The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the UOI to file its answer to the 2021 petition, which claims that delayed wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MNREGA) are piling up, coupled with negative balances in most states’ accounts. The Court ordered that a copy of the application be kept at the offices of ASG K. M. Nataraj, noting that he may seek advice and file a response.
The bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Ahsanuddin Amanullah was hearing an IA filed in the 2015 PIL by Swaraj Abhiyan for redressal of MGNREGA workers’ predicament, which was dismissed in May, 2018. “More than several thousand crores, Rs.13,000 crores of payments are waiting, payments have been due under MGNREGA to the workers, crores of workers,” said advocate Prashant Bhushan for the applicants.
“What is your basis?” asks Judge Rastogi. Mr. Bhushan: “This is undeniably true….
According to the Act, one person in every rural home must be provided with a hundred days of guaranteed employment. The Act further states that the employment must be delivered within 15 days of the demand, or they must pay unemployment benefits.
And if the payments are delayed for more than 15 days after they have worked, they will be compensated for the delay. Now, despite the various directions given by this court in this matter that an adequate budget be placed so that people can get employment under this Act, payments be made on time, unemployment allowances be given, and so on, the situation is that according to their own website, more than 10,000 crores of payment is still pending. In West Bengal alone—and this is only one state—more than 2000 crores in wages have been owed for the last 15,16 months. They are not being compensated.”
Justice Rastogi and Mr. Bhushan discuss the interrelationship between the central government and state governments. Mr. Bhushan argues that the act entitles workers to get minimum hundred days of work in a year, but the government refuses to give them work due to a lack of funds.
Justice Amanullah argues that the scheme is good, but it is giving rise to corruption due to the delay in releasing funds. The common man is benefiting from the scheme. Justice Rastogi and Mr. Bhushan argue that the central government has an obligation to pay workers who have worked under MGNREGA directly into their bank accounts.
However, the central government is refusing to do so due to allegations of corruption. The court in Puttaswamy has made it clear that workers cannot be denied payment for work they have done or their legal entitlement just because of their Aadhaar. Justice Rastogi explains that the central government wants the money to go to the beneficiary, but the process of linking Aadhaar to their bank account is cumbersome.
Activist Nikhil Dey, who has been associated with this cause for a long time, explains that for over 10 years, all workers are paid in bank accounts, but the central government wants an Aadhaar-based payment system (ABPS) which is not mandated under Aadhaar law or any other law. Justice Amanullah rejects Nataraj’s argument that the government has not done enough, while Justice Rastogi argues that the court can’t sit over and monitor all that is going on.
Justice Amanullah and Mr. Bhushan discuss the ABPS payment system, which requires workers to register and stand in queues. Justice Rastogi argues that money should go to the actual beneficiary, while Mr. Bhushan argues that it is the responsibility of the state government to ensure it is done.