Length of the Last Mile: Delays and Hurdles in NREGA Wage Payments
This report was published in November 2020 by LibTech India (a collective of engineers, social workers and social scientists, which studies the delivery of public services in rural areas). The publication examines the challenges faced by workers in accessing wages earned under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, which aims to provide 100 days of paid work in a year to rural households in India.
With a foreword by development economist Prof.
Jean Dreze, the report contains the results of a survey conducted by LibTech
India in the first half of the financial year 2018-19. Interviews were carried
out in 1,947 households across Butchayyapeta block in Andhra Pradesh (667
households), Jawaja block in Rajasthan (658) and Basia and Manika blocks in
The 156-page report contains eight chapters – NREGA:
Background and Context (chapter 1); Length to the Last Mile (chapter 2); Research
Questions for the Survey (chapter 3); Methodology (chapter 4); Limitations of
the Survey (chapter 5); Findings (chapter 6); Recommendations (chapter 7) and
Appendices (chapter 8).
The survey’s 1,947 respondents obtained their MGNREGA wages from banks, ATMS, post offices, or through the Aadhaar-enabled payment systems at customer service points or with business correspondents. About 40 per cent of those who opted for customer service points or business correspondents faced biometric authentication failure at least once in their last five transactions.
The survey’s results show that workers learn whether their wages have been credited mainly by visiting their payment disbursement agency, or from MGNREGA officials or workers. Only 11 per cent of respondents stated that they are informed about their wages being credited through SMS services.
Roughly 25 per cent of respondents reported that despite being informed about wages being credited, they would often visit the disbursement agency to learn that their account had not yet received the money.
The report states that payment disbursement agencies are easier to reach in AP than in Jharkhand and Rajasthan. Roughly two-thirds of all respondents in AP had access to agencies in their own village. For 69 per cent of those surveyed in Jharkhand and 49 per cent in Rajasthan, the nearest agency was located within the block but far from their villages.
Around 65 per cent of respondents in AP, 50 per cent in Jharkhand and 97 per cent in Rajasthan, were unaware of the number of bank transactions they could do in a month. In Jharkhand and Rajasthan, roughly half of those surveyed did not know the minimum bank balance required to keep an account active.
Among the respondents with bank accounts, about 42 per cent of workers in Jharkhand, 38 per cent in Rajasthan and two per cent in AP, took more than four hours to withdraw their wages at the bank.
The report states that about 18 per cent of those with bank accounts had, in the past, been denied their wages at the bank. Instead, they were asked to visit customer service points or business correspondents for cash withdrawals.
Of the bank users surveyed, 45 per cent had to make multiple visits for their last withdrawal. Nearly 40 per cent of those that visited customer service points or business correspondents too had to make multiple visits due to transaction failures.
About 57 per cent of those surveyed reported that payment disbursement agencies did not update their passbooks after the respondent carried out a transaction. This was most severe in Rajasthan, where 69 per cent of respondents reported that their passbooks never get updated when they withdraw money. For most workers who were denied passbook updates, the key reasons included issues of network connectivity, faulty printers and overcrowding at the agency.
All respondents with postal accounts reported that their passbooks always get updated after cash withdrawals.
As of July 2020, the report states, about Rs. 4,800 crore worth of payments under MGNREGA have been rejected at payment disbursement agencies in the last five years. Nearly Rs. 1,274 crore worth of wages are still pending to be paid to workers.
Of those surveyed, 77 per cent were unaware of the reason for their MGNREGA payments being rejected.
About 546 of the 1,947 respondents communicated complaints regarding accessing their wages – to panchayat or block officials, payment disbursement agencies, the MGNREGA online portal and others – and about 94 per cent did so verbally. The remaining six per cent filed them in writing. Only one respondent filed the complaint online.
The report states that 59 per cent of the respondents who filed complaints did not have them satisfactorily resolved or resolved at all. Those who said that their complaints had not been resolved had either been told to wait for a few days or didn't know the status of their complaint.
Focus and Factoids by Sayani Rakshit.