New Delhi: The government owes crores of rupees to workers under its flagship rural jobs scheme as wages for April and May, even though payment is not supposed to be delayed by more than a fortnight.
Wage payments of Rs283 crore are due for the first two months of the ongoing fiscal under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, according to data available with the rural development ministry, which oversees the programme.
Figures for June and July are not available.
The scheme promises at least 100 days of work annually to one member of every rural household. At least 17.9 million households have benefited from the scheme since its launch in February 2006.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) also forms the government’s single largest social sector spending programme, with an allocation of Rs40,100 crore for the ongoing fiscal.
“The disbursement of daily wages shall be made on a weekly basis or in any case not later than a fortnight after the date on which such work was done,” the Act governing the scheme states.
But 23 states—including Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, which are often cited as exemplary for their execution of MGNREGS—are yet to make the payments for April and May, according to the ministry’s performance appraisal report.
West Bengal tops the list, with delayed wages standing at Rs83 crore, followed by Chhattisgarh at Rs31 crore and Rajasthan at Rs26 crore.
Officials at the rural development ministry said though delays in payment are not unusual, the current outstanding amount is fairly high for just two months.
“Basically, all these states have failed to pay some workers within the stipulated time period, which is 14 days. And given the amounts due, it seems that most workers have not received timely payment—which is a crucial requirement of this job guarantee scheme,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
Gujarat and some north-eastern states, such as Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, have made all their payments for April and May, according to the data.
The delays come at a time when workers are reeling under high inflation. Monthly inflation rose to 10.55% in June while food inflation stood at 9.67%.
Experts say that delayed payments defeat the purpose of the scheme.
“This is a standard problem. Looking at the social audits of Andhra Pradesh, it is clear this has been a recurrent problem since 2007 and if that is the case there, it is indicative of how it must be in other states,” said Yamini Aiyar, senior research fellow and director of the accountability initiative, Centre for Policy Research.
“However, what is quite shocking is (that) this problem is yet to be fixed,” she added. “Payments within 15 days of work has clearly been mentioned in the Act as a right of the workers. Defaulting on that is very serious.”