Research reveals delays, discrimination in MGNREGA payments

Only 26% of the workers from the ‘Other’ category got their payments in the mandated seven-day period and only 51% payments in 15 days. In case of SC workers, 46% of payments were made in 7 days

Representative Image
Representative Image

Ashlin Mathew

Ever since the current BJP-led central government initiated caste-based payments to workers under the Mahatma Gandhi Employment Guarantee Act, only 26% of the workers from the ‘Other’ category got their payments in the mandated seven-day period and only 51% payments in 15 days.

In case of Schedule Caste workers, 46% of payments were completed within seven-day period by the Central government and payment for 80% of payments to SCs was done in 15 days. This was 37% and 63% for workers from Schedule Tribes. For the ‘Other’ category, only 26% payments were completed in 7 days and only 51% payments in 15 days. This differential payment has triggered caste-based and religious tensions among MGNREGA workers.

This differential payment system comes at a time when rural India particularly has been reeling under the double whammy of Covid-19-triggered job losses and inflation. The non-uniform disbursal of payments has affected the most vulnerable section of the people even as it strikes at the universality of the Mahatma Gandhi Employment Guarantee Act. Moreover, it is against the MGNREGA Act to be biased while providing equal work and wages.

All MGNREGA workers have the same entitlements, including the right to payment within fifteen days. For each day’s delay, the workers are entitled to a delay compensation of 0.05% per day of the wages earned. At least 14.64% of total payments for the first six months of 2021 are pending to be paid by the union government.

In the study released by LibTech India on Friday, October 29, it was revealed that even during these pandemic times, the union government delayed 71% of the MGNREGA payments and 44% of the transactions exceeded 15 days.

This graph shows the impact of caste-based segregation across states. It is particularly worse in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal
This graph shows the impact of caste-based segregation across states. It is particularly worse in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal

Half or more than half of the payments in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal exceeded 15 days, while two-thirds transactions in Jharkhand exceeded 15 days. At least 45% of the wage payments to workers in West Bengal were pending as of October 13 and no wage payments had been processed between August 15 and October 13 in West Bengal despite it being the festival season. In Kerala, 63% of the payments occurred within the mandated period and 90% of the payment within 15 days.

Throughout, from May to September, payments to SC/ST workers happened much quicker than workers of “Other” category. The difference in payments from the union government by caste was highest in September, with nearly 3 out of 4 SC/ST payments being completed in 15 days while only 1 out of 4 payments to ‘Other’ was completed in 15 days.

“Not only are the payments for the ‘Other’ category workers delayed by 1.5 times more than SC workers, but this has also resulted in caste-based and religious tensions among MGNREGA workers. The government should be paying all the workers with the mandated seven-day period instead of tinkering with the payment system,” asserted Rajendran Narayanan, assistant professor at Azim Premji University and researcher on accountability of government programmes such as MNREGA, Public Distribution Systems and pensions. This is at odds with the universality of the programme.

Economist Jean Drèze has repeatedly said that affirmative action is built into the scheme, particularly because workers mostly come from disadvantaged social groups. More than half of all MGNREGA workers are women and almost 40% are SC/ST.

This move to segregate payments on the basis of caste had led to criticism from a number of states, especially from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Several states had indicated to the Central government that the trifurcation of the wage accounts had further deepened caste divisions within village communities. The TN government in its representation to the Centre in September had stated that the release of funds on the basis of the categories raised fears among the at-risk population in the state.

The Karnataka government, in a letter dated September 3, asked the Centre to switch to the older system in which there was a single account for funds. The letter underscored that “the SC account received funds six times in August. But during the same period, funds have not been received in ST and Others category accounts despite wage demand being generated in all categories”. Field functionaries were not able to explain the reasons to MGNREGA workers whose wages were pending. “Certain categories receive wages before others and this is causing operational inconvenience,” the letter added.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had also noted that its field report indicated a deepening of caste division within village communities as the workers were segregated into three groups — Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Others.

This study also brought to the fore the reality that there was no difference in the time taken to transfer wages between Aadhaar-based systems and account-based systems. “On the contrary, when MGREGA payments get rejected, it takes a herculean effort to resolve Aadhaar-based payment rejections as it is much more complicated than resolving account-based payment rejections. This merits an independent cost-benefit analysis of Aadhaar based system,” added Narayanan. This study was based on 18 lakh fund transfers from 10 states.

It was revealed that the remaining MGNREGA funds can only cover at most 13 days of employment per household till March 31, 2022. Almost 90% of total allocated funds have been utilised. At least 9.71 crore job cards were active as on September 30, 2021. Out of these active job cards, 6.68 crore demanded work this year. It was also found that 13.25% of the total households that demanded employment did not get employment under MGNREGA.

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Published: 29 Oct 2021, 5:41 PM