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Govt of India responsible for 71% delays in NREGA wage payments, say economists

Counterview Desk 

In an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, more than 70 economists have urged the Government of India to release “adequate funds” for implementing the rural jobs guarantee scheme under the MGNREGA immediately, pointing out that the pandemic continues to adversely affect the living condition of working families.
Noting that though 41 per cent more rural households sought work in 2020 compared to the previous year, the letter said, despite this, the funds allocation was cut by nearly 30 per cent. It added, “As per official data, the People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) estimates that as of November 15, 2021 the programme was in deficit of Rs 10,000 crore.”

Text:

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has repeatedly proved to be a crucial lifeline for hundreds of millions of rural households. It has assumed more significance during the period of the pandemic. Even now, employment levels and wage incomes across the country remain significantly lower than before.
This affects the living conditions of working families as well as the wider potential for economic recovery, which remains constrained by the inadequate revival of mass consumption demand. In this context, we are writing to express our concern about the ongoing funds crunch facing the programme and to urge the central government to immediately release funds to states to continue with and expand the programme as needed.
It is unfortunate that despite seeing evidence of the critical security provided by MGNREGA during the first year of the pandemic with 41% more rural households seeking work in 2020 compared to the previous year, the fund allocation for the programme was cut by nearly 30%. Lack of funds results in suppression of demand for work and delayed payment of wages to workers. These are violations of the Act; they also constrain economic recovery.
Of the central budgetary allocation of Rs 73,000 crore for the programme for FY 2020-21, Rs 17,451 crores (nearly a quarter of the amount) would simply meet the pending liabilities of previous years. With more than four months remaining in this financial year, the estimated expenditure has already exceeded the budget allocation.
As per official data, the People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) estimates that as of 15 November 2021 the programme was in deficit of Rs.10,000 crore. Over Rs 1,121 crore is due to the MGNREGA workers as wage payments. 24 states and Union Territories have negative balances, having spent more than they received from the central government for this. This implies that the state governments are in no position to implement the Act.
There is evidence of significant unmet demand. 13% of households that demanded work did not get work. This is a highly conservative estimate, as it does not include the massive extent of demand for work that is not even registered on the MGNREGA Management Information System (MIS) on account of shortage of funds. Unmet demand is as high as 20% in the states of Gujarat, Telangana and Bihar.
Without further increase in funds, the programme will also be unable to meet its promise of providing 100 days of work to every household that demands it: over 51 per cent of households employed under MGNREGA this year got work for 30 days or less, and less than 10 per cent were employed for more than 80 days.
As per a recent study by LibTech India of 1.8 million wage transactions across 10 states for the first half of this financial year, the central government alone is responsible for delays in transferring wages for 71% of the transactions. Moreover, in violation of the Supreme Court orders in the Swaraj Abhiyan vs Union of India case, the central government still does not compensate the workers for the delays it is causing in the payment of wages.
We therefore urge the central government to strengthen and expand the MGNREGA, by providing additional funds to meet the demand for work and to ensure that the programme functions as the law requires. Through its effects on mass demand, this will also contribute to recovery of the overall economy and micro and small enterprises that are currently facing extreme difficulties.
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