CONSTANT under-funding of MGNREGA, the rural employment guarantee scheme, is leading to low employment generation on the ground, with only 46 days of work being provided per employed household on an average over the last five years against the promised 100 days of work under the legislation, it was pointed out on Monday. The issue was raised by NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a country-wide coalition of MGNREGA workers and activists who are in Delhi to protest the steady weakening of the employment security scheme.
During this five-year period, they said, underfunding has meant that only 8.5 per cent of all households that participated in NREGA were able to get 100 days of work. According to a study by economists Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera, the MGNREGA budget as a proportion of GDP had peaked at 0.6 per cent in 2009-10. Since then, the Union government’s expenditure on the scheme has declined steadily — reaching 0.3 per cent of GDP in 2016-17.
Nikhil Dey, of Rajasthan-based Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana, said that of Rs 48,000 crore allotted to the scheme in this year’s budget, 75 per cent has already been spent, with Rs 11,000 crore being arrears for last year alone.
“Five states are in negative balance,” Dey said. “With another six months to go (until fiscal-end), work generation on ground will be seriously hit if the Finance Ministry doesn’t provide for a decent supplementary budget.” He said that states with a negative balance are Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, UP, West Bengal, and Nagaland.
Activists said that this goes against the spirit of the demand-driven scheme, which has seen a spurt in demand due to rural distress triggered by droughts, floods, and post-demonetisation reverse migration.
Data shows that over the years, wages have increased only in nominal terms with no increase in real wages. In 2012-13, both average nominal and real wages were at Rs 135 per day per person. Since then, there has been a divergence, with the nominal average wage being Rs 176 and real wage still stagnant at Rs 136.
Anuradha Talwar, of West Bengal Agriculture Workers’ Union, said there is an attempt to kill MGNREGA by freezing wages in addition to issues such as delays in payment and non-payment of compensation amount.