About eight million MGNREGA workers did not get their wage since a month in Jharkhand

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Ranchi: Around 78. 29 lakhs Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) workers of Jharkhand have not been paid their dues for a month, now. The news was made public by a press communiqué issue by the MGNREGA Sangharsh Morcha, an NGO working for these workers.

According to this press release, it is not only the workers of Jharkhand who have not been paid since March 8, 2018. It stated, “MGNREGA wage payments have come to a virtual halt across the country. Ninety-nine per cent of the Fund Transfer Orders (FTOs) for MGNREGA wage payments sent to the Public Finance Management (PFMS) in April 2018 have remained unprocessed.” It further, added, “Bulk of the FTOs for the last two months are yet to be processed–86 per cent of March FTOs and 64 per cent of February FTO.”

Meanwhile, it can be recalled that in January 2016, central government had introduced the National Electronic Fund Management System (NEFMS). Allegedly, this was an attempt to streamline MGNREGA wage payments. However, this system only tightened the Ministry’s leash over the MGNREGA funds. Now, it is withhold the processing of FTOs in a routine way. Sadly, under NEFMS, state government can no longer make payments to workers from their revolving funds to tide over the Ministry’s delay in releasing MNREGA funds.

The press release also revealed that the Ministry froze processing of FTOs worth over Rs 3,000 crores due to lack of MGNREGA funds, last year. It may be recalled that in August 2017, the Ministry of Rural Development had demanded a supplementary MGNREGA budget of Rs 17,000 crores, but the Ministry of Finance approved only Rs 7,000, that too in January 2018.

The actual reason for the non-processing of current FTOs is still not clear. However, inadequate funds definitely can’t be the reason for non-payment right in the beginning of a financial year.

“Long and unpredictable delays in MGNREGA wage payments continues despite the ongoing public interest litigation filed by Swaraj Abhiyan in which the Supreme Court has instructed the government to ensure that the workers are paid within 15 days of doing work. Sadly, workers are not compensated for the wage delays that take place after the generation of FTOs,” read the communiqué.

“In a document, the Ministry of Finance even accepted partial payment being made. It even stated that delay in payment of MGNREGA compensation, would become a heavy financial burden for the government. This incident, significantly, exposes the deliberate underfunding of the employment guarantee programme. Modi government after having failed to curtail MGNREGA through overt measures such as restricting the programme to the poorest districts or reducing the wage – material ratio, it has now resorted to undermining the Act by starving its funds,” said an activist associated with the morcha.

Jharkhand is among the nine Indian states, where the MGNREGA workers are yet to get an increment. The daily wage of a MGNREGA worker is only Rs 168. The stark reality of mineral rich Jharkhand is that it has over 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line (BPL). The job guarantee act since its implementation has been helping many to eke-out-a-living within the state. It was believed that the number of people migrating for works outside state had reduced in significant numbers since the act  was implemented.

However, Jharkhand MGNREGA Commissioner, Siddarth Tripathi could not be contacted for a comment on this issue.

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