With the 2023-24 Union Budget seeing an increase in capital expenditure to Rs 10 lakh crore – more than double that was allocated in 2020-21 – the Congress asked whether the Capex hike will be met through cuts in the allocation for the MGNREGS. The party also said that the allocation showed that “private investments” were “still not coming in” and that the government was “doing all the heavy lifting”.
“For me, something does not add up in the budget. Because they (the BJP) have said they will spend a lot of money on government capital expenditure. It is both good and bad. Good because it is good, quality expenditure. Bad because… where is the money for this coming from? It is coming from MGNREGA cuts,” Praveen Chakravarty, the head of the Congress’s data analytics department, told The Indian Express.
He added that the Capex hike “tells us that the private sector is still not investing”.
“For a Prime Minister and a party that came to power claiming minimum government, the government seems to be the only batsman which is playing. After eight years in power, the government is the only active player in the Indian economy. That is very evident by what the Finance Minister’s budget says,” he said.
The cut in the MGNREGS, he said, was “problematic”. “Only yesterday, the Chief Economic Advisor said in the Economic Survey that the NREGS demand is still very high – higher than what it was before Covid-19. So, by cutting the Budget allocation, they are either saying the MGNREGS demand will suddenly and dramatically come down or that people will ask and they will not be provided work. This is illegal because, by law, you have to provide work. It is a demand-based programme. Or they will provide work and spend more, which means the deficit will go up. This is why I am saying that it does not add up,” he said.
Calling everything else in the Budget “hogwash”, Chakravarty said: “The middle class tax cut and all are not really tax cuts. It is only for the new tax regime. Very few people are in the new regime anyway.”
The Budget allocated Rs 60,000 crore for the MGNREGS, which is 21.66 per cent lower than the budgetary estimate of Rs 73,000 crore in the 2022-’23 financial year. The reduction is sharper when compared with the revised MNREGS estimate of Rs 89,400 crore in the past financial year.
Jairam Ramesh, the head of the Congress communication department, said the government spent less than what was budgeted last year. “Last year’s Budget drew applause for allocation towards agriculture, health, education, MGNREGS and welfare of SCs. Today the reality is evident. Actual expenditure is substantially lower than budgeted. This is Modi’s OPUD strategy of headline management — Over Promise, Under Deliver,” he said on Twitter.