New Delhi: Inadequate funds, delayed payments and falling real wages have hurt implementation of the rural employment guarantee scheme at a time when rural distress is worsening, a pan-India coalition of non-profits and individuals working to ensure rights of workers under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) said on Monday.

Half of the financial year (2016-17) is left but about 75% of the Rs48,000 crore budgeted under the scheme has been spent and there are no indications from the finance ministry of additional funds, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha said while launching a demonstration in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Monday.

According to the coalition, public expenditure on the scheme, which guarantees 100 days of work to rural households as a safety net mechanism, fell from 0.6% of GDP in 2009-10 to 0.31% in 2016-17.

“Of the Rs48,000 crore budget for the year, Rs11,000 crore went to settle previous year’s dues impacting employment created during the year," said Nikhil Dey from the non-profit Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, adding, “funds under the scheme available with five states (Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Nagaland) are in negative balance, meaning they are unable to pay those who have already worked under the scheme."

While inadequate funds are impacting work generation, average wages under the scheme fell in real terms, the coalition claimed. Average real wages fell from Rs142 per day in 2014-15 to Rs136 per day in 2016-17 (at 2012-13 prices), it said. During this period, nominal wages rose from Rs169 to Rs176 per day.

Citing a random sampling analysis of data from the scheme’s website, members of the coalition said that only 21% of the wage payments were made within the stipulated 15 days after working under the scheme in 2016-17.

Workers were also not paid compensation due to delayed wage payments—stipulated at 0.05% for every day of delay under the MGNREGS Act. The data showed that of Rs4,215 crore due to workers, only Rs170 crore were approved by the Centre.

“Besides delays in wage payments, the government has refused to align MGNREGS wages in line with state-wise minimum wages...leading to per day wage increase of just Rs1 in a state like Jharkhand and Rs4 in West Bengal," said Anuradha Talwar of the West Bengal Farmer Labour Union.

Talwar added that delays in payments, low wages and inadequate work generated is forcing the rural poor to move away from the program at a time of worsening rural distress and falling farm incomes.

Government data shows that rural households employed under the scheme got 46 days of work annually, in the past five years (till 2016-17). During this period, only 8.5% of households which participated under the scheme managed to get the guaranteed 100 days of work.

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