Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel in a letter to Union Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has asked the Centre to allow payment of the MGNREGA wages in the form of foodgrains.
Mr. Baghel said the State is employing five lakh workers everyday under the scheme. He said the livelihood of over 62.5 lakh persons is dependent on the scheme which makes it essential that the work continues in this hour of crisis.
The Chief Minister proposed that handing the workers foodgrains directly is better due to the lockdown and the continuing scare of the COVID-19. “Once we credit the MGNREGA wages, the worker will have to go to the banks to withdraw the money. This would not only be a bother but also could jeopardise social distancing norms.”
He said Chhattisgarh does not have many bank branches and faces the problem of Internet connectivity in Naxal-affected areas. “Due to this, there are often problems like link failure and workers have to contact the branch many times to withdraw the amount,” he wrote in his letter.
Social Activist Nikhil Dey from the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan said payment should continue as required by the law. “If accessibility to banks is a problem, then the government must make timely cash payments in a public place,” Mr. Dey said.
Workers were paid in cash for the first five years after the scheme was launched in 2006. It was only in 2011 that the government had started bank transfers.
Mr. Dey said a “food-for-work” programme should run parallel to the MGNREGA especially in this time of crisis. “Food-for-work is well worth thinking about, with additional days of work provided, through possibly a disaster employment guarantee scheme,” he said.
There are many concerns about making payments through foodgrains like at what rate would the grains be charged. Will the government make the payments based on the PDS or the FCI rates, he asked.
The other concern is that the payouts during the pandemic should not exhaust the 100-day entitlement.
“These payments via food grains should not eat into the 100-day entitlement per family. Because they will need employment even after this pandemic subsides,” Rakshita Swamy, associated with the People for Action For Employment Guarantee said.