States asked to complete NREGA FY17 audit by September

NEW DELHI: The Centre has asked all states to finish the financial audit of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) for 2016-17 by September this year so that the remaining amount allocated to the scheme can be released early.

Delay in the financial audit of MGNREGS, the government’s flagship rural job guarantee scheme, is the key reason why several states have not been getting funds under the scheme on time. For instance, the Centre could transfer funds for 2016-17 to Bihar only in March this year because the state provided the audit report late.

For the current fiscal, the government had disbursed Rs 23,443 crore, or half of the 2017-18 budget allocation for MGNREGS, to the states in April. However, the remaining amount cannot be released till the scheme’s audit reports are in.

“We cannot transfer funds beyond 50% of the budget without receiving a financial statement of the previous year. By giving funds in advance we can ensure timely payments, which is our top priority for MGNREGS this year,” a senior official told ET.

The rural development ministry has also explained this constraint to the Supreme Court, which had pulled up the Centre last year for not providing timely wages to the poor under NREGS. Two successive years of drought had added to the woes of those who had not received pay under MGNREGS.

According to government data, in the current financial year, 20.9 crore person days of work have been generated so far and 89% of wage payments have been made within 15 days of work done, as mandated by the Act (MGNREGA) governing the scheme. In 2016-17, only 47% of the total payments were made within the stipulated 15 days.

The ministry has also drawn up alist of states accounting for maximum transactions and delays so as to sharpen its focus on timely payments. Nearly 95% of the transactions are done by 17 states. Tamil Nadu, which draws 20% of MGNREGS funds, the maximum among all states, reported delays in more than 90% payments during the financial year.

The government has also ordered an evaluation of over 80 lakh hectare of water conservation work done under MGNREGA in 2015-17. The exercise is being undertaken by the Institute of Economic Growth and the final report would be available by September 30, 2017. “It will help us undertake any mid-course correction if required. The study will also spot lagging states and guide us about the technical specifications and if they need to be changed,” the official cited earlier said.

Source: Economic Times