New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday asked the central government to ensure that the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was implemented across the country with realistic budgetary allocations to avoid any “unnecessary controversy” on “release of funds”.
“Since the Act is a social welfare and social justice legislation, the government of India must ensure that its provisions are faithfully implemented by all concerned,” said the bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice N.V.Ramana in their judgment.
The bench said that for the implementation of the scheme that the “state governments ought to present a realistic budget which should then be pragmatically considered by the Empowered Committee” to “avoid any unnecessary controversy between the state governments and the government of India about the release of funds under the scheme”.
It directed the central government to release adequate funds under the act in a “timely manner so that the ‘workforce’ is paid its wages well in time”.
Asking the central government to compensate the workers for delayed payments, the court said: “It is regrettable that the pending wage bill for 2015-16 was cleared only during the pendency of this petition. The government of India must shape up in this regard.”
The court said this in a series of four judgments on a plea by Swaraj Abhiyan seeking its intervention to secure relief to the people in drought-affected states across the country.
While issuing directions for implementation of provisions of the National Food Security Act and the rual job guarantee scheme and setting up of state-level State Employment Guarantee Councils, the court said that social welfare statutes were enacted without putting in place machinery for enforcing them.
Speaking for the bench, Justice Lokur said: “We might mention that the Union of India usually brings into force a statute without putting in place the implementation machinery. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the mechanism for enforcing several provisions of the NFS Act has not been established or constituted.”
Saying that it was “completely inexplicable”, the court said: “We fail to understand how a statute enacted by parliament can be given effect to without appropriate rules and regulations being framed for putting in place the nuts and bolts needed to give teeth to the law or setting up mechanisms in accordance with the provisions of the statute.
“It is perhaps this tardiness in execution that enables some state governments to take it easy and implement the law whenever it is convenient to do so.”
Seeking the implementation of the provision of the Food Security Act including establishment of an internal grievance mechanism and appointment or designation of grievance redressal officer for each district, the court said: “No household in a drought-affected area shall be denied food grains as required under the NFS Act only because the household does not have a ration card.
“In the states in which drought has been declared or might be declared in the future, all households should be provided with their monthly entitlement of food grains in terms of the NFS Act regardless of whether they fall in the category of priority household or not.”
Issuing a series of direction for the implementation of both acts including their monitoring mechanism, the court however, declined Swaraj Abhiyan’s plea to oversee implementation of the various directions it issued.
Saying that it would keep the matter pending for examination as to how its directions were carried out, the court directed the central government to file a status report by July 25 and listed next hearing on August 1.