Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) workers are still waiting for almost ₹3,360 crore in pending wage payments, with the largest pending payments in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, according to the government’s reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
This comes as the Centre reduced its budget allocation for the rural jobs scheme by 25% in comparison to revised estimates for the current year. If these pending wage and material payment liabilities are carried forward into the next financial year, it will further reduce the amount of money available to pay workers next year.
In a written response to a question from Communist Party of India (Marxist) member John Brittas regarding the State-wise details of the MGNREGA work provided during the pandemic, as well as arrears in wage payment, Minister of State for Rural Development Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti provided scheme data as on January 27, 2022. On that date, pending wage liabilities stood at ₹3,358.14 crore, out of which workers from West Bengal had the largest amount of wage arrears amounting to ₹752 crore, followed by Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan with ₹597 crore and ₹555 crore respectively.
The scheme’s financial statement, available on its website, shows that payment due for material costs amounts to ₹11,027 crore as on February 2.
In a statement criticising the 2022-23 budget allocation for the scheme, which is 25% lower than the revised estimates for the previous year, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha estimated that only ₹54,650 crore would be available for the scheme next year taking all pending liabilities into account. “Every year about 80-90% of the budget gets exhausted within the first six months, resulting in heavy slowdown of work on the ground. The government has not been able to provide employment to all active job card holding families due to inadequate budget allocation,” it said.
The worker advocacy group added that at a per person per day cost of ₹334, if all active job card workers requested work, the government would only be able to provide 16 days of employment out of the guaranteed 100 days, given the current budget estimates.