Rural job guarantee scheme MGNREGA reported over Rs 8,000 crore in unpaid wages for the 2015-16 fiscal that ended on Thursday, the highest in recent years.
Civil society activists said the huge liability will eat into the budgetary allocation of Rs 38,500 crore for the current fiscal, thus painting grim prospects for the UPA-era scheme that guarantees 100 days of work to people in rural areas.
Other than unpaid wages of Rs 8,261 crore, government records show another Rs 3,686 crore as amount not paid for material used in 2015-16.
“The combined total of Rs 12,000 crore as liability means the states will spend a large sum of the current allocation in paying dues for last year and after doing so they will be left with only Rs 26,500 crore for the entire year,” said Nikhil Dey of the Majdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, an NGO.
West Bengal tops the list of states that has wage dues, with a Rs 2,400 crore burden. Uttar Pradesh with Rs 663 crore is a distant second, followed by Assam’s Rs 487 crore, Madhya Pradesh’s Rs 480 crore and Bihar’s Rs 454 crore.
The job scheme, designed as a safety net to reduce migration of the rural poor by providing them with work and wages close to their homes, could be starved of funds when a lingering drought in several states might trigger a spurt in demand for work in the countryside, Dey said.
He and other rural welfare campaigners had demanded a minimum of Rs 50,000 crore for the current financial year to meet the demand for work, which they predicted would be higher than 2015-16.
In the previous fiscal, Rs 34,699 crore was allocated and it proved inadequate to meet the demand.
As many as 12 states exhausted their funds by December, three months before the financial year closed.
But the government could possibly take heart from predictions of a normal monsoon this June-September season as the country’s rain-driven agrarian economy may look up after a string of drought-like years.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), rechristened after Mahatma Gandhi, completed a decade this year since its launch at Bandlapalli village in Andhra Pradesh in 2006.