MGNREGA workers in state reel from delayed payments

Another MGNREGA beneficiary Bhagyamma, a resident of Vijayanagara, wondered "what is the whole point" of having the scheme if they can't get money to eat.
Last Updated 26 February 2024, 05:14 IST

Raichur/Bengaluru: Over a million households that worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in Karnataka in the past three months are awaiting payments for the work they finished as far back as December, underscoring one of the vexing loopholes in the job scheme.

Payments for the work completed have to be settled within a reasonable timeframe, typically within 15 days.

However, MGNREGA beneficiaries across the state have found their payments delayed for the past three months, with Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister Priyank Kharge citing the Centre's financial "mismanagement" as the reason for the mess. 

MGNREGA beneficiaries DH spoke to were irked over the delays.

Gouramma, who is from Raichur, said "this year has been difficult" and bristled at the delayed payment.

"We had to protest in August last year to get paid for the work completed in the first half of 2023. Now, we’re again waiting for our payments for the work completed after that. We don’t get paid until we protest, how do we lead our lives like this?” she told DH

Another MGNREGA beneficiary Bhagyamma, a resident of Vijayanagara, wondered "what is the whole point" of having the scheme if they can't get money to eat. “Will the officials give us food if we stand in front of their houses?” she told DH

Abhay Kumar, founder of Grameena Koolikaarmikara Sanghatane (GRAKOOS), which aims to implement MGNREGA effectively, said this year the payments have been "delayed thrice".

"Beneficiaries under the scheme are getting paid after 3-4 months of work completion even though they should be paid once in 15 days,” he told DH.

Officials at the gram sabha level passed the buck to the government and blamed inadequate disbursal of funds. 

“We try to process payments in the given time, but inadequate allocation of funds from the government’s side could lead to delayed payments,” said Hanumanthappa, a Panchayat Development Officer in Vijayanagara district. 

Minister Priyank targeted the Centre. “It is quite natural that bad financial planning and allocation of man days at the grassroots levels have affected people. As we speak, we have more than ₹702 crore pending (to be released). It is complete mismanagement by the central government,” he said.

Ironically, real-time data available on MGNREGA website says that 99.48% payments for beneficiaries in Karnataka were generated within 15 days of work completion in financial year 2023-24. 

Rajendran Narayanan, co-founder of LibTech India, which has produced several research papers on MGNREGA over the years, had an explanation for this.

"There is a 15-day window between work completion and getting paid," said Narayan. "The state government is supposed to send an electronic invoice to the Union government with details related to the work completion within 8 days. The Union government then has 7 days to process all these electronic invoices and transfer the payments to the account of the beneficiary."

But the MNREGA Management Information System (MIS), Narayan said, makes "misleading claims that 99% of the wages are processed within 15 days". "In reality, what this means is that 99% of the invoices are sent to the Union government within 15 days.”

While the state government takes a week extra to process the payments, the Union government takes much longer to transfer the wages to workers. "This is in violation of the Act and the Supreme Court orders," said Narayanan.

Payments for the work completed have to be settled typically within 15 days, but that hasn't happened.

Rural Development Minister Priyank Kharge blasted the Centre and said "Rs 702 crore" is yet to be released to state A Panchayat Development Officer blamed inadequate allocation of funds while GRAKOOS said this year payments have been "delayed thrice".

Ironically, MGNREGA website says that 99.48% payments for beneficiaries in Karnataka were generated within 15 days of work completion

(Published 26 February 2024, 05:14 IST)

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