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Controversial order to split MNREGA payments on caste lines withdrawn after states object

Social justice ministry noted that its field report indicated a deepening of caste division within village communities over segregation of workers into SCs, STs and others.

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New Delhi: The Modi government’s controversial decision to split wage payments along caste lines under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has been withdrawn and the earlier system of payment from a single account has been restored, ThePrint has learnt.

The move made earlier this year had led to criticism from a number of states, including Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had also noted that its field report indicated a deepening of caste division within village communities as the workers were segregated into three groups — Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and others.

On 2 March, the Union Ministry of Rural Development had sent all state governments an advisory directing them to divide payments into separate categories for SCs, STs and others under MGNREGA from 2021-22 for wage payments.

However, a collective decision was taken to withdraw the order after a meeting was held this week attended by officials of the Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Finance, Niti Aayog and Ministry of Social Justice, according to a source.

The older system of payment through one account has been restored.

“Till the financial 2020-21, all the categories (SC, ST and Others) of workers who had worked in a single muster roll had been paid through single fund transfer order,” said a senior government official who didn’t wish to be named.

“The rural and social ministry received requests from state governments (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka) and the social justice ministry received information from the field to restore the earlier system of payment… without any categorisation,” the official added.

Also read: 3 cr on unorganised workers’ database, 48% women, 55% don’t have Aadhaar-linked accounts

What the states said

Once the caste-based system kicked in, the Centre’s non-uniform disbursal of payments to each of the three accounts began to cause problems among workers.

The Tamil Nadu government in its representation to the Centre last month said the release of funds on the basis of the categories raised fears among the vulnerable section of people in the state. It is against the law of providing equal work, wages and other participation rights to all without caste bias under MGNREGA Act, the state said. 

The Karnataka government also also asked the Centre to reconsider the trifurcation of the wage account and revert to the earlier single account to facilitate implementation of the scheme.

According to the source quoted above, the government received a number of representations from different quarters including state governments wherein it was pointed out that field reports indicate the move has not only increased the work at the supervisory level but there is “further deepening of caste division within the village communities”.

“Some SC organizations have complained that SC muster rolls have not been paid whereas Muster rolls for other communities have been paid,” the source said, citing field reports.

The social justice ministry then suggested that it would be better to monitor and account for the expenditure done on SCs and STs, using the real time database.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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