The Union Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, has expressed concern over the manner in which the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) being implemented in Tamil Nadu, especially with regard to delay in payment of wages, the lack of durable asset creation and the disparity in minimum wages.

In a letter addressed to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, Mr. Ramesh lauded the State for being second, next only to Kerala, in ensuring the highest participation of women in the scheme. However, he pointed out “certain very serious issues with regard to the implementation of the MGREGA that continue to be of concern.” Referring to the CAG’s report on the implementation of the scheme in the State which indicated that “assets created are non-durable,” the Minister said that this required ‘immediate attention,’ especially since the creation of durable community assets and individual assets on the land-holding of small and marginal farmers was one of the “key objectives” of the scheme.

Noting the use of the electronic Fund Management System (eFMS) in States, including Madhya Pradesh and Odisha in order to eliminate delays in wage payments and that distribution of funds across gram panchayats is smooth, Mr. Ramesh asserted that this is “still to take-off in Tamil Nadu.” “It has started only in 7 of the 31 districts. This requires urgent acceleration,” the letter stated.

Mr. Ramesh called for ‘serious review’ of the disparity in the wage rate offered in the State under the scheme. “The notified MGREGA wage rate in the State in 2013-14 is Rs. 148 per day. However, the data available to us indicates that there are 1,645 gram panchayats in the State where the average wage is less than Rs. 70 per day.”

“While wage payments across the county being conducted through bank and post office accounts, Tamil Nadu is the only State where cash payments are being used so very extensively.”

The Minister clarified that cash payments had been allowed in Maoist-affected districts. “It seems to me that there should be no reason for a well banked and well-administered State like Tamil Nadu to resort to cash payment in such a large scale”.

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