The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) completed 10 years on Tuesday, sparking a political slugfest as both the Congress and the BJP rushed to take credit for its “success”.
While Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Narendra Modi government had given the scheme, allegedly in a “pitiable” state under the Manmohan Singh-led UPA, a fresh infusion of life through generous funding, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi slammed the government for trying to appropriate the scheme’s success after calling it a “monument of Congress’s failure”.
MGNREGA was UPA’s flagship welfare programme, guaranteeing 100 days of work each year for every rural household.
Former PM Manmohan Singh accused the Modi government of killing “the soul and spirit” of the programme. “Despite the enormous potential of MGNREGA as a social security programme, Prime Minister Modi does not like it. He has called MGNREGA an epitome of Congress failure; ‘a living proof of 60 years of Congress misrule’,” Singh said in Anantapur district.
“The government seeks to kill the soul and spirit of MGNREGA by withholding payments to states. In 2014-15 alone, the Centre did not make payment of Rs 6,000 crore to for work already executed under MGNREGA.”
Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh claimed that the government’s spending on MGNREGA was at a record high of Rs 36,977 crore.
“A kind of indifference towards it (MGNREGA) was growing by 2013-14, when the scheme entered its seventh and eighth years…. When there was a change of government in 2014-15, there was talk on whether the scheme will be discontinued, or its fund allocation curtailed,” Jaitley said at the MGNREGA Sammelan in Delhi. “But the new government not only took forward the scheme but also increased its fund.”
Jaitley claimed that the NDA has not followed the practice of making higher provisions and later cutting back. “I think this would be the first year when
Rs 34,000 crore-Rs 35,000 crore that was allocated has not only been spent fully, but also more resources could be given to MGNREGA,” he said. There are political, social and economic arguments for investing more in the scheme, he contended.
Criticising the NDA, Rahul tweeted that only the other day the government was calling MGNREGA a monument of Congress failure, but now hails it as a cause of national pride and celebration. His party colleague Randeep Surjewala said the BJP had done “everything possible to destroy MGNREGA” before suddenly discovering its virtues in a “characteristic U-turn”.
People’s Action for Employment Guarantee, an NGO led by Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, said it is disappointing that while the government had promised another Rs 5,000 crore for the programme in last year’s budget, it had released only Rs 2,000 crore.
“Today, MGNREGA faces a negative balance of funds in 14 states, and demands from many others that the Ministry of Rural Development is not in a position to meet. This means that in those 14 states either work will not be given as per demand, or wages will be inordinately delayed, both of which are basic violations of the law,” the NGO said.