With no money to spare, the Kerala government is yet to pay Rs.428 crore in wages

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the pride of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s welfare measures touted in the Lok Sabha election campaign, is in the doldrums in the State .

With hardly two days left for the end of the financial year, the government is yet to pay Rs.428 crore as wages to unskilled labourers – a target group of over 4 to 5 lakh people – under the MGNREGS.

Instead, a Government Order (GO No. 888/2014/LSGD) issued by the State Local Self-government Department on March 26 says that the Union government will not cough up the money in time for this financial year.

The GO notes that any delay in payment of the wages will prove costly for the State government, which will have to pay compensation to the workers. So, the department has hit upon an exit route by asking panchayats at all three levels – grama, block and district - to shell out the money from their annual ‘maintenance fund’ and ‘divert’ it into the MGNREGS as a contingency measure to pay the wages.

Following the GO, a circular was issued by the Mission Director of the MGNREGS the same day. It refers to the GO and says the State government has “accorded permission to divert the maintenance fund of the Panchayati Raj institutions likely to remain unspent as on March 31, 2014, towards meeting the payment due to unskilled wage component under the Mahatma Gandhi NREGS.” The circular says the panchayats will be paid back as soon as the first tranche of Central funds for the year 2014-15 is received.

Money is supposed to be debited into the MGNREGS fund not later than Friday (March 28). But panchayat authorities are still in a fix.

Panchayat officials say ‘maintenance’ funds are used every financial year for welfare projects.

The funds are allotted, at the start of every financial year, on the basis of specific proposals forwarded by individual district panchayats. There is no question of funds “likely to remain unspent” as suggested in the GO and the circular of March 26, they say. We have pending bills to the tune of Rs.76 crore for road and non-road works done this financial year. This has to be paid off by March 31. The treasury is not honouring our bills. On top of that, we have been asked to shell out money for the MGNREGS workers,” Kanathil Jameela, president of the LDF-led district panchayat, says.

“Besides, what is the guarantee that the money will be returned to the Panchayati Raj institutions if a different government is set up at the Centre,” she says.

Incidentally, the GO comes shortly after local bodies alleged that their work bills were not being honoured owing to ‘near empty’ State coffers. 

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