New Delhi: Inordinate delays in the payment of wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur have been forcing poor workers to borrow money from private lenders at exorbitant interest rates to eke out a living, The Hindu reported.
Workers, in some cases, haven’t been paid for five months in a row, making it difficult for them to provide at least two square meals for their families and children.
An official in the district administration has told the newspaper that the delay is due to the non-disbursement of funds by the Union government to Bihar’s rural development department.
While officials say 93% of workers in Muzaffarpur have already received wages, MGNREGA Watch, a local NGO, states that around 25,000 workers in several blocks of the district, including Gaighat, Bochaha, and Kurhani, haven’t been receiving their wages for months.
The situation of Sudama Devi (37), a widow from Dhabauli village under Mohammadpur Sura panchayat, explains the dire straits that the workers have been in due to the non-payment of wages. She says she has no money to buy food to feed her five children. Her eldest child (13), she says, has been eating poor-quality rice with water and salt.
“I have borrowed Rs 5,000 from a local moneylender at a high-interest rate. For the past four months, I have not received my wages. If I don’t get the money, how will I survive?” she asked, breaking down.
The fate of one Sunita Devi (40) from Chorniya village under Beruwa panchayat in Gaighat block is similar. She said she hasn’t received wages for 45 days of work she did between March and July this year, adding up to around Rs 10,000.
According to workers, rampant corruption is the reason behind the delay and non-payment of wages.
Meanwhile, Amit Kumar Upadhyay, district programme officer, MGNREGA, Muzaffarpur, told the Hindu that the issue has now been resolved, adding that the timely payment rate in the district is 93%.
“Actually, we had not been receiving funds from the Centre, which go into the Rural Development Department account. Due to the delay, there was an issue of non-payment of wages. But it has been resolved now,” he said, adding that there are glitches in the Aadhaar-based wage payment system, which he said is now being fixed.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was passed in 2005, and the demand-driven scheme guarantees 100 days of unskilled work per year for every rural household that wants it. Since the Narendra Modi-led government assumed power in 2014, the budgetary allocations for the scheme have been reduced drastically.
In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi famously called MGNREGA a “living monument of Congress government’s failure”. In a speech in parliament, he had said, “After so many years in power, all you were able to deliver is for a poor man to dig ditches a few days a month.”