NREGS wages in focus once again

An article in India Together argues for a return to the old system of wage payment in cash in the NREGS with some heavy romance –

By transparent mechanisms like muster roll maintenance and cash disbursement in full public view, designs of community control like choosing work and conducting social audits by gram sabhas had discouraged corruption and also exposed embezzlement by the local elite who controlled local matters. The poorest lot — labourers, landless, and small and marginal farmers, the potential beneficiaries of MGNREGA — had even started challenging feudal domination. Maybe, had this trend continued, it could have possibly led to greater social transformation through gradual decimation of feudal dominance.

So long as the cash payment of wages was in place, despite its limitations, it was within the grasp of the common lot and hence, under their control. In such a system, the victims might have not had the courage to question the local elite like sarpanchs, contractors, or the panchayat staff. But in the long run, they could not have tolerated their hard-earned money being bungled up by others.

The author clearly is skeptical of making payments through banks. And I felt it is a touch arrogant to claim that people on the ground cannot comprehend the institutional wage payment system and therefore, wouldn’t be able to monitor the programme.

Aside from this, the article does make a final valid rant –

When certain shortcomings of this mode of payment came to the fore, a new system of mobile bank payment through biometric smart card is being experimented in some districts. Though initial observations show good results, only time can tell its real impact. The concern is: the more the system becomes complicated in vital components like wage payment, the more it drifts away from the common people’s understanding. In such cases, the government, social activists, and the media occupy the centre-stage and debate and discuss to sort out the issues. Ironically, the poor stand on the periphery as they have little say on matters that affect them the most.  

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