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‘Inordinate delay’ in release of funds for MGNREGA workers discouraging — Parliamentary panel

Standing Panel on Rural Development says the department should ensure the funds reach on time. The department stated 98.7% of fund transfer orders are generated within 15 days.

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New Delhi: A Parliamentary Standing Committee in its report tabled Tuesday said despite the increase in the demand for work under MGNREGA during the Covid-19 pandemic, the “inordinate delay” in the release of 40 per cent of the funds for skilled and semi-skilled workers was discouraging.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which guarantees 100 days of employment each year to every household in demand of work, had been allocated Rs 61,500 crore in the Union Budget last year.

As thousands of migrants returned home during the pandemic, the demand for work under the scheme saw a drastic increase and additional funds of Rs 50,000 crore were provided under the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Package.

Of the total Rs 1,11,500 crore allocated to MGNREGA in 2020-21, Rs 89,287.63 crore — 80 per cent — was utilised.

“At the time of economic distress caused due to Covid-19 pandemic in particular, there was an increase in the demand for work under MGNREGA. However, inordinate delay in the release of funds for skilled/semi-skilled workers under MGNREGA is a huge discouraging aspect and does not go in consonance with the underlying spirit of the scheme,” the Standing Committee on Rural Development said in its report.

“The committee are of the view that the department (of rural development) should appropriately modify its approach and ensure that the 40 per cent part of the fund also reaches on time so that the wages are paid on time and the works get completed too.”

The Department of Rural Development (DoRD) in its response to the committee — which was also a part of the report — said that 98.7 per cent of fund transfer orders (FTOs) are generated within 15 days.

It said that it is also in touch with state governments, union territories, accredited and nodal banks over the issue of timely wage payment.

“Department is taking every possible actions to reduce the delay in payment of wages to the Mahatma Gandhi NREGS job-seekers viz., continuous and timely release of funds, payment through National Electronic Fund Management System (NeFMS) for direct payment of wages into job-seekers account,” the department stated in the report.

It added that more than 99 per cent of payment is being done through electronic mode.

Also read: This is how Modi govt plans to help MGNREGA workers during Covid-19 lockdown

‘31.6% increase in person days’

On a query on the effect of the pandemic on the implementation of the scheme, the DoRD stated the number of person days generated had seen a 31.6 per cent increase in 2020-21 as compared to the previous financial year.

Person days is defined as the number of people working per day multiplied by the number of days worked.

“During the current FY 2020-21, about 1.57 crore new job cards have been issued (as on 28.01.2021)… During the current FY 2020-21 (as on 28.01.2021), 317 crore person days have been generated, which is 31.6% more than the person days generated in the previous financial year upto March 2020 (265 crore person days),” the DoRD noted. 

States like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Odisha saw a significant increase in the number of households which were issued job cards, in comparison with the previous year.

Other problems

Among the other issues the committee highlighted was the disparity in wages disbursed under the scheme to different states and union territories. 

“It is still beyond comprehension as to how is it possible that a single scheme having the provision of hundred days of guaranteed work to willing persons from the rural settings can have different yardstick when it comes to the payment modalities across the length and breadth of the country,” the committee said.

Wage rate under the scheme is revised every year on the basis of changes in the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour. 

The DoRD in its reply over the matter said that “each state/UT can provide over and above the wage-rate notified by the central government”.

“There is an average increase of Rs 18 wage rate per day per person from Rs 182 of last financial year to Rs 200 in the current financial year,” the DoRD stated.  

Other issues raised by the committee included the “large number of fake job cards”, “the callous approach of the state governments in the proper implementation of the provision of unemployment allowance” and the absence of “a prompt and urgent redressal to accident claims”. 

The committee also raised its concern over the unspent balance of Rs 40,293 crore across all schemes, which come under the rural development ministry. 

“In the light of the difficult Covid pandemic scenario prevailing in the country, the committee finds that it is essential on the part of DoRD to tighten its mechanism for early liquidation of these unspent balances that will make its own balance sheet clean and bring its financial health in order,” it said.  

(Edited by Debalina Dey)

Also read: Urban MGNREGA is a short-sighted idea, Modi govt has shown good sense to drop it


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