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NREGA's new avatar: Work later, take home cash now

NREGA's new avatar: Work later, take home cash now



NREGA's new avatar: Work later, take home cash now

NEW DELHI: The government is likely to allow advance part payment of wages in a bid to restore faith of beneficiaries in its flagship rural jobs scheme. The proposal is part of a slew of measures to address mounting criticism of the centrally-funded Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) which is beset by administrative logjam and charges of leakages.

The rural development ministry has asked states to initiate a monthlong pilot project in select districts or panchayats where payments are especially delayed. Based on the feedback, a firm advance payments scheme can be designed. "We have asked states to do the pilots in those areas where delay in payment is primarily due to shortage of staff," said an official in the rural development ministry who did not wish to be identified.

"The amounts paid in advance will get adjusted from actual payment due whenever measurement of assets is over and wages due are calculated," the official added. Wages are often delayed for more than six months because of inadequate bank penetration, postal network and human resource. Delays in measurement of work done under the scheme and lack of personnel to process muster rolls also causes payments to be stuck at various administrative levels.

"It has been suggested that till the
Banking Correspondent (BC) network is augmented and till the postal network spreads out to all panchayats areas, part payments to workers may be considered as an option," a letter written by the rural development ministry to the state governments says. Under the BC model, agents are used to deliver services on a commission mission basis to increase banking penetration in rural areas.

The ministry has admitted in the letter that timely payment of wages remains a hindrance to successful implementation of the scheme. Though the ministry has received just 50 complaints related to nonpayment of wages under the scheme, it is believed that the figure does not reflect the enormity of the problem because most beneficiaries do not lodge a complaint. Payments in most cases under the pilot project are likely to be done through cash transfers even as the ministry's move does not necessarily allow for direct cash transfer of wages.

"It is not linked to the mode of payment but as it is an alternative to the BC model and post office payments, states will prefer direct cash transfers," an official with a state rural development department told ET. The pilot project is being initiated as the ministry's efforts to extend the outreach of banks and post offices are likely to take time to get fully rooted.

The ministry had two months ago issued guidelines to all states to ensure compulsory payment of wages only through bank and post office accounts. Within a month, however, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh announced that due to lack of infrastructure and human resource the option was not feasible in all parts of the country.

The minister had, therefore, made concession in the rule by allowing cash transfers in 60 Maoist-affected affected districts in the country. Tamil Nadu is the only state where all wage payments are transferred directly in cash. Advance payment has been supported by experts like
National Advisory Council member Harsh Mander who say that such a move will not only restore faith of the workers, but also increase the rate of completion of works.
Courtesy by Economic Times on 5 Dec, 2011,

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