Non-SC, non-ST workers face brunt of delay in NREGA wage payment: LibTech report

A new report by non-profit LibTech India has objected to what inordinate delay in wage payments in the rural jobs scheme under NREGA to the rural workers belonging to the non-SC and non-ST categories

Non-SC, non-ST workers face brunt of delay in NREGA wage payment: LibTech report

Rajiv Shah

A new report by non-profit LibTech India, which comprises of engineers, activists and social scientists as its members, has objected to what inordinate delay in wage payments in the rural jobs scheme under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to the rural workers belonging to the non-scheduled caste (SC) and non-scheduled tribe (ST) categories.

Claiming to engage with workers, civil society organisations, and the government on public services delivery at large, and NREGA in particular, the report, titled “Heavy Wait”, seeks to analyse wage payment delays under NREGA from April to September 2021. The Government of India decided on March 2, 2021, through a circular, to change the payment system so that payments would be made separately based on the caste of workers (SC, ST, and ‘Others’).

Giving its explanation for the new caste-based system of payment, while the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), Government of India, is quoted as stating that this was done “for better accounting purposes”, a senior Ministry official has been cited as insisting, “While the Act does not distinguish between APL and BPL and vulnerable/non-vulnerable, we have to intelligently communicate to the district/block/GP authorities to learn to target.”

According to LibTech, “As we found, not only has it created massive administrative hassle for computer operators but has also caused tension among workers along caste and religious lines. Such technical intervention has not created any social protection. Tinkering with the payment process without consultation and playing with the universality of the programme sends a concerning signal given that there is a precedence of attacking the universality of NREGA.”

It insists, “Across States, there are reports that the caste-based segregation of Funds Transfer Order (FTOs) has led to increased work for government functionaries in blocks, increased friction amongst different castes, and even led to communal tensions in areas where the ‘Other’ population is predominantly Muslim.”

LibTech says, the Government of India is reportedly reconsidering the caste based segregation of FTOs, and “rightly so”, since “such a move is urgently needed”, though regretting, “As on date, there has been no official communication to rescind the caste-based FTO segregation.”

The law provides for a two tier clearance for NREGA payments. On completion of work, an FTO with worker details is digitally sent to the Central government by panchayat/block. This is called Stage 1 and it’s the State’s responsibility. The Central government processes the FTOs and transfers wages directly to the workers’ accounts.

This is called Stage 2, which is entirely the Central government’s responsibility. Stage 1 must be completed in 8 days and Stage 2 must be completed within 7 days after Stage 1. Workers are entitled to delay compensation for each day’s delay beyond 15 days.

Non-SC, non-ST workers face brunt of delay in NREGA wage payment: LibTech report

Offering figures of delay caused to the Other category in payment of NREGA wages, LibTech says, the breakup of the two stages of clearance suggests that the percentage of Stage 1 and Stage 2 transactions is lowest for Other categories at 26% and 51% respectively, and highest for SCs at 46% and 80% respectively.

Noting that this “highlights the differentiation in delays across caste categories”, the report asserts, an analysis of the monthly trend of the three castes shows that, while in April the percentage of transactions getting processed for Stages 1 and 2 was higher for the Other castes, “the picture changed substantially in the subsequent months.”

Thus, “Throughout, from May to September, workers of the Other category faced significantly higher delays compared to SCs and STs.” In fact, “The Stage 2 delays increased sharply from July to September for Others. In September, while nearly 75% of the SC and ST payments were completed in 15 days, only 25% payments of the Other category were completed in 15 days.”

At the same time, LibTech notices “great deal of variation in the relative performance of payments to different caste groups amongst the states.” Thus, “In Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, percentage of payments taking more than 7, 15 and 30 days is much higher for Other castes and similar for SCs and STs. In Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh, percent of payments taking more than 7, 15 and 30 days is much higher for STs and similar for Other castes and SCs. In Karnataka and West Bengal, percent of payments taking more than 7 days is highest for other categories followed by SCs and STs.”

Based on random sample of 10% of FTOs from 1 block per district per state for 10 states – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal – between April, 2021 and September, 2021, the report finds, overall, 44% of the transactions exceeded the 15 days period – during which the payments should be made. In 14% of cases, the delay was beyond 30 days. “Some of the poorer states suffer higher delays”, it adds.

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines