BHUBANESWAR: Workers under MGNREGA have to make out-of-pocket expenditure to get their wages in Odisha. They are either made to stand in queues for hours or spend money on travel to get paid, says a recent study.
The study conducted in five blocks - Athmallik (Angul district), Banspal (Keonjhar),Kankadahad (Dhenkanal) and Pottangi and Semiliguda (Koraput) - revealed more than half the workers ended up spending a day’s wage to collect their wage.
Besides, one-third bank and other platform users took more than six hours to withdraw their wages.
Under the Aadhaar enabled payment system, the MGNREGA payments are credited to bank accounts under the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system. The disbursement agencies included bank branches, Customer Service Points (CSPs) and Banking Correspondents (BCs), ATMs, and Indian Postal Payments Bank (IPPB).
There are wide variations in out-of-pocket expenditure incurred across the blocks.
In Banspal, 68 per cent (pc) workers have to spend more than Rs 200, followed by Semiliguda and Pottangi where around half the workers spend over Rs 200 and one fifth have to spend even `400 to withdraw wages.
According to the study by New Delhi based social audit organisation LibTech India inpartnership with Gujarat-based non-profit Foundation for Ecological Security, workers are rarely notified of their wages credited and they are routinely denied their right of tracking transactions from their own accounts.
“If I need to get money from the bank, I go to my sister’s house in the evening. I spend the night at her house and get in line at the bank the next morning. Sometimes I return empty handed because the bank is too crowded or has network and connectivity issues,” a woman worker from Banspal block quoted in the 45-page study report.
An agriculture-reliant State like Odisha has had a history of significant MGNREGA work, especially in the off-season. The economic impact of Covid-19 pandemic increased the reliance of the most marginalised on the job guarantee scheme. The person-days worked in MGNREGA in the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020-21 increased by 87 pc as compared to 2019-20 in Odisha against the national average of 45 pc. The State government also used its own funds to increase the MGNREGA minimum wage from Rs 207 to Rs 298 in 20 migration-prone blocks recognising the importance of the scheme.
Though MGNREGA has emerged as a lifeline for many, challenges such as long delays in wage payments, significant trouble in accessing wages and a clear lack of transparency and accountability continue to hinder the scheme’s functioning in the State. The study recommended more bank branches, ATMs, and CSPs/BCs be set up closer to workers while government needs to ensure that financial institutions follow the mandate of setting up 25 pc of the branches in rural areas. Convenor of Odisha Shramajeebi Manch Anjan Pradhan suggested that MGNREGA wages should be disbursed in-hand at the panchayat level just like pensions.
- Half of the workers travel more than 10 km to get wage
- One-third bank users spend more than 6 hours to withdraw wage
- Lack of transparency make workers vulnerable to frauds
- 73 pc of the workers missed at least one day of work in the process
- 3 pc of workers make multiple visits
- Passbooks of 20 pc of workers updated manually
- Half the workers spent more than `200 on visit to disbursement agency to withdraw wage