Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, while presenting the Union Budget for 2016-17, claimed that the Rs 38,500 crore allocation made for MGNREGA was the highest ever for the scheme. But a month into the current financial year, the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) has already exhausted over half of this earmarked amount. And by end-June, not even a quarter may be left.
Out of the total Rs 19,340 crore released so far, about 63 per cent has been disbursed to just the 10 officially drought-affected states: Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh. The MoRD also expects the bulk of the demand for MGNREGA works to be in the first quarter. Once the monsoon rains cover most of the country by July, there should be scope for resumption of normal agricultural employment.
The ministry has projected total person-days employment under MGNREGA for April-June at 7,056.09 lakh, which is about 29 per cent higher than the 5,480.20 crore during the same quarter last year. That includes 2,255.31 lakh in April (against 1,293.24 lakh in the same month last year), 2,483.22 lakh in May (1,980.93 lakh) and 2,317.56 lakh in June (2,206.03 lakh).
Many states, in the last couple of years, have resorted to not registering demand for work even when faced with drought. The reason for this is the MGNREGA rule, requiring them to pay every worker an unemployment benefit in the event of work not being provided within 15 days of demand registration.
To preempt any such move, the MoRD, earlier this month, asked the ten drought-affected states to plan works without being constrained by budgetary allocations. “The agreed-to labour budget for 2016-17 does not imply that work cannot be provided beyond the labour budget, if there is genuine demand for work,” it has said in a communication to chief secretaries of these states.
Further, they have been told to “intensify the implementation of MGNREGA with special focus on drought affected areas”.
Also, while providing employment, creation of assets that can combat drought in the long run needed to be given “top priority”. Such assets include farm ponds (10.26 lakh targeted in the ten states for this fiscal), roadside plantations (15,392 km) and vermi-compost tanks (5.52 lakh).
The MGNREGA monies released up to now will also cover unpaid labour wages from 2015-16, though not outstanding dues of around Rs 4,000 crore to contractors and suppliers. With the focus currently on ensuring that nobody demanding work is turned away, payments towards material costs would have to wait after the monsoon’s arrival. But this, some fear, may actually end up impacting work on the ground.
MoRD joint secretary Aparajita Sarangi said that a supplementary grant of Rs 12,000 crore would be sought from the finance ministry later this year.
“From our side, there is no capping as far as the labour budget goes. Before 2015-16, MGNREGA demand was practically being controlled from Delhi. We have removed all these controls now, especially since this is a drought year. States have been assured that all wage and material liabilities will be paid by the Centre,” she added.