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Labour ministry should delve into constraints impeding optimal fund utilisation: Parliamentary panel

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A parliamentary panel has asked the labour ministry to seriously look into the infrastructural or procedural constraints impeding optimal utilisation of funds especially made available during the pandemic.

The observation was made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour in its 17th report on demand of grants for 2020-21 tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

On March 25 last year, the government had imposed a lockdown to contain deadly coronavirus, which slowed down economic activities across the country.

The panel noted that the upward revision of the allocation in RE (revised estimate) of the ministry’s expenditure for the current fiscal year has been owing to the launch of Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) during the pandemic with a view to giving a boost to the economy.

Though an allocation of Rs 4,860 crore has been made for PMGKY in the first supplementary demand for grants, only Rs 2,566 crore could be spent as of February 15, 2021, which amounts to the utilisation of only 52.8 per cent of the funds, it noted.

Further, it stated that there has been a downward revision of the allocation for the scheme to Rs 2,600 crore at the RE stage.

This apart, Rs 1,000 crore has been allocated for Aatmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana (ABRY) at RE stage, it noted.

The savings witnessed in respect of various other schemes of the ministry during the year total to, or are equivalent to the additional budget allocation for PMGKY and ABRY taken together, it observed.

It found that the launch of two new special schemes — PMGKY and ABRY — has been intended to cater to the needs of the country owing to the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the panel emphasised ensuring that accurate budgetary estimates are made before seeking supplementary allocation, if required, for smooth implementation of the schemes.

For 2020-21, BE (budget estimate), RE and AE (actual estimate) (up to February 14, 2021) figures stood at Rs 12,065.49 crore, Rs 13,719.56 crore and Rs 12,432.10 crore, respectively which amounts to a utilization percentage of 90.57 per cent vis-a-vis the funds allocated at RE stage, it found.

For 2020-21, the utilisation of funds (by the ministry) has not been evenly spread out across all the four quarters of the year, it said.

The utilisation has been to the extent of Rs 3,661.82 crore (April-June), Rs 2,798.26 crore (July-September), Rs 5,879.28 crore (October-December) and Rs 94.92 crore (from January up to February 18, 2021), it noted.

The scheme-wise analysis of utilization of funds for 2020-21 (up to February 18, 2021) revealed that the Employee’s Pension Scheme (EPS) and PMGKY are the only schemes that recorded expenditure to the extent of 100 per cent and 109.62 per cent, respectively vis-a-vis RE whereas for most other schemes, the percentage of utilization has been to the extent of 70-80 per cent.

In the case of the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) and Social Security Scheme for Tea Plantation Workers in Assam, the utilization recorded has been as low as 24.52 per cent and 30 per cent.

Needless to say, the endeavour of the ministry should be to evenly utilize the budgeted funds across all quarters for ensuring maximum impact of these schemes on the labour force of the country rather than resorting to increased spending during the last quarter, it suggested.

The committee also observed that gross underutilization of funds has impacted the performance of certain schemes thereby defeating the laudable intent of these schemes in benefitting the targeted group.

The panel exhorted the ministry to act on improving the implementation of machinery and work towards bringing about more efficiency, especially during these critical times.

As regards Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-Dhaan Yojana (PMSYM), it found that while the target fixed was 2 crore new enrollments, the number of beneficiaries enrolled were 1,18,375.

The low level of enrollments has been attributed mainly to the outbreak of the pandemic, it noted.

Similarly, for the National Pension Scheme for Traders, Shopkeepers and Self-Employed Persons, the enrollments have been minuscule at 6,213 vis-a-vis the target of 50 lakh beneficiaries, it found.

The committee observed that the pandemic may have had a deleterious effect on the implementing agencies. Nevertheless, the targeted beneficiaries of these schemes were also the ones who were severely hit by the pandemic.

It also found that there is a sharp increase in grievances pending with Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) at the beginning of the year 2020-21 (as of December 31, 2021) with percentage disposal of the grievances also being the lowest at 96.82 per cent in the year as compared to 99.19 per cent and 97.78 per cent in 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively.

It suggested that proactive measures need to be taken up speedily by the ministry to bring down the number of unsettled grievances which stood at 30,411 till the end of 2020.

It opined that the government should specifically look into the grievances pertaining to employers’ failure to deposit PF contribution deducted from the wages of the employee in the PF accounts and simultaneously defaulting on their own contribution as well.

A conscious decision leading to payment to workers who are yet to receive the statutory benefits of PF and ESI (employees state insurance) since long due to default of the employees needs to be urgently taken up for redressal, it said.



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