NREGA Workers Face Challenges To Access Wages In Banks In Odisha: Survey

Bhubaneswar: Even as the government deposits the wages of NREGA workers in their bank accounts in Odisha, they have to spend multiple challenges like spending considerable time and money in accessing their money from their preferred disbursement agency, according to a survey.

The survey was conducted among 1,066 NREGA workers in August 2021 by LibTech India in partnership with the Foundation for Ecological Security across 5 blocks of Athmallik, Banspal, Kankadahad, Pottangi, and Semiliguda. The disbursement agencies studied included bank branches, Customer Service Points (CSPs) and Banking Correspondents (BCs), ATMs, and Indian Postal Payments Bank (IPPB).

The survey found that banks were too few and too far; network connectivity remained a serious problem; officials at CSPs or BCs charging ‘commissions’ was normal.

Key findings

  • Half the workers spent more than Rs 200 (approximately equivalent to NREGA’s daily wage of Rs 215) on each visit to withdraw their wages. Half of the workers using bank branches to access their wages had to travel more than 10 km. Around 27% of the bank-goers spent more than Rs 100 on transport.
  • Time required to withdraw wages after reaching the agency was higher in banks — only 8% bank users took less than 1 hour to withdraw their wages compared to 18% for CSP/BC users. One-third bank users and one-fifth CSP/BC users took more than 6 hours to withdraw their wages.
  • 73% of the workers missed at least one day of work.
  • The costs of withdrawing wages multiply when workers have to make multiple visits for lack of information on wage credit and infrastructural issues. More than half the workers had to make multiple visits for not knowing when their wages got credited.
  • Infrastructural issues like overcrowding, network failure and lack of electricity often led to more delays and required multiple visits.
  • 63% of workers regularly made multiple visits.
  • Only half the workers reported getting information about wage credit through credible sources like programme officials and SMS.
  • 13% of CSP/BC users did not have a passbook, and of those who had it, 35% reported it was never updated. 20% of overall workers reported their passbooks were updated by hand. The lack of transparency has made workers vulnerable to misdirections and fraud. Around one-fourth of the workers said that they didn’t know if their wages had been misdirected or if they had been subjected to fraud.
  • 18% workers filed a complaint but only 1% did so in writing. Of those who filed a complaint, 78% workers filed it for receiving long pending wages.

Key recommendations:

  • There is an urgent requirement for more bank branches, ATMs, and CSPs/BCs to be set up closer to workers. The government needs to ensure that the financial institutions are following the Rural Branching Mandate of setting up 25% of the branches in rural areas as per the RBI Master Circular.
  • The government must ensure that the required infrastructure such as electricity, internet connectivity and offline capabilities are available for smooth functioning.
  • The government and CSOs must regularly disseminate information about wage credit through reliable mechanisms that have been arrived at through proper consultation with workers.
  • The financial institutions must make passbooks available to everyone and update the passbooks free of cost at all disbursement agencies whenever the worker demands it.
  • The government and CSOs should paste a list of Know Your Rights (KYR) in Odia in all public places such as schools, Anganwadis, panchayat bhavans and all disbursement agencies.
  • The government must strengthen the grievance redressal mechanisms and make them more accessible to workers, along with a short time period for resolution.
  • The government must create strong accountability structures for every intermediary in the disbursement of wage payments including agencies such as UIDAI, NPCI, PFMS, Banks, and CSPs/BCs. Each of these agencies should be brought within the ambit of social audits.
  • The CSOs should spread awareness about the grievance redressal mechanism and assist workers in filing complaints.

Highlighting the non-accountability of banks and CSP/BCs, Nihar Ranjan Swain, Director OSSAAT said, “If Ministry of Rural Development gives us a mandate to take up social audits of these aspects (banking activities, financial infrastructure), we are ready.”

Anjan Pradhan, convenor of the Odisha Shramajeebi Manch said NREGA wages should be disbursed in-hand at the panchayat level like pensions.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.