We are herewith releasing the full text of the letter written by CPI(M) Polit Bureau Member, Brinda Karat, to the Union Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Shri Narender Singh Tomar, questioning the intent of the advisory issued by the Ministry on “disbursement of wage payment to wage seekers according to the category of SC/ ST and Others” under the MGNREGS.
June 4, 2021
Shri Narender Singh Tomar ji,
This is in reference to File no G-31011/13/2020/RE(V)(371606), dated 2 March 2021. In the form of an advisory to State Governments, it concerns “disbursement of wage payment to wage seekers according to the category of SC/ ST and Others.”
The Advisory mandates States to ensure social categorization in every aspect of the implementation of the law— from the projected expenditure for anticipated demand among SC/ST households in the Labour budget, to separate State level accounting for wage payments to SC and ST categories, to utilization certificates and so on. However, no reason has been given for this extreme bureaucratisation which will, given past experience of the delays on various counts on payment of wages, affect precisely the SC/ST sections who will become victim to these separate accounting and banking procedures.
Why is this necessary? The advisory to State Governments does not give any cogent reason for this. However, there is a sentence in the advisory which raises serious doubts as to the intent of the Government. It is stated: “All stakeholders may ensure action in a time bound manner so that funds maybe released accordingly.”
The MNREGA is a universalized programme for any adult living in rural India who is willing to do manual work. The budgetary provisions are made for the implementation of the law as a whole. Thus, this cannot be determined by any new interpretations of the law to introduce a policy of divisible allocations by social categories, which is what the advisory appears to be. In a demand-based universal programme for provision of work, allocations can only be based on expected demand for work. Linking categorization with allocations will undermine the basis of the law which, as stated above, is both demand based and also universal in its eligibility criteria. We therefore request you to clarify why this has become necessary.
I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that this is being done without discussion in the public domain. Till now the advisory, which is so important since it is linked to fund allocations, is not even on the website of the Ministry. It has not been discussed in Parliament or even put to the Standing Committee on Rural Development. It should not be implemented without such a discussion.
The CPI(M) has always promoted the protection of rights of SC and ST communities and women within the universal programme. We have strongly argued for the prioritization of SC and ST households in the list of convergence programmes such as choice of individual beneficiaries in private land development programmes. However, we find that the Government has not set up any monitoring mechanism for such convergence programmes to reach SC and ST beneficiaries. Similarly, there is no effort to ensure the recruitment and training of persons from the SC and ST communities for the post of “mates” or “barefoot technician” as defined in Chapter 7, clauses 12.5 in the master circular for implementation of MNREGA ( 2019-2020).
Therefore there is no information as to how these oppressed communities are represented in these posts. These would constitute concrete measures to enhance the rights and interests of SC and ST communities within NREGA. In clause 4.22 “Ministry mandates provision of 50 days of wage employment, beyond stipulated 100 days, to every ST household in forest areas who have no private property except land provided under FRA 2006.” Is there any record of the Ministry of how many ST households have been given 150 days of work a year? No such record is available in the public domain.
Instead of taking such concrete measures, the said advisory is questionable in its intent and highly bureaucratic in its conception.
I would like to point out that the main issue here is the lack of work under NREGA. The average days of work in April-May this year of just 20 days per household is less than last year. This at a time when the second wave of the pandemic has eliminated job opportunities, and provision of work under NREGA is essential to prevent widespread hunger and deprivation.
I request you to consider these issues.
Member Polit Bureau, CPI(M), Former MP, RS
Union Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj,
Government of India