A major issue plaguing the successful implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) is the fact that most workers are paid wages much lower than the prescribed Rs 148 per day. To make matters worse, there are apprehensions that officials engaged in monitoring the implementation of the scheme are siphoning part of the wages meant for the workers. Add to that the problem of favouritism.
Panchayat officials, including presidents and clerks who are responsible for the implementation of the scheme, often don’t tell the workers how much they would be paid or when their wages would be credited and favour certain workers over the others.
A worker from Kodiyalam panchayat near Anthanallur in Tiruchy district, S Valarmathi, recalls, “Three months ago, no worker got their wages and the news reached the district administration. That was when the prescribed wages started getting credited.”
NREGA workers from many blocks like Musiri, Manikandam and Anthanallur in Tiruchy district do not understand why their wages suddenly stone-dropped from Rs 120 to as low as Rs 30. S Chandra of Kodiyalam panchayat says, “Before, we struggled to get wages because it was delayed. Now our wages have been slashed.”
Mahalingam of Perur panchayat in Musiri block, says: “In our panchayat, some workers get Rs 40, while another group of people receive just Rs 28.” Both groups do the same work, he adds.
Perur panchayat president Ramalingam was quick to deny foul play, “We divide the workers into groups of 20. We instruct them to dig a pit up to a particular distance. At the end, we decide on the salary after a careful inspection of the extent of work completed by each group.”
Officials who are supposed to evaluate the quantum of work completed under NREGA are often party to the panchayat members’ favouritism. If you are not in their good books, you won’t get paid well even if you have completed your work, charge NREGA beneficiaries of Pudukottai district.
Ramaguru, a resident of Kulamangalam in Alangudi taluk, says authorities instruct each team of 20 to dig a pit a foot deep, 9 metres in length and 6 metres in width in farm ponds to get the full wages of Rs 148. But their assessment of the work is biased. While one group gets Rs 30-50 per head, another will get Rs100-120 per head for the same work. NREGA workers also charge that officials allot easier slots to those they favour.
Tamaraiselvi of Thopputheru in Arundavapuram village in Thanjavur district, an agricultural labourer, says she is paid wages as low as Rs 31 to 40 instead of the prescribed Rs 148. “Earlier we used to clear weeds in the canals and were paid Rs 110. Now, we dig soil to whatever extent as prescribed by the supervisors on the spot. But we are paid low wages,” she complains.
Many women working under the scheme in Tuticorin district complain about irregular payment. Nagammal, from Thalavaipuram near Ottapidaram, says she has not been paid for two months. The local panchayat president has done nothing to ensure the payment either.
Pachammal, from Kodiyankulam village at Ottapidaram Taluk, too complains about varying payment for the same work. Murugeswari, from K Kumarettiyapuram in Kolathur Panchayat, points out that the toll-free number 1299, printed at the back of their NREGA cards, never work in times of crises or non-payment of wages.