Most of the workers in MGNREGA, the Centre’s rural job scheme, did not receive timely wages in 2016-17, underlining a challenge for the Narendra Modi government.
Even as the scheme, which is aimed to provide an alternate source of income for rural people, has shown positive trends in some key areas, the issue of delay in payment remains unresolved.
Only 47.5% workers received their wages within 15 days of work in the financial year that ended on March 31.
Wages are directly transferred to a worker’s bank account seeded to his or her Aadhaar number. The delay in payment comes amid the government’s overall thrust to expand the scope of Aadhaar in daily lives.
“This is something we have taken as a challenge,” rural development secretary Amarjeet Sinha said. “After September, we need to check utilisation certificates and other things to disburse the next round of wages. Often, the states don’t act in time and that prompts a delay. There is, however, no problem with funds,” he added.
The delay in payments marred the ambitious scheme from the beginning, acting as a deterrent to many workers who try to seek an assured, alternate income to agricultural and other activities.
Even as 2016-17 clocked the best rate so far of timely payment under the NDA rule, it is still lower than what the Congress-led UPA achieved in its last two years of government.
Former rural development minister Jairam Ramesh saw the delay in payment as a “structural issue” that needs proper attention.
“Long before Modi came to power, the MGNREGA payments were seeded to Aadhaar and going to banks. There are three reasons for the delay: unavailability of money at local level, accessibility of banks and post offices and incomplete master-roles.” Ramesh said.
Sinha, meanwhile, is banking on the electronic payment transfer system to improve timely payment of wages in the next year. He has set an ambitious target. “We hope to give 75% people wages on time in 2017-18. This year, the funds will also come early due to early budget.”
Even as timely payment remains a sore area, the rural job guarantee programme has been able to spend 68% of its money on agriculture and related activities — a major thrust area for the Prime Minister.
The latest statistics also reveal that women comprise 56% of MGNREGA workers, a welcome development for many.
“It shows women in states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are opting for MGNREGA work as an extra source of family income. There are also increasing number of jobs that suit women workers,” Sinha added.