The UPA's flagship rural job entitlement scheme is facing payment hitches as more than 10 million beneficiaries were not paid on time in the last fiscal, government data has revealed.
Of the 10 million, 2.5 million Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) scheme beneficiaries had to wait for more than three months for the wages, says the management information system data of the ministry of rural development.
The Union government-funded scheme requires that the wages be paid within 15 days of work being done. In case of a delay, a beneficiary is entitled to compensation as per the Payment of Wages Act, but it is not being done.
A senior ministry official said states were being asked to streamline processes. "So far as delays in banks etc are concerned, the ministry has introduced an IT-based solution called "e-FMS," said DK Jain, a joint secretary in the ministry.
Digitally-signed files were being sent to banks so that payments were cleared in not more than two days, he said.
Delays and denial of compensation cause hardship to the beneficiaries, among the poorest of the poor, forcing them to migrate or take up low-paid jobs.
"Can you imagine wages of government servants being delayed for so many days? In MGNREGA, in some cases labourers have not got their wages for more than eight months also," said social activist Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, which workers with farmers and labourers.
Activists also contest the data and say the numbers of workers receiving late payments are in excess of 10 million, accusing some states of underreporting the data.
West Bengal is among the worst offenders, with more than 2.7 million people not being paid on time. Of the Rs 2,649.71 crore disbursed as wages during the financial year 2012-13, 71.4% was delayed payment. As many as 660,000 workers were paid after three months.
In stark contrast, Tamil Nadu, which disbursed highest amount in (Rs 3,948.61 crore) wages in the same period, paid almost everyone on time. Bihar has the highest number of people - 800,000 - who got their wages after three months.
It is not just the non-Congress states that are lagging. Kerala and Rajasthan, too, failed to pay 1.3 million and 1.1 million people on time, respectively. In drought-hit Maharashtra, the Congress-led government failed to pay more than 600,000 workers on time.
Delay in submitting muster rolls, sanctioning of payment orders by district officials and clearing of payment are among the reasons that beneficiaries are forced to wait.
Launched in 2005, MGNREGA scheme is the world's biggest job gurantee programme that assures a minimum 100 days of work to anyone who applies in rural India.