Despite the BJP-led government’s focus on correcting the problem of delayed wages under the rural jobs guarantee scheme, the performance on this parameter has been abysmally low this financial year so far, with just a little over one-third of the workers under the scheme paid on time.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), introduced in 2006, promises 100 days of employment every year to each rural household. The Act requires workers to be paid within 15 days of work being completed. However, delay in wage payments has been a major issue, causing dissatisfaction among the workers and bringing widespread criticism to the scheme.
After taking charge in end May, the BJP-led government has focussed extensively on ensuring that workers are paid on time, with Rural Development Minister Nitin Gadkari emphasising on the issue at several forums. On July 10 this year, the ministry issued a circular to all states claiming there would be “zero tolerance for delays in wage payments”.
According to the latest data of the ministry, only 36 per cent workers registered under the scheme have been paid within the stipulated 15 days from April to August this fiscal. The new government took charge on May 26 this year. This figure is significantly lower than that in the previous three fiscal years at 45, 63 and 58 per cent, respectively. Thus, while the proportion of workers paid in time has been consistently low, the figures this year seem to be at the lowest so far.
Ministry officials attribute the poor statistics to a “lag in data entry” and claim the numbers will pick up. Some others, however, point out that with a shift to the ‘e-FMS’ system, data lag should not really be an issue and the low figures denote poor performance of the scheme on this key parameter.
The ministry has already instituted a delay compensation system, under which the workers are entitled to receive a compensation at a rate of 0.05 per cent of the unpaid wages per day for the duration of delay beyond the 16th day, with penalties being imposed on officials identified as being responsible for the delay.