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Procedural lapses have marred the implementation of the state-funded job guarantee programme aimed at alleviating rural distress in India, according to a review of the scheme in eight states by the rural development ministry.

While delays in disbursal of funds for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) have held up wage payments in Madhya Pradesh, no work has been undertaken under the scheme in many drought-hit villages in Maharashtra because of lack of awareness, according to the review, which also reported poor work-site amenities in most states and the absence of a grievance-redressal mechanism.

Delays in payment and indifferent implementation, among other reasons, have blunted the programme’s effectiveness in providing relief to people affected by back-to-back years of drought.

The Supreme Court last month ordered the centre to release adequate funds to cut down delays in wage payments to provide relief to the drought-hit. A similar review by a civil society organization last week found tardy implementation of the top court’s orders.

The ministry’s review of MGNREGS, which assures 100 days of work to rural households and 150 days in drought-hit areas, is based on field visits by technical experts in early May to two districts each in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Tripura.

Inadequate flow of funds (from the centre to states) emerged as a critical issue in the financial administration of the scheme, the review noted. “In Madhya Pradesh, there is a serious financial crunch in the flow of funds vis-a-vis demand on the ground and works taken up," the report said.

The state faced a fund backlog of 947 crore in 2014-15 and 1,168 crore in 2015-16—both drought years when demand for work under MGNREGS was high.

Fund shortages have led to non-payment of wages “even after a year of completion of work", the review said, adding that the scheme has “lost its credibility" among rural households.

In contrast, Jharkhand and Karnataka have been lauded for their efforts to ensure wage payment. While in Jharkhand, the government is operating a revolving fund of 450 crore to pay the wages within 15 days of completion of work, in Karnataka, the rural development department has taken an advance from the state treasury to tide over fund shortages, the report said.

The Supreme Court had also asked the centre to compensate workers whose wages have been delayed by more than the stipulated 15 days. Under the scheme, workers are entitled to 0.05% of wages per day for each day’s delay in payment.

“We are quite pained to note that the government of India has made no provision for this compensation while releasing the wages for 2015-16 of 7,983 crore," the court said.

“This is extremely unfortunate and certainly does not behove a welfare state in any situation, more so in a drought situation. Social justice has been thrown out of the window by the government of India," the court added.

The review said that delays in payments to material suppliers in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh led to incomplete work or delays in starting new work, as suppliers did not allow projects to start till their arrears were cleared. Payments were also delayed due to glitches in the banking system in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Odisha, the review said.

In Maharashtra, the review noted that villages in drought-affected areas did not take up work under the scheme due to lack of demand, awareness and mobilization.

The review team also noted that mandated worksite facilities such as drinking water, first-aid and crèches for children of working women were not “adequately available".

The report concluded that the scheme “functioned adequately to reduce distress migration and act as a safety net". However, it advised the ministry to undertake a rigorous analysis of the reasons for delay in payments and monitor average days of work provided to households in drought-hit districts.

“Data from the ministry shows that the centre needs to pay 216 crore to workers as compensation for delay in wage payments but it is yet to provide this meagre amount," said Nikhil Dey of the Soochna Evum Rozgar Abhiyaan (movement for right to information and employment) in a 16 June review by the civil society organization on the implementation of Supreme Court orders.

Dey added that the centre is yet to clear pending payments of 5,500 crore, adding that he did not find it surprising that the ministry’s own review describes the scheme as having lost credibility.

The centre had promised the court that the scheme would provide an additional 50 days of employment in drought-hit districts and that this would be extended to 2016-17. However, only Karnataka (among 11 states which declared themselves drought-hit) has received the clearance from the centre, Dey said.

“For the government, the drought ended with the last financial year (2015-16) in March," he said.

However, according to the ministry’s website, the provision for 150 days of work was extended to Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh on 17 June, after a delay of more than two months. The ministry has also asked states to compensate workers for wage delays by 30 June.

The was the first time that the rural development ministry commissioned a review of MGNREGS and it seeks to address complaints related to wage delays and creation of durable assets, said a ministry official who did not want to be named.

“The centre has released 24,000 crore to states (in 2016-17) to ensure payments are on time. This includes penalty for non-payment of wages," the officer said, adding, “It is our aim that 75% of workers get paid within 15 days. We have asked for more money to keep the programme going (as the department is left with 14,500 crore for the remaining year). (But) If the monsoon is good then the demand for work will come down."

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