As the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) enters its 10th year on Monday, data shows households have been provided employment for just a little over one third of the mandated 100 days so far this financial year on an average. By March end, this could improve a bit, but still end up among the lowest averages since the inception of the Act.
According to data available with the Rural Development Ministry, till January 31 this year, the average days of employment provided per households has been merely 34.84, significantly lower than the promised 100 days. Last financial year, the average number of days a household worked was 46.
MGNREGA, introduced in February 2006 by the Congress-led UPA government, promises 100 days of employment every year to each rural household. The current NDA government has been under fire from activists, economists and political opponents, who have accused it of trying to dilute the scheme and limit its scope. While MGNREGA has a current budgetary allocation of around Rs 34,000 crore, it is expected to be cut in the Union Budget for 2015-16.
The average days of employment provided per household has consistently been dismal, staying below 50, except in one financial year — 2009-10, a drought year. In 2006-07, the average workdays per household was 43, and in 2007-08 the figure was 42. In 2008-09, the statistic was 48 and for 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13, it was 54, 47, 43 and 46 respectively.
Ministry officials said the current year’s statistics are only till January and could improve by the end of March since data comes in with a certain lag. They also claimed that since it is a demand-driven scheme, the less number of days worked indicate lower demand for it. However, some officials explained how the data is significantly a supply-side problem, arising from gaps in implementation which leads to poor planning of work and hence, low employment generation. States have complained of serious fund shortages this year due to delay in release of funds from the Centre, thus adversely impacting the scheme’s implementation on the ground. This has hampered both generation of enough work as well as payment of wages on time.
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