Standing Committee urges Centre to revise MGNREGS wages, budget

In most of the concerns raised, the committee found replies from the Centre unsatisfactory

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Monday 31 July 2023
Representative photo: iStock__

This story has been updated

The Standing Committee on Rural Development and Panchayat Raj has raised serious concerns about the functioning of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

In its 33rd report released on July 27, 2023, the standing committee chaired by Kanimozhi Karunanidhi has noted the budget allocated for the scheme has been reduced by Rs 29,400 crore for the financial year 2023-24 compared to revised estimates of 2022-23. 

The committee pointed out that the Department of Rural Development (DoRD) neither provided a concrete reply to their query on a fund allocation proposal nor suggested any concrete action to deal with the shortage of funds under the scheme.

Also read: Over 50 million job cards of MGNREGA workers deleted in 2022-23; 7.4 million this financial year

It is “unable to comprehend” the rationale for the reduction in the budget allocated for the scheme, the committee said. It recommended taking a fresh look at the fund allocation and observed such a scenario would go against the welfare of the poor rural workers and create a pendency of wages.

The committee said it is not satisfied with how the Centre handles the issue and shared concerns about it affecting the work on the ground. The scheme upholds the right to work for deprived sections of the rural population who wish to work and is the last resort of “succour” for the jobless section who struggle to feed their families, the committee noted. The scheme provides hope to the needy, as displayed during the Covid-19 pandemic, it added.

The standing committee also showed concerns about the continuous delay in releasing funds from the Centre under the wages and cost of material for works undertaken under this Act. It noted that as of January 25, 2023, the wage pendency piled up to Rs 6,231 crore, while the material component pendency reached Rs 7,616 crore.

Such pendency would deter the needy workers from availing of the benefits of MGNREGS, it pointed out. “To the utter surprise of the committee, the reply furnished by the DoRD is completely silent and no specific information regarding the progress made by the department in the reduction of pending liabilities has been furnished in the Action Taken Reply as had been sought by the committee.”

Instead of elaborating on the real cause and remedy to the problem, the effort solely seems to ‘pass the buck’ on the state. “After the due financial prudence and compliance by the state, funds are released,” the department said in its reply to the committee.

The standing committee did not find the reply satisfactory and said it expected a much more cogent response that suits the nature of difficulties in terms of wage rates. Terming such a reply evasive, the committee has urged the department not to relinquish their responsibility and initiate appropriate steps to reduce pendency.

The committee pointed out that the newly introduced attendance system demands two time-stamped and geo-tagged photographers of the rural workers. The exercise carried out through the mobile App National Mobile Monitoring System requires the availability of smartphones and internet connectivity for registering ‘in’ and ‘out’ attendance. The workers are extremely poor and face language barriers, requiring human intervention, it pointed out.

Also read: The chase and the change: Let’s look back at 15 years of MGNREGA this World Water Day

The replies from the DoRD reveal the exemption for workers in case of connectivity or device failure issues via the district programme coordinator. However, the committee presented its apprehensions on the actual on-ground implementation of the scheme considering the complaints received by MGNREGS workers facing difficulties in registering attendance.

The committee also raised issues about parity in wages.“It has been observed that there is no uniformity in the wages across the states / union territories (UT) and the rate differs from Rs 204 in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to Rs 315 and Rs 331 in Goa and Haryana, respectively.”

Urging to implement uniformity and increase in wages across the country, it said, “It is also unfathomable as to why the ministry is not able to notify a unified wage rate under the scheme across the country to end the disparity across states / UTs for good, particularly when the scheme is mostly funded by the Centre.”

“The Committee finds the mere mention of the procedure for the calculation of present wage rates based on Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour a repetitive approach bereft of any application or rationale,” it noted.

It highlighted another pertinent demand regarding the increase of days guaranteed under the scheme from the existing promise of 100 days. “During the examination of demands for Grants 2023-24, the Government of India has constituted a Committee under Amarjeet Sinha to study the performance of states and the governance issues under MGNREGS, which in itself is a clear cut indicator that review of basic features of MGNREGS is a long felt demand,” the committee also pointed out.

It suggested that increasing the number of work days will help workers get a stable income.

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