"States should wake up and make prompt payments," a bench comprising Chief Justice HL Dattu and Justice Amitava Roy said while issuing notice to the Ministry of Rural Development.
"It is about delay in wages and payment of compensation," the bench said while interrupting advocate Prashant Bhushan who wanted to make further submissions on the issue.
"We have already issued notice without hearing anything. If you want to make any further submission, keep it for the next hearing," it added.
The top court was hearing a plea by RTI activist Aruna Roy, social activist Nikhil Dey and ex-civil servant Lalit Mathur seeking setting up of independent Social Audit Units and indexing wage rates under NREGA higher than that minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act.
The petitioners have claimed that irregularities in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has eroded the entire objective of securing livelihood for the people of rural India.
Maintaining that Section 22(1) of the Act mandates the Centre to release funds for the wages, the petitioners said the dues payable to the rural workers have mounted to Rs 3,100 crore. "There is continuing violation of the provisions of the Act. ... and there is a failure to provide funds for the work done," it added.
"Poor implementation of the Act at the hands of the Central as well as State Governments has rendered the Act ineffective," the PIL said.
The PIL has sought a direction to the Centre to restore the demand-based fund-release system as envisaged in the Operational Guidelines 2008 and comply with its statutory mandate of releasing funds to match the state governments' expenditure at all times, including the expenditure for payment of compensation in lieu of delay in payment of wages to workers.
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