Is there merit in the protests at various places by NREGA workers who complain that their wages have suddenly dropped from the prescribed Rs 148 per day to as low as Rs 30 to Rs 40? In some places, workers complain about the apathy of the panchayat officials and leaders of local bodies over skewed job allocation and disbursal of wages.
While one cannot paint a broad brush picture and each case has to be viewed individually, State level as well as grassroots level officials say that the main reason behind the protests is a misconception about how the NREGA works.
The general notion about payment of Rs 148 per day irrespective of the output is wrong.
As per the NREGA Act, wages should be paid only to the extent of work done.
Previously, the wages were paid in a generalised manner. For example, if 100 people work at a site, the wage would be uniform based on the collective output, not on the individual contribution.
To set right the anomaly, monitoring has been tightened to ensure that wages are tied to the actual effort. Besides, groups of 20 people have been formed for any work. The group that performs better gets higher wages. Worksite supervisors take group-wise measurement of the completed work.
For the NREGA week between July 4 and 10 this year, 209 village panchayats paid full wages of Rs148 to many workers.
While 97 panchayats paid Rs 141-147, 838 of them gave wages between Rs 121 and Rs 140. Similarly, 1,890 panchayats paid wages between Rs 101 and Rs 120 while 2,636 panchayats gave Rs 81-100. Up to Rs 50 was paid to workers in 715 panchayats, based on the group measurement criterion, officials said.
In Tamil Nadu, rules have been relaxed to a great extent to suit the conditions prevailing in rural areas. Considering the fact that 83 per cent of the workers coming under NREGA are women and are above 40, the work volume for getting the full wages has been reduced.
For example, if a person has to get Rs148 per day, norms say that he/she must do 57 cubic feet of earthwork. That has been reduced to 42 cubic feet in Tamil Nadu.
At the State-level, the director, joint director and other top officials visit worksites once in a fortnight to take stock of the progress and redress grievances, if any.
At the district level, collectors, project directors and other officials monitor the implementation.
Besides, to redress the grievances of workers eight ombudsman have been appointed and seven more are to be hired soon. Training is to be given to 5,000 worksite supervisors about the NREGA Act and issues like taking prior measurement for the works to be done and surveying the completed works.
It is the job of the worksite supervisors to clearly explain the deliverables to the workers and ensure that they are paid accordingly.
In accordance with the guidelines for the NREGA scheme, a Social Audit Society of Tamil Nadu (SASTHA) has been instituted from July 27, 2012. Through this initiative, steps are being taken to undertake social audit in all village panchayats. So far nine village panchayats from nine districts have been chosen for this pilot project.
Officials at the grassroots level also deny charges that the NREGA has led to the erosion of the agricultural workforce. Describing it as an old allegation, they point out that the government has taken many measures to ensure that basic agriculture-related works are brought under the ambit of the NREGA scheme.