More workers are getting paid on time under the MGNREGA rural job scheme after the Supreme Court and Prime Minister Narendra Modi cracked the whip, as late payment threatened to derail India’s biggest anti-poverty project.
Delayed wages had been a major reason for beneficiaries opting out of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which brings work to millions of poor people in the countryside. It defeated the purpose of generating employment during distress in rural areas.
But the payment schedule has improved substantially, of late.
According to government figures, 62.21% of MGNREGA workers have been paid their dues within 15 days of completion of their work during April-June this year — the best performance since the scheme was introduced a decade ago. That’s a 65% jump, compared to 37.65% of workers getting their money on time in 2015.
The sharp rise in timely payment came after the Supreme Court pulled up the government over unpaid wages two months ago.
“It’s meaningless to have welfare schemes if affected persons do not receive assured benefits on time,” said a bench headed by Justice MB Lokur, hearing a petition on drought.
There are 27.76 crore registered MGNREGA workers and payment punctuality is imperative because successive droughts had shriveled farm income.
“It’s not sufficient to say so much has been allotted under a scheme. Those who worked under MNREGA are waiting for money. Why should people work without being paid? You can’t tell somebody to work today without money, which will be given after three months,” the court said.
The top court’s rap forced the government to improve the payment schedule and cut delays.
Prime Minister Modi stepped in too, hauling up officials at review meetings with the rural development ministry, sources said. He asked them to ensure timely payment and create assets under the MGNREGA.
“Instead of waiting for the states to disburse money, we sent money directly to banks for disbursal of wages into the accounts of beneficiaries. We started an internet-based master roll of workers and monitored the system rigorously,” a rural development official said.