February 3, 2015 3:39:18 am
As the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) entered its 10th year on Monday, at a time when there are allegations against the NDA government of trying to dilute it, some states expressed concerns about problems in implementation and a fund crunch while acknowledging the importance of the scheme in rural areas.
MGNREGA, introduced in 2006 by the Congress-led UPA government, promises a 100 days of employment every year to each rural household.
Speaking at the 10th MGNREGA Divas celebrations, states pointed out how the scheme did “exceptionally well” in the insurgency-hit areas, particularly the Northeast and LWE-affected districts.
“You are rich in industries… we are rich in insurgency. You are already developed, we are not yet developed. MGNREGA programme has done exceptionally well…Rest of the programmes are okay, but there is no programme as popular as MGNREGA,” Manipur Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Francis Ngajokpa said, adding, “Funds should be allocated not on the basis of size of the state, but on priorities.”
Rural Development Ministers from Assam, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura and Uttarakhand too echoed the views that the scheme has improved lives of rural poor. While Assam sought an increase in the administrative expenditure limit, Bihar said the scheme had become “allotment driven” from being “demand driven”. States also pointed out problems in implementation such as – poor bank connectivity, conditionalities on fund release by the centre, difficulties in convergence with other schemes, among others.
Meanwhile, Union Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh emphasised the need to develop “human assets” under the scheme, while focusing on convergence. Noting that MGNREGA helped in reducing distress migration from rural to urban centres, Singh said he would request the Finance Ministry to provide more funds for implementation of the improved version of the scheme in which skill development is a major component. “We are talking about creation of quality assets and physical infrastructure but why don’t we have human assets under MGNREGA?” the minister said.
Responding to some states about delays in release of funds, he hinted that in most cases states were to be blamed since they did not follow due procedures. In what could allay fears about this government’s disposition towards MGNREGA, Singh said the scheme had provided employment to crores of households every year and has become an important vehicle for enhancing the livelihoods of rural poor and strengthening the rural natural resource base.
The assurances, however, did not stop activists from accusing the NDA government of using budget cuts to “rapidly dilute and undermine” MGNREGA.
“The attack on MGNREGA began before this government. Since the new NDA government has come, it has become more drastic and explicit. Although they are saying no budgetary cuts, actually things are different. There is a real attempt to shrink it further,” economist Jayati Ghosh added.
“The government is purposely trying to kill it. The impact is already been felt in real wages. The worst effect is felt by the women workers and poor in the rural India,” Ghosh said. They also pointed out how the allocation to the scheme had been cut by nine percent in the Revised Budget estimates.
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