MGNREGS site supervisors left behind pending salary payments

The Mates, frontline supervisors of the program who mobilize workers, face inordinate delays in getting their salaries due to structural flaws in the MNREGS

The Mates, frontline supervisors of the program who mobilize workers, face inordinate delays in getting their salaries due to structural flaws in the MNREGS

Sonu Salvi, 24, from Bhilwara district in Rajasthan, aspires to become a teacher. She has just finished her Bachelor of Arts and hopes to do a Bachelor of Education next, except that she does not know how to pay for her higher education. She funded her education through the salary she earned as a ‘mate’ or site supervisor under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). However, since December 2021, she has not received her salary.

“I had to take out a loan of ₹10,000 to pay tuition fees for me and my younger sister for the last year of bachelor’s degree. I forgot the number of applications I wrote and the many visits to the office panchayat I’ve done. Each time, I get a standard response: ‘You will get the payment when the Center pays,'” Ms. Salvi said.

Mrs. Salvi’s example is just one of many among the Mates of Rajasthan, whose salaries have been inordinately delayed. Rajasthan is not the only state to face this problem.

According to the MNREGA, the wages of unskilled workers must be paid within 15 days and if there is a delay, the Center must compensate them. Journeypersons – who are the front-line supervisors of the programs – are listed as semi-skilled workers due to the specialized nature of their work. What should have been a head start for them tragically ended up being a complication. Their salaries come from the “material component”, 60% of which is paid by the Union government. This component is now released erratically, caught in bureaucratic delays and a chronic shortage of funds.

“The success or failure of the program depends on the Mates. They should definitely be paid more for the work they do. Instead of giving them the attention they deserve, they were left on a branch. There is weak capacity building, poor supervision, and they do not have a support structure”Nikhil DeyActivist

In the case of Rajasthan, according to KK Pathak, Secretary for Rural Development, the Union government has only been paying its debts for a fortnight. Importantly, this payment came after a gap of more than a year. The last installment had arrived in April 2021.

Mates in Rajasthan are paid only slightly more than labourers. While MNREGA workers receive ₹231 per day, Mates receive ₹235. Unfortunately for those few extra rupees, Ms. Salvi and many others like her have to wait endlessly for their salary.

In the face of delayed salaries, female Mates have to face greater chances. Jamuna Devi, from Barakhan village in Ajmer district, said: “I have two children. When I go to work, I leave them with my mother-in-law. And when my salary is delayed, I also have to respond to my family’s taunts. Why are you going to work if you don’t get any money, they say.

Registration in the unqualified category

To deal with this systemic flaw in Chhattisgarh, Mates are bludgeoned with unskilled laborers so that at least their salaries are not delayed. In Jharkhand too, according to Siraj Dutta of MNREGA Sangarsh Morcha, the Mates, discouraged by the delay, started enrolling in the unqualified category.

In Karnataka, the state government has found a way around the problem. “We pay the Mates the same as unskilled workers, but on top of that they get incentives. A male companion receives ₹4 and a female ₹5 per worker they have mobilized. This incentive comes from the material component, which is released when we get the funds from the Center. In this way, only a small part of their salary is delayed,” said LK Atheeq, Additional Chief Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Government of Karnataka.

Many states have petitioned the Union government to find a permanent solution to this problem. “We have asked the Center to separate the salaries of skilled and semi-skilled workers from the material component, so that they are paid on time,” Pathak added.

The companions are critical MNREGS officials, said activist Nikhil Dey. “The success or failure of the program depends on the Mates. They should definitely be paid more for the work they do. Instead of giving them the attention they deserve, they were left on a branch. There is weak capacity building, poor supervision and they do not have a support structure,” Mr. Dey added.

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