Slow Death of MNREGA


The Ministry of Rural Development is restricting MNREGA from attaining it’s full potential and at the same time  dictating it’s  implementation  by not honoring local  knowledge and decision making.

As per the ACT,  the Gram Sabha has the sole power and responsibilities for  the planning of the schemes under MNREGA and The  Gram Panchayats will be responsible for identification of schemes as per recommendation from the Gram sabhas and Ward sabhas.  As per Section 16(I)  of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee ACT “The Gram panchayats shall be responsible for identification of projects in the Gram Panchayat area to be taken up under a scheme as per the recommendations of the Gram sabha and Ward sabhas and for executing and supervising such works”. Further Section 16(III) mentions “ Every Gram Panchayat shall, after considering the recommendations of the Gram sabha and the ward sabhas prepare a development plan and maintain a shelf of possible works to be taken up under the scheme as and when demand for work arises.”  While the ACT clearly honors the local knowledge, wisdom, contextual realities and local decision making, however, the implementation of the ACT  in the last 12 years  have been majorly driven by top- bottom processes wherein type of schemes, number of schemes,  budget and even the payments and it’s processes being dictated centrally, leading to  a gradual dilution of the spirit of the ACT, which was originally aimed at strengthening of decentralized  governance and empowering local governments.

The basic idea of the  ACT was to ensure  a demand based employment guarantee to the rural households which was done to keep the control of the programme with the people but with flawed implementation strategies and lack of monitoring, local contractors, middle men with help from the local administration and influential elites never allowed the bottom-up processes to establish. On the top of everything , the top administration at the centre had never believed in the idea of power devolution  and had run the programme like a construction scheme at the villages, where the workers were seen as  mere “ tools” for creating assets, by the government. MNREGA has been a story of great labour exploitation and powerlessness ,since the last 12 years primarily because of the political ignorance and  bureaucratic mismanagement.

The budget capping has been  constantly restricting the scope of MNREGA in the rural areas. Currently there are about 12 crore MNREGA job card holders out of which 7.5 crores are termed as active job cards by the government( A job card which has at-least 1 day registered as work done in the last three financial years, including the current one, is termed as active job cards as per the government). However, this definition of  active workers cannot be fully believed as people who are acquainted with rural realities know that many workers have left MNREGA jobs years ago when they never got paid for their work and do not want to take up MNREGA work as for the uncertainty in payments involved with it. Many of these workers have migrated permanently as well. Thus the governments argument that the inactive job card holders have withdrawn from MNREGA works is only half truth as it never tried to delve into reasons why these people have chosen to refrain from MNREGA and never tried to address their issues.

However, considering the official figures, the current allocation of 55000 crores seems to be insufficient even if all the  eligible families want  to complete 50 days of employment in a year.  As a result every year by October about 80-90% of the funds get exhausted and the administration slows down the sanctioning orders to the states resulting in major decline in work in the peak working season after paddy harvest.

It is important to understand that for the last two consecutive years( 2016-17 and 2017-18) the government has been  allocating supplementary allocations to meet the expenses. Those allocations too are miserly done and insufficient. In the year 2016-17  the original budget was 37500 crores and the government had to allocate an additional 10000crores during the year. The very next year the finance minister had bragged proudly of the highest ever allocations of 48000crores, a 10500 crores more than the previous year, while it was just an increase of 500 crores in real terms. In 2017-18 the government again added a supplementary allocation of 7000crores to make it 55000 crores and which is continued to be the same in 2018-19 as well.

Thrice last year, payments have stopped from the central government  for different reasons. The major reason for frozen payments is  lack of funds at the central government as 87% of the funds got exhausted within the first 6 months and payments to workers had stopped from the central government which further took no action to compensate the workers as per the ACT and the NREGAMIS continued to show an impressive 85% on time payments generations during the year which goes to show the in-effectiveness of the NREGAMIS as well. It has exposed that the credibility of the NREGA MIS is questionable and the system should be re-examined.

One of the other major reasons was that the Ministry withholds wage payments for workers of states that do not meet administrative requirements within the stipulated time period (e.g. submission of the previous financial year’s audited fund statements, utilization certificates, bank reconciliation certificates etc) or against whom complaints of implementation irregularities are learnt of. There is no legal basis of penalizing workers for lapses by their state governments. Further, no penalties are levied on states for their misconduct. The Ministry can infact require states to bear the burden of wage payments for the duration that it takes them to submit the required documents or take corrective action for its lapses. Last year from 31st August  about 3066crores wage money was pending for about two months from the central government due to such administrative delays and no compensation for the same were provided.

This year too about 80% of the NREGA funds have been released by the centre with 5.5 months still to go, which goes to show that the government do not want to take a lesson from the previous failures and it is blind to the protests and agitations by the workers.

The fund insufficiency and untimely payments have made MNREGA weaker in the past few years, further adding to the implementation flaws and lack of monitoring. The fund crisis at the peak working seasons and long payment delays due to inadequate supply has made life miserable for the workers. Considering the fact that MNREGA wages  are not lucrative enough and wages of 17 states are even lower than the state’s agricultural minimum wage, the irregularities in fund flow and payments further adds salt to the injury.

As 7.5 crores MNREGA workers helplessly working at the ground, uncertain of their payments and expecting a respectable  daily wage being paid  to them and  on time, it will be important to see how the BJP Government respond to the occasion considering the elections next year.

Debmalya Nandy is working in Jharkhand and odisha with the tribal population for the past 10 years and specially on MNREGA and other social security programme.

Further Reading list–60623



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