Five districts in Chhattisgarh will be allowed to pay MGNREGA wages in cash

Warning that delays in wage payments were crippling the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in Chhattisgarh's Maoist-affected districts, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh outlined his Ministry's latest attempts to jumpstart development in these areas.

In the past, Mr. Ramesh has spoken of prioritising development in the country's 60 ‘Left Wing Extremism' [LWE] districts as a crucial prong in his government's battle against the guerilla army of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Speaking at a press conference here, scheduled after a three-day visit to the State, Mr. Ramesh said five districts in south Chhattisgarh would be allowed to disburse MGNREGA wages in cash, rather than through the bank accounts of job card holders.

“I am not happy about it, but we are compelled to do this in the absence of a banking sector in these areas… otherwise it was taking up to 6 months to make payments,” Mr. Ramesh said, pointing out that Rs. 40 lakh had been paid in four months to 1,000 villagers in Bijapur district over the last four months. Mr. Ramesh said each cash payment would be made in the presence of gram panchayat members and members of women's self-help groups and each payment would be video recorded to ensure that the money was given to the right people.

Under the provisions of the Act workers are to be paid no later than 15 days after the completion of a project. However, recent studies illustrate that only 4 per cent of workers in Chhattisgarh get their wages in the stipulated 15 days.

Acknowledging the need to equip panchayats with the resources to conceptualise and demand work under the MGNREGA, Mr. Ramesh announced the appointment of a panchayat development officer and junior engineer in each gram panchayat of Bastar, Dantewada, Narayanpur and Bijapur.

“Seventy five per cent of the funds [for salaries] shall come from the Central government, while the State will pay 25 per cent. We only insist that these officers are locally recruited,” he said.

Mr. Ramesh also tweaked provisions in the Prime Minister Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY), a Central scheme to boost rural connectivity, to cater to the unique demands of these districts. “The scheme has an 18-month ceiling for completion of works; we have raised the ceiling to 24 months for these districts,” he said, adding that the Ministry was looking to reduce the size of contracts to make it easier for smaller, local contractors to participate in the process. “I have also given permission to the police and the Forest Department to build roads in areas where local contractors are not available,” he said.