Pending wages hit NREGA work in drought-hit K'taka

Pending wages hit NREGA work in drought-hit K'taka

The Centre has defaulted in wage payments

Non-payment of wages has slumped the progress of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in Karnataka, leaving authorities worried that joblessness in rural areas, where there is severe drought, could result in large-scale migration.

Karnataka generated 1.46 crore days of employment in December 2018 after having maintained a consistent rise since June 2018. But the figure slipped to 80 lakh last month, a 45% slowdown.

This is because the Centre has defaulted in wage payments, according to Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) Minister Krishna Byre Gowda. “The Centre has run out of money to run NREGA,” he said.

Karnataka is not alone. The Centre has pending wage and materials bills of Rs 12,714 crore from all states, he said.  

Wages are paid by the Centre in full, while material costs are shared between the Centre and state in a 75:25 ratio. “Wages haven’t been paid since December 14, 2018. Also, material costs haven’t been paid since November last. Because of this, naturally, people lose faith and they could migrate in search of jobs,” Gowda said.

Under the NREGA, unskilled labourers are provided employment for 100 days in a year. Employment days are increased to 150 during a drought year.

This year, Karnataka has Rs 1,146 crore (Rs 524 crore wages and Rs 622 crore material cost) payments pending. The state government has decided to pay Rs 439 crore towards the pending payments over and above its share. “We’ve been telling the Centre to take this money and clear our bills. But they say we should cancel the bills we’ve raised on the national payment portal and raise them afresh on our state’s payment portal. Why are they making this complicated? Our bills are already with them and we’re giving them the money, too,” Gowda said.

Recently, Parliament approved an additional allocation of Rs 6,000 crore for NREGA. “This will not be enough to clear the outstanding bills and the Centre will have no money to run the scheme for the next two months of this financial year,” RDPR principal secretary L K Atheeq said.

In 2016, too, Karnataka paid Rs 2,175 crore from its own pocket when the Centre defaulted on payments for six months. “We’re yet to get back Rs 913 crore,” Gowda said. “So, the Centre still owes Karnataka Rs 2,059 crore, of which only Rs 117 crore has been released. Their disregard for this scheme exposes their concern for the poor,” he said.