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Middlemen still rule in job scheme: KEA study

Contractors or ‘mestris’ get work done through machines but show work to be done by MNREGA workers

A five-year evaluation of payment of wages to beneficiaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme through Electronic Fund Management System (eFMS) in Karnataka revealed presence of contractors or “mestris”/middlemen who get work done through machines but show the work to have been carried out by registered MNREGA workers.

Evaluation of the functioning of eFMS during 2013-14 and 2018-19 conducted by the Karnataka Evaluation Authority (KEA) found that a majority of ‘not worked’ job cardholders had lent their cards to mestris or contractors who get an assigned work done through machines such as tractors, tippers, JCBs.

The payment of wage to beneficiaries through eFMS in eight districts of Chickballapur, Kolar, Dakshina Kannada, Mandya, Uttara Kannada, Dharwad, Kalaburagi, and Yadgir found that 32.3% of job cardholders had never worked even once under MNREGA. “But they were all job cardholders, and claimed to have registered seeking work”. Another 53.8% claimed to have worked just once after having registered and obtained the job card, said the KEA study (2020).

Some gram panchayats have informed about a new type of “middleman” emerging in the process of wage disbursal. “These are the outsourced ‘data entry operators’, who too, the study said, “demand a fee for their role of timely data entry operations or facilitating the uploading of funds transfer order and digital signatures of the two signatories.”

Since the introduction of eFMS in 2013-14, money has been transferred to beneficiaries’ accounts directly without any cash disbursement. Wages to the labourers are expected to be paid on a weekly basis and not beyond 15 days of the date on which work was done.

The State has more than 68 lakh job cardholders in the State.

Though the workers preferred eFMS mode of payment, material suppliers such as contractors or mestris were not shown much preference. “It is the mestri, he or she, who collects the wage list, attendance list with the different workers’ names and details of work done by them,” shows study.

On the positive side, out of a sample of 4,301 job cardholders, 75% had reported that there was no delay in wage payment since eFMS had been introduced. In 2018-19, Karnataka’s average rate of timely payment of wages stood at 75.76% against the country’s average of 90.52%.

Major reasons were not due to technology factors but owing to the absence of signatories in office when required, mismatch between the account particulars and what was stated in the wage bills, the delay in preparation of wage bills by the team leaders (mestris), wrong entry of job card number, and changes in bank account number after job card registration, the KEA study said.

In some districts, it was difficult to procure casual workers for agriculture or for any other operations largely due to implementation of the Anna Bhagya scheme, it said.

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