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MGNREGA wage clearance improves, but still not reaching workers on time

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Rural Development Ministry says crediting wages in workers’ accounts within the 15-day time limit will be its key focus in FY 2018-19.

New Delhi: The delay in payment of wages under the flagship rural employment guarantee scheme has seen significant improvement this financial year, with 85 per cent wages cleared in time, as against 43 per cent last year.

But cleared wages reaching the beneficiaries’ accounts on time continues to remain a challenge. Ensuring timely crediting of wages in accounts will be the Rural Development Ministry’s key focus in FY 2018-19, highly-placed sources in the ministry told ThePrint.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) promises 100 days of employment every year to each rural household. The law mandates that wages should be paid within 15 days of completion of work.

Delays in wage payments are not a one-off phenomenon; they’ve remained a constant problem across years and governments. In the previous fiscals — 2015-16, 2014-15, 2013-14 and 2012-13 — the percentage of wages paid on time was only 36.95 per cent, 26.85 per cent, 50.09 per cent and 50 per cent respectively. These delays have happened despite the government promoting the e-FMS system for MGNREGA and also bringing in the Aadhaar-enabled payment platform.

“While we have managed to address delays in wage payments to a significant extent, with now 85 per cent paid on time, we still face the issue of the wages not reaching the beneficiaries’ accounts on time. Around 30 per cent of the cleared wages do not reach workers’ accounts on time,” a senior ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

Sources say while the biggest issue is coordination with banks, which has been resolved to a great extent now, other operational issues, including delays in transferring money to states by the Centre because of them not meeting compliance standards, remain.

“Our key focus in 2018-19 will be to ensure that wages are not just generated on time, but also reach the hands of the beneficiary as provided by the act,” the ministry official said.

The government has been focusing its efforts on correcting the delays and has even issued circulars to all states claiming there would be “zero tolerance for delays in wage payments”. The ministry has already instituted a delay compensation system, under which the workers are entitled to receive a compensation at a rate of 0.05 per cent of the unpaid wages per day for the duration of delay beyond the 16th day, with penalties being imposed on officials identified as being responsible for the delay. The Supreme Court has also pulled up the Centre over such delays.

The scheme, introduced in February 2006, had been given a budget allocation of Rs 48,000 crore in 2017-18. The figure is likely to see a rise in the budget for 2018-19, to be presented Thursday.

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