Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi again touted the MNREGS scheme as one of the UPA government’s leading achievements, in his interview to PTI on Sunday. However, Ministry of Rural Development data shows that households have not got work for even half of the mandated 100 days annually since the flagship rural job guarantee scheme was launched.
The average days of employment per household under the MNREGS have been less than 50 a year, except in one financial year — 2009-10. The year had seen a drought, leading to a marginal increase in average workdays per household, but to just 54.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), introduced in February 2006, promises 100 days of employment every year to each rural household and has been a key electoral plank of the Congress.
In 2006-07, when the scheme was implemented in 200 districts, the average workdays per household was 43; in 2007-08, the figure was 42 across 330 districts. Expanded to 615 districts in 2008-09, the statistic was 48, and for 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13, it was 47, 43 and 46 respectively. In the current financial year, the figure so far is no better at 42.
The so-called BIMARU states fare no better, with Bihar seeing 37 workdays on an average, Madhya Pradesh 29, Rajasthan 39 and Uttar Pradesh 31 this financial year till December.
This means that, on an average, households don’t work or are not provided employment for even half of the stipulated 100 days.
And while the government has increased the number of workdays under the scheme to 150 for tribal households, as reported by The Indian Express earlier, merely 11 per cent of Scheduled Tribe households have been able to complete even the promised 100 days of employment a year in the last few fiscal years.
The budget for MNREGS, however, has seen a rise, from around Rs 11,000 crore in 2006-07 (200 districts) to Rs 40,000 crore in 2009-10. The current budgetary allocation is Rs 33,000 crore.
Ministry officials say MNREGS is a demand-based scheme and work is provided to beneficiaries as per their demand and employment cannot be thrust upon them. However, activists say the scheme has been bogged down by implementation issues. “The figures are very distressing, particularly when they are low in states with high unemployment and distress migration. This is primarily because the system is not able to cater to demand and capture it where it exists, largely due to implementation issues and budget constraints. In terms of budget, it has gone down in real terms. Moreover, this is a programme facing huge resistance (from quarters). Delayed wage payments and, in some states, low wages are also factors,” says activist Nikhil Dey of the MKSS.
While the Act stipulates that payments be generated with 15 days of work being completed, in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 (so far), only 58 per cent, 56 per cent and 61 per cent of the payments respectively were given within the period. This means at least a fourth of the workers were not paid on time.