The decision to split MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) wage payments by caste categories was done on the advice of the Finance Ministry in order to assess and highlight the benefits flowing from budgetary outlay towards Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Rural Development Secretary N.N. Sinha told The Hindu on Thursday. He said this should not cause any delay in wage payments or any changes for beneficiaries if processes were put in place correctly, and added that there was no plan to focus MGNREGA only on districts with high SC and ST populations.
On Wednesday, The Hindu had reported on a March 2 advisory of the Rural Development Ministry, which directed States to divide wage payments into separate categories for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and others from this financial year. Workers’ advocates feared this move would cause unnecessary delays and complications in the payment system, and worried that it could lead to a reduction in scheme funding.
“The rationale was very simple. It is not as if the payments made to SC and ST are not reported on the NREGA website, but overall, in terms of the budgetary outlay, people don’t have that intricate information about how much benefit is flowing from the Budget to the SC and ST [communities],” said Mr. Sinha. “When people take an assessment merely on the Budget head under which the programme is budgeted, then they miss out this intricate nuance. So the Finance Ministry advised that we should make Budget provisions under SC and ST components as well,” he added, saying that the measure was to a large extent aimed at highlighting what the Centre is doing for the SC and ST communities.
The Secretary said there was no need to worry about the changes. “For field level people, they do not have to make multiple fund transfer orders. There is one fund transfer order which is split into three components depending on the community to which the household belongs, and then the payments are generated, and the money goes directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries,” he said. “For the beneficiaries and for the field officers, there is no difference. It’s only the process of debit and internal process which has been put in motion to reflect this process. If people have done the necessary preparations, there should not be any delays,” he added.
Mr. Sinha also refuted concerns that this measure would be used to revive proposals to restrict MGNREGA to districts with high SC/ST populations. “MGNREGA does not restrict anyone, it does not even impose an income criteria for enrolment. This is not meant to direct payment or even MGNREGA activity into any particular districts,” he said. “It [MGNREGA] is universal at this moment and there is no plan at all to focus MGNREGA only in high SC/ST districts. There is absolutely no plan to change it from a demand driven scheme,” he added.