Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have taunted the previous UPA government by calling its flagship rural jobs guarantee act “a living monument of your failures”, but it seems the scheme has found a vocal supporter within his own party — Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Chouhan termed the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) as “one of the best programmes in independent India”.
The three-time BJP CM further said MNREGA has led to an increase in “income levels of rural poor” and an improvement in “economic conditions in rural areas”.
Chouhan, however, echoed Modi’s criticism that the situation after 67 years of independence — mostly under Congress rule — was such that the government has to provide jobs as a legal entitlement.
Chouhan, who chairs a Niti Aayog sub-group on centrally sponsored schemes comprising chief ministers of 10 states, also stressed on the need for certain amendments to the Act to make the most of it.
“We need to create permanent assets and make the Act flexible so that the MNREGA funds can be effectively combined with schemes conceived by state governments,” he said. “For example, in Madhya Pradesh, the state government has used the funds under the PMSGY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana) to convert kachha roads built using MNREGA funds into pucca roads. If there is a scope for converging the funds and programmes, this would be possible. Otherwise, you will not create anything. MNREGA can change the face of rural India if it can create permanent assets.”
He also said that he was able develop tribal areas in Madhya Pradesh by engaging tribals in works under the jobs guarantee scheme. “Around 3 lakh wells to irrigate farm land were dug using MGNREGA funds. This, in turn, helped them cultivate multi crops,” he said.
“MNREGA has proved to be very useful for labourers. There could be some shortcomings in the scheme, but they can be removed. As it is impossible to discriminate in providing jobs because of a legal entitlement of 100 days employment through the Act, the income level of rural labourers has gone up. This has helped improve the economic conditions in rural areas,” Chouhan said.
The Centre has allocated Rs 34,000 crore for the scheme in 2015-16, he pointed out. “But it’s a fact that it reflects poorly on us that we have to run a scheme to guarantee jobs. This means that we have failed to ensure minimum income for our workers,” he added.
Modi has repeatedly criticised the MNREGA, saying in Parliament on February 27, in his reply to the discussion on the motion of thanks on the President’s Address, “My political acumen tells me that MNREGA should not be shut down. I will not make such a mistake because MNREGA is a living monument of your (UPA’s) failure.” On Sunday, however, while addressing a gathering of BJP MPs, the PM appeared to acknowledge the Act, saying he should be informed in case of any irregularities were found in its implementation.
Meanwhile, speaking on other Centrally sponsored schemes, CM Chouhan credited the mid-day meal scheme — under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan — for the fall in school dropouts across the country. “Such schemes should be continued by the government of India,” he said.