The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), the flagship welfare programme of the previous UPA dispensation, seems to have received a fresh lease of life. This, barely a year after PM Narendra Modi had called it a “living monument of your (the Congress’s) failure to tackle poverty in 60 years”.
Arun Jaitley’s Union budget for 2016-17 has provided a sum of Rs 38,500 crore for MGNREGA, which is more than the revised estimate of Rs 35,766.75 crore for the current fiscal. Even the latter figure is higher than the originally budgeted Rs 33,713 crore for 2015-16.
“We expect 215 crore person-days of employment to be created under MGNREGA in 2016-17, as against a likely 210 crore this year,” a Rural Development Ministry official told The Indian Express.
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Both these represent a significant improvement over the all-time-low 166.20 crore person-days employment generated in 2014-15, the first year of the current NDA government. That year also saw a cutback in budgetary allocation for the scheme (see table). The average days of employment provided per household also dropped to 40.17 from 45.98 in 2013-14 and 46.19 in 2012-13. “This year, we will see the figure cross 50 days,” the official added.
MGNREGA provides 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a year to every rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
The programme’s best year was 2009-10, when 283.59 crore person-days employment was generated and the average days of work per household also touched 53.19.
Interestingly, 2009-10 was also the best year for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY): Despite it being the baby of the previous NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a record 60,117 km of rural roads got built by the UPA government.
MGNREGA’s current turnaround (along with PMGSY) is being attributed mainly to better monitoring and timely release of funds.
“In 2014-15, most states, including those implementing the programme well, ran out of funds by October. When supply of funds dried up, leading to delayed payment of wages, there was less demand from the gram panchayats to take up works even in a drought year,” the official pointed out.
That has changed this year, with the proportion of delayed payments — that is, beyond 15 days after the closure of muster rolls — falling to below 57 per cent from over 73 per cent in 2014-15.
The Modi government has also sought to emphasise more on creation of durable and productive assets under MGNREGA.
In his budget speech, Jaitley said that in the coming fiscal, “at least 5 lakh farm ponds and dug wells in rain fed areas and 10 lakh compost pits for production of organic manure will be taken up by making productive use of the allocations under MGNREGA”.