New Delhi: The earnings of India’s rural households increased by 45% in two years, thanks to the Union government’s flagship job guarantee scheme, says the rural development ministry, which oversees the scheme.
The ministry says the figures are based on an independent study it had commissioned, but experts claim the scheme hasn’t been as successful on the ground as the study suggests.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, or MGNREGA, promises at least 100 days of manual work annually to one member of every poor rural household.
The ministry commissioned respected educational institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management and agricultural universities to study its impact, minister of state for rural development Pradeep Jain said last week while responding to a parliamentary question.
According to the study, the job scheme has helped improve the purchasing power and quality of life of the rural poor since its launch in 2006. Earnings per household have gone up from Rs2,795 in 2006-07 to Rs3,150 in 2007-08 and Rs4,060 in 2008-09.
“Increase in income has resulted in increase in ability of rural households to purchase foodgrains, other essential commodities, and to access education and health care,” the study concludes.
Nationally, average wages paid under the scheme increased from Rs75 in 2007-08 to Rs90 in 2009-10. The scheme has also brought down migration from villages to cities, the ministry said.
But Vinoj Abraham, from the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, said these conclusions are off the mark.
“Even in states like Andhra (Pradesh) and Rajasthan, where the scheme’s implementation has been lauded, the situation on the ground might be different. If you look at the national level, as against the 100 days of employment that the Act promises, less than 50 days on average have actually been provided,” he said.
In some cases, payments have only been made on paper due to differences between the Centre and state governments over sharing of funds for the scheme, Abraham said.
“Hence, these figures and studies may not be a reflection of the true picture. However, we cannot deny that (the programme) has had a positive impact on rural employment and the economy,” he said.
The ministry has commissioned 20 studies this year to assess the impact of the programme.
So far, at least 452.5 million households have benefited from the scheme since its launch.