With just little over a month left for the current financial year to end, the Union government owes ₹6,157 crore to 14 States under the material component head of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) that pays for wages and construction material for skilled labourers.
Replying to a question by CPI(M) MP John Brittas, Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti told the Rajya Sabha last Wednesday that the figure amounts to the liability till February 3.
Out of the 14 States, eight states are Opposition-ruled State. The list of dues include nearly ₹2,700 crore that the Centre owes to West Bengal. The government has reportedly stopped payment for over a year to the State, citing violation of rules and widespread corruption. The Union government owes ₹836 crore to Andhra Pradesh and ₹638 crore to Karnataka.
The delay in supply of materials for the works has a domino impact on the programme, breaking the supply chain. Vendors are reluctant to supply the material due to deferred payments. This, in turn, makes it difficult to open new worksites. The supervisors or mates, majority of whom are women, across the country face an inordinate delay in their wages, since their pay is drawn from this component as well.
The Peoples’ Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG), in a recent statement, said that over the past five years, 21% of the budget has gone into clearing the arrears of previous years. As per their deductions, the arrears amounted to roughly 25% of the outlay in financial year 2022-23.
In the latest budget only ₹60,000 crore has been allotted to the programme, which is only enough to provide 20 days of guaranteed work as opposed to the 100-day guarantee, MGNREGS activist Nikhil Dey says. “₹1.24 crore was required just to give assured 40 days of work to all those active job cardholders this year. As of today, there are pending liabilities of almost ₹17,000 crore. The amount given in the budget means in real terms only about 20 days of guarantee for those who go for work as of today,” he explains.
With budget cuts and the added burden from January 1 of recording attendance on a mobile application, National Mobile Monitoring System, the NREGA Sangarsh Morcha – a consortium of activists across the country working in this field – has announced a protest march in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Monday.