Activists Ask Finance, Rural Development Ministers to Implement SC Drought Relief Order

Labourers work on a dried lake to try and revive it under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Credit: Reuters/Files

Labourers work on a dried lake to try and revive it under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Credit: Krishnendu Halder/Reuters/Files

In another attempt to push the central government to take strong action on the ongoing drought affecting more than a fourth of the country’s population, civil society activists from various organisations and institutions have written to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh to ask them to take note of the Supreme Court order on a PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan.

The Supreme Court had asked the government to ensure that funds for welfare programmes, such as the National Food Security Act and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, as well as others like crop insurance and provision of drinking water, be released immediately in order try and minimise the impact of the drought.

The MGNREGA order from the Supreme Court states: “… the NREG Act is a social welfare and social justice legislation the Government of India must ensure that its provisions are faithfully implemented by all concerned”. The order also goes on to pull up the finance ministry for failing to release funds: “It is admitted that for the financial year 2015-16 there is an existing wage and material component liability in excess of Rs. 12,000 crores. While a request was made (by the MoRD) for the release of Rs. 5,000 crores, to the Ministry of Finance, what was in fact released is only Rs. 2,000 crores. There is therefore a tacit admission that the Ministry of Finance does not release funds in adequate amounts or in time for the effective implementation of the scheme”.

Highlighting this order in their letter to Jaitley, the signatories, which includes Aruna Roy, Yogendra Yadav, Nikhil Dey, Kavita Srivastava and Harsh Mander, have observed that one of the major bottlenecks in the MGNREGA has been the failure to ensure the timely and adequate release of funds. Because of this, the timely payment of wages, paying minimum wages to workers and compensation for delayed payments become impossible on the ground.

The letter asks that the finance ministry respond “quickly and decisively” to the court’s order, including releasing a minimum of Rs. 17,000 crores and issuing a notification for 150 days of work in drought-affected areas (as opposed to 100 days).

A similar letter has also been sent to the rural development ministry, which is responsible for the implementation of the MGNREGA. “We have written to both the ministries that play a role,” the letters say. “We have written to the prime minister and other senior leaders of the government in the past but have failed to even receive a response. We hope that the honourable Supreme Court’s MGNREGA order will be duly obeyed and will result in immediate and appropriate action from your ministry and the government,” it goes on to say.