Is MGNREGA a ‘gift’ from the government?

If wages are delayed and funds withheld, it discourages the poor from seeking work. Is that really the plan that the government is working on?

Photo by Arun Sharma/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Arun Sharma/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH National Bureau

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme provided for 100 days of guaranteed employment on demand so that they receive immediate payment for the work done in times of distress, drought and unemployment.

But over the last three years, the Modi government has been treating it increasingly as a discretionary, welfare scheme with the Centre “determining” beneficiaries and when they would receive their wages. “But it is not a gift from the government,” said economist Jayati Ghosh while pointing out that it was an entitlement of the poor.

Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Professor Jayati Ghosh from Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Ankita Agrawal, an independent researcher, and Kamayani Swamy, a member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) alleged that as much as ₹11,000 crore in wages for work done in 2016-17 were held back by the government, defeating the very purpose of the Act.

Delayed payment, they pointed out, discourage people from seeking work.

“When a poor worker is not paid for the work that she has done or partly paid after a long time, it will only discourage her from seeking job again under the scheme. This seems to be the larger and more diabolical plan of the government,” added Dey.

  • A circular issued last year retained the workers’ right to compensation at the rate of 0.05% per day for the pending amount but added the provision that no compensation would be paid if there is a delay in the release of funds by the Centre.
  • Recently, the government reportedly removed about 10 million ‘ fake and dubious’ job card holders under the MGNREGA. But, then, why was no action initiated against a single government employee for allowing the fraud and siphoning away the funds?
  • The labour budget projected by the states for 2017-18 is 288 crore person days which would amount to ₹69,120 crore. Once last year’s arrears are added to it, the requirement is ₹79,898 crore.
  • But the Union Budget has provided for ₹48,000 crore, which is ₹31,000 crore short of the requirement.
  • Rural Development Ministry has perversely described the money denied to the poor villagers as ‘saving’ to the government although there is no consolidated list of job cards deleted, no methodology prescribed and no reasoning provided.

“Since coming to power in 2014, there has been a concerted effort by the BJP Government to somehow wind up the scheme,” says Annie Raja of National Federation of Indian Women.

However, the Joint Secretary in the Rural Development Ministry in charge of the MGNREGA, Aparajita Sarangi, is quoted by The Telegraph as saying that delay in generating pay orders by state governments was responsible for the delayed payment. The buck is just being passed on while the poor continue to suffer.

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