Updated: April 8, 2019 8:36:13 am
In its previous ruling stint in New Delhi, the Congress’s flagship social welfare programme was MGNREGA, which provides 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a year to every rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. For its next shot at power, the grand old party is promising to implement a minimum income support programme called NYAY. For all its drawbacks — from the quality of assets built to not providing work when needed and delayed wage payments — MGNREGA’s inherent appeal has been its self-targeting mechanism of beneficiary selection. Since the better-off would ordinarily refrain from participating, the programme has largely benefited the needy. MGNREGA’s utility was demonstrated in 2009-10, a drought year, when 283.59 crore person-days of employment was generated and the average household got 53.91 days of work. Those numbers dropped to 166.21 crore person-days and 40.17 days in 2014-15, the first year of the Narendra Modi government. But to the latter’s credit, both asset quality (usefulness and durability) and money reaching the intended beneficiaries (through electronic transfer of wages into their Aadhaar-seeded bank accounts) have improved significantly under it.
NYAY, by contrast, offers no advantage of self-targeting. The Congress manifesto has, instead, promised to transfer Rs 72,000 every year to the country’s 5 crore poorest families constituting a fifth of its population. The eligibility of beneficiaries here will ostensibly be based on administrative targeting, which is prone to both exclusion and inclusion errors. Moreover, the poor may not always remain poor, just as the person who isn’t in the bottom 20 per cent today could well slip into that tomorrow. These issues aren’t there in MGNREGA, where the person ceasing to be needy will simply stop seeking work under the programme. Given that the Congress can lay claim to MGNREGA as its baby, the focus ought to have been more on making it a genuinely demand-driven scheme. On paper, beneficiaries are to get work within 15 days of application, failing which they are entitled to an unemployment allowance. Disbursement of wages, too, is supposed to happen within 15 days of the work getting done. Rather than promising to implement these already-existing operational guidelines and providing sufficient budgetary resources for MGNREGA, the manifesto has committed to yet another entitlement scheme.
Identification complications and associated scope for corruption apart, NYAY is going to be fiscal challenging: No Congress leader has given a credible answer to how, and from where, the Rs 3,60,000-crore annual fund requirement for it will come. More persuasive would have been a pledge to secure ‘“nyay” (justice) for MGNREGA by ensuring that it is not underfunded.
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