New Delhi: Unemployment allowance promised to workers who can’t get jobs under the Union government’s flagship rural job guarantee programme is not being paid in most parts of the country, according to data available with the rural development ministry, which oversees the scheme.
Most state governments are not even keeping track of the number of unemployed workers under the scheme—which means they are unlikely to be paid retrospectively even if the Union government cracks the whip.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or NREGS, promises 100 days of work every year to at least one member of every rural household. State governments that can’t provide work to job seekers within 15 days of application have to pay them an unemployment allowance.
But since NREGS was launched in 2005, only seven states—Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka, West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and Jharkhand—have paid workers the allowance. Even in these states, the payments have been restricted to a few districts each.
Irregular work: Villagers of Bazida Jattan in Haryana engaged under the NREGA project. Job seekers are entitled to an allowance if they are not given work within 15 days of application under the scheme. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, 1,574 applicants were paid Rs4.75 lakh as unemployment allowance in Badwani district during 2006-07. In West Bengal, eight applicants in South 24 Parganas district were paid 14 days’ unemployment allowance in 2007-08. Orissa has paid 543 job seekers Rs1.03 lakh as unemployment allowance in three districts—Nawarangpur, Kalahandi and Balangir.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act stipulates that the rate of the allowance has to be fixed by state governments in consultation with state councils. But it should not be less than one-fourth of the wages for the first 30 days of unemployment, and half the wages beyond.
According to the ministry, no unemployment allowance has been paid by the governments of Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Nagaland. Data is still being collected for remaining states.
Worse, the public accounts committee on the implementation of NREGS in 2009-10 has told Parliament that job applications were not “documented or dated”, and dated receipts for such applications were not issued “in most cases”.
This means the entitlement of most unemployed job seekers cannot be established.
“Audit review has revealed that in 282 gram panchayats (village councils) in 21 states, dated receipt of applications for demand for work were not given, and employment registers were not maintained in 329 gram panchayats in 19 states,” the committee said.
Rural development ministry officials said the states may not have paid the allowance simply because there may be no unemployed job seekers under NREGS there.
“If there is no evidence of work being demanded and not provided within 15 days, then the question of unemployment allowance does not even arise. It is possible that in all other states, work is being provided within 15 days to all those who are formally demanding it,” said an official, who did not want to be identified.