Pass­ing the buck on NREGA

NREGA wage de­lays have so far been com­pen­sated by states but the de­lays caused by cen­tre have never been com­pen­sated

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It could be­fit a wel­fare state to have a law that guar­an­tees work and wages for un­em­ployed cit­i­zens. The na­tional ru­ral em­ploy­ment guar­an­tee Act (nrega), now known as Ma­hatma gandhi na­tional ru­ral em­ploy­ment guar­an­tee Act (Mgnrega), was sup­posed to be just that. it as­sured 100 days of work in a year to any­one from a vil­lage who de­manded work. it also promised wages within 15 days of the work week.

And if wages were de­layed by even a day more than these 15 days, the worker was to claim com­pen­sa­tion for each day of the de­lay.

There is a case today in the apex court ac­cus­ing the gov­ern­ment of wage de­lays in thou­sands of cases this year.

Had there been an as­sured com­pen­sa­tion, would there be de­lays?

The answer is that the com­pen­sa­tion has re­mained just a prom­ise, which the leg­is­la­tion has not been able to ful­fil. In this case then should the Act be amended?

ra­jen­dran narayanan, in­de­pen­dent re­searcher with the Azim Premji univer­sity, and two other re­searchers re­cently looked at pay­ment de­lays and de­lay com­pen­sa­tion in ten states in 2017-18 and their con­clu­sions are quite un­set­tling.

it shows very clearly that the law is not able to clar­ify the role of the state and the cen­tre in the pay­ment of com­pen­sa­tion when­ever there is a de­lay on their part. While both con­trib­ute to the de­lay, the cen­tre so far has taken no re­spon­si­bil­ity for pay­ing com­pen­sa­tion for its share of de­lays.

To un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing now, gov­er­nance now looked at a hy­po­thet­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. sup­pose one were work­ing un­der nrega from de­cem­ber 1 to de­cem­ber 10. in such a sit­u­a­tion there are two kinds of pay­ment pos­si­bil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to ra­jen­dran narayanan. These are:

case 1: The block/pan­chayat gen­er­ates the fund trans­fer or­der (FTO), which is an elec­tronic in­voice sent dig­i­tally to the cen­tre to re­lease wages, on de­cem­ber 30.

Let us sup­pose the cen­tre then releases the wages on Jan­uary 25.

As things stand, the nrega man­age­ment in­for­ma­tion sys­tem (Mis) cal­cu­lates the de­lays only till the FTO is gen­er­ated, i.e., till de­cem­ber 30.

in this case, it would be as­sumed that there is a de­lay of five days, i.e., be­tween de­cem­ber 25 (15 days af­ter work com­ple­tion) and de­cem­ber 30. This de­lay is get­ting reg­is­tered and re­ported in re­port 14.1 in the nrega Mis.

How­ever, the de­lay be­tween de­cem­ber 30 and Jan­uary 25 (when the cen­tre trans­fers money to the labour­ers) is not get­ting counted as de­lay any­where in the sys­tem. This is what we re­fer to as par­tial de­lays be­ing cap­tured.

case 2: For the same work dates, i.e., be­tween de­cem­ber 1 and de­cem­ber 10, sup­pose the block/pan­chayat gen­er­ates the FTO on de­cem­ber 20, i.e, within 15 days of com­ple­tion of work and sup­pose the cen­tre releases wages on the Jan­uary 25.

Then this de­lay is not get­ting reg­is­tered any­where. Although the cen­tre has taken 35 days be­tween FTO gen­er­a­tion and cred­it­ing the wages, this de­lay is not con­sid­ered as de­lay at all by the nrega Mis. This is what we call “no de­lays Be­ing cap­tured”.

ra­jen­dran and his co-re­searchers sam­pled 45 lakh trans­ac­tions in the first two quar­ters in 2017-18 and nearly

half of them, that is 20.25 lakh of them or 45 per­cent, fell in that cat­e­gory.

The supreme court has been given these find­ings as an ev­i­dence, Ra­jen­dran told gov­er­nance now.

The Act man­dates that the labour­ers should get wages within 15 days of com­ple­tion of work. Hence, the ex­tent of vi­o­la­tion is huge and ra­jen­dran says he hopes that the court will give a favourable ver­dict. “Why should the labour­ers pay the price for po­lit­i­cal/bu­reau­cratic de­lays?” he asks.

