New Delhi: Funds allocated for the United Progressive Alliance government’s flagship rural welfare scheme, although the highest for any single social welfare programme, are enough to meet only about half its objective, says a report by a legislative panel.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) guarantees at least 100 days of work a year for one member of every poor rural household.
The parliamentary standing committee on rural development, which assessed demands for grants for the scheme for 2010-11, said on 16 April that only 51 days of work could be provided, on an average, by utilizing funds available for the scheme in 2009-10.
Alternative action: Villagers in Rajasthan working under the programme. The report suggests increasing budget allocation or reducing the number of days for which employment is provided under the scheme. Priyanka Prashar/Mint
The ministry of rural development, which oversees its execution, had been allocated Rs39,376 crore for the programme that year.
Similarly, the scheme could provide an average of 48 days of employment in 2008-09 and 42 days in 2007-08, the report said.
The Budget for 2010-11 allocates Rs40,100 crore for the scheme, an increase of less than 3% from last year.
“The committee finds that in order to achieve a minimum of 100 days of employment, either the allocation has to be increased substantially or the number of minimum days for which employment is provided under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, under which the scheme is implemented) is reduced,” the report states.
However, the report itself adds that the department of rural development has denied a paucity of funds.
The department’s secretary B.K. Sinha is quoted in the report as saying, “It is not a fact that sufficient funds are not available for the MGNREGS. Since the scheme is implemented as per the Act, there is no limit for the budgetary demand. In the past years, several times we have obtained the funds for MGNREGA through supplementary demands for grants whenever such demand arose.”
Yamini Mishra, executive director of the Delhi-based Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, which promotes transparent and participatory governance, says, “What sometimes happens is that the government increases the provisions under the scheme without actually increasing the budgetary allocation,” she said. “Hence, in effect, officials at the lower levels by default start excluding.”
“It is also believed that if we already know a scheme will cost more, there is no point in saying additional funds will be given later because that just causes delays,” she added.
The standing committee, chaired by Sumitra Mahajan of the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, also says officials are not implementing MGNREGS in the “right spirit”.
The report says only 40% of the work under the scheme in 2009-10 could be finished. A total of 4.1 million projects were undertaken until February, but only 1.6 million were completed.
It adds that the scheme fails to find work for all holders of job cards, which are provided to all applicants for work under MGNREGS. More than two-thirds of job card holders could not get jobs under the scheme in 2009-10; those who did get work also did not get the stipulated 100 days. Inspection of work, says the report, is also not satisfactory. But the report credited MGNREGS with increasing the minimum wages for farm workers and increasing bargaining power in the labour market.
MGNREGS has provided employment to individuals from 50.6 million households till now, generating 2.63 billion person-days of employment, the report said.