underlines, "From the time the Central government allocated Rs 73,000 crore, reducing last year's revised estimate by 34 percent, it became clear that money would run out approximately half way through the year. The Central government did find money to pay its own employees 28 percent Dearness Allowance and three percent bonus for Diwali, but chooses to look away from existing dues for NREGA workers."

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