Work­ers have been paid com­pen­sa­tion for the de­layed wages all these years. But what was be­ing paid when­ever it was paid was par­tial com­pen­sa­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the study find­ings of ra­jen­dran and his team, in FY 16-17, the cal­cu­lated amount on the nrega Mis for de­lay com­pen­sa­tion was ₹519 crore of which only about 6% or so was ac­tu­ally paid as de­lay com­pen­sa­tion. How­ever, the true payable amount was ₹1,200 crore.

so is the prob­lem with the law it­self? should it be amended to put an end to this kind of mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion and ex­ploita­tion of work­ers?

says ra­jen­dran: “i don’t think the Act needs to be changed be­cause it is spelled very clearly in the Act that de­lay com­pen­sa­tion is based on the date on which work­ers get their wages. What needs to be done is clearer struc­tures of ac­count­abil­ity on the cen­tral gov­ern­ment and banks. When au­to­mated re­ports are pos­si­ble, why not au­to­mat­i­cally trig­ger the fines ac­crued by each depart­ment depend­ing on the time taken by them?

“Also, why can’t the gov­ern­ment have an easy-to-read re­port avail­able that has all the dates cor­re­spond­ing to one trans­ac­tion in one row so it be­comes easy to pin down the ac­count­abil­ity struc­tures?”

Another prob­lem is over cen­tral­i­sa­tion of the pay­ment ar­chi­tec­ture. “now the work­ers have no place to ask if their pay­ments are not re­ceived once the FTO is gen­er­ated. The block of­fi­cials, on many oc­ca­sions (and rightly so), say that ‘Humne to FTO kar diya hai’ (we have gen­er­ated the FTO),” says ra­jen­dran.

The pe­ti­tion in the supreme court has been put by the ngo swaraj Ab­hiyan led by Prashant Bhushan and Yo­gen­dra Ya­dav who were formerly with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Ya­dav told this writer that for the past two and a half months, Ftos have been gen­er­ated but the gov­ern­ment has not been re­spond­ing to them as it did not have funds.

“As for the com­pen­sa­tion, we have a note from the cen­tre ac­knowl­edg­ing that it was its job to pay for de­lays on its part. so that is also with the court. The court has given or­ders that it would be look­ing only at these two is­sues in the next hear­ing. so there is hope,” says Ya­dav.

Ankita Agarwal of the nrega sang­harsh Mor­cha says the law is straight­for­ward and it was for the cen­tre and states to pay their share of com­pen­sa­tion for the de­lays caused by each side.

she says that it has been im­ple­mented in a dis­torted way by the cen­tre. The com­pen­sa­tion it­self is just 0.05% of the wage per day of de­lay, which would be a pit­tance and may come to just a few ru­pees per worker. How­ever, it would mean a huge amount when the cen­tre has to shell it out in bulk to thou­sands of work­ers. And that could be a good dis­in­cen­tive for the cen­tre to not de­lay wages.

The min­istry of fi­nance has agreed in a note fol­low­ing the ra­jen­dran narayanan study that de­lays are cal­cu­lated only un­til the FTO is gen­er­ated at the block/pan­chayat level. it said that the cen­tre has not been pay­ing for its share of de­lays and was it to com­pen­sate then it would be a huge bur­den on the ex­che­quer.

The doc­u­ment in­di­cated that the prin­ci­pal rea­sons for such de­lays were “in­fras­truc­tural bot­tle­necks, (the lack of) avail­abil­ity of funds and lack of ad­min­is­tra­tive com­pli­ance”.

While the cen­tre and states play this game of pass­ing the buck on pay­ing com­pen­sa­tion, it is the work­ers who suf­fer. And NREGA which is sup­posed to be a bless­ing for work­ers, pro­vid­ing them work as a mat­ter of right, turns into a tool for ex­ploita­tion and de­nial of the ba­sic labour right to be paid on time for the work done.

Ac­cord­ing to the ra­jen­dran study, there have been in­stances of de­lay as long as 200 days.

not only are the de­lays mas­sive, the gov­ern­ment’s mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the “de­lay” meant that the work­ers can­not even be com­pen­sated for the full ex­tent of de­lays.

A call from the supreme court may

Ac­cord­ing to a study by Ra­jen­dran and his team, in 2016-17, the cal­cu­lated amount on the NREGA MIS for de­lay com­pen­sa­tion was ₹519 crore, of which only about six per­cent was ac­tu­ally paid as de­lay com­pen­sa­tion. How­ever, the true payable amount was as much as ₹1,200 crore.

force the cen­tre to fol­low the law and com­pen­sate work­ers for the de­lays caused by it. How­ever, the nrega sang­harsh Mor­cha has no such hopes. “Last year when the swaraj Ab­hiyan had gone to court ask­ing for work in nrega for drought-hit states, the court had given six or­ders which in­cluded im­ple­men­ta­tion of Food se­cu­rity Act and nrega. But none of these were heeded,” says Agarwal.

Mean­while, as per the sam­ple anal­y­sis by ra­jen­dran and his team of au­thors, just 32% of wages have been paid on time in the ten states they stud­ied, even though 152 crore per­son days of work have been gen­er­ated through the nrega in 2017-18 so far. The gov­ern­ment has claimed that 85% wages have been paid on time, which is a cal­cu­la­tion not in­clud­ing the de­lays caused by the cen­tre.n

Gn photo

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