With the central government reducing the budget for the National Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) scheme, the Himachal government is worried about an impending shortage of manpower throughout the state.
Wages amounting to around 80 crore are pending in the state due to the lower budget being allocated by the central government and payments totalling over Rs 3 crore have been delayed for three months.
Recently the central government released an installment of Rs 79 crore but the amount was exhausted to meet the liabilities. The state's expenditure for the NREGA scheme has crossed Rs 600 crore while the central government has allocated only about Rs 300 so far.
"NREGA is a demand based scheme. Job card holders are provided work as per their demand. Against the required amount the central government paid us less that is hampering NREGA projects in the state. The state government will now urge the central government to provide financial assistance to sustain the job guarantee scheme. However, since payment of wages has been delayed we are finding it tough to retain job NREGA card holders," said state rural development minister Anil Sharma.
However, NREGA is facing several problems besides a funds crunch. Jeet Ram, a 54-year-old NREGA job card holder in Shimla district, said the wages were less than that those paid to him for private work. If I work at for someone at his orchard or at home, I will get nearly Rs 350 per day and one time meal, which is almost double of what I'll get under NREGA," he added.
During his recent visit to New Delhi, Sharma met higher officials in the ministry and raised issues pertaining to NREGA funds. "Under NREGA the state is paying Rs 154 as daily wages, while the minimum daily wages notified in the scheme is Rs 170. According to government statistics, from the 1.17 million job card holders covering 540,000 lakh households in the state, nearly 55,429 households completed the 100-day NREGA programme. Disparity in wages is also a liability on the state that needs to be cleared," Sharma said.