The central government is failing to ensure timely payments for the work carried out by labourers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MN-NREGA) scheme in the past few months, complains a civil society group.
The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a group comprising of workers' collectives, trade unions, organisations and individuals that closely track India's flagship employment guarantee scheme, says that 99 per cent of the Fund Transfer Orders (FTOs) for NREGA wage payments sent to the Public Finance Management (PFMS) in April 2018 remains unprocessed. For the month of March, the percentage of unprocessed payments or FTOs stands at 86. Almost 64 per cent of the FTOs of February also remain unprocessed, they complain.
It was in January 2016 that the central government introduced the National Electronic Fund Management System (NEFMS) to streamline the process of NREGA wage payments. Civil society groups allege that the system had only tightened the ministry's control over NREGA funds as it 'routinely withholds the processing of FTOs'.
"Last year, the Ministry froze processing of FTOs worth over Rs 3,000 crores due to lack of NREGA funds. It may be recalled that in August 2017, the Ministry of Rural Development demanded a supplementary NREGA budget of Rs 17,000 crore, but the Ministry of Finance approved only Rs 7,000 crore, that too in January 2018. As inadequate funds should not be a problem at the beginning of a financial year, the reason for the current non-processing of FTOs is not clear", Jean Dreze, a development economist and activist says.
In an interim directive in ongoing public interest litigation by Swaraj Abhiyan, the Supreme Court had instructed the government to ensure that workers are paid within 15 days of doing work. The activists say that the situation of long and unpredictable delays in NREGA wage payments continues despite the Supreme Court directive. Incidentally, there is a clause which entitles the workers for compensation if the payments are delayed beyond a fixed time.
Last year, the activists had produced documents to show that the finance ministry had itself accepted the problem of partial payment of compensation, but stated that the full payment for the entire duration of delay will be a heavy financial burden on the government. "As the Modi government failed to curtail NREGA through overt measures such as restricting the programme to the poorest districts or reducing the wage - material ratio, it has resorted to undermining the Act by starving it of funds", the Morcha states.