Laggard states too get rural job programme funds from Centre

Laggard states too get rural job programme funds from Centre

New Delhi: The Centre has been forced to release funds under its marquee job guarantee scheme to states that haven’t met key conditions they were required to fulfil before receiving the cash.

Out of 28 states, only four have built Bharat Nirman Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendras, while another 15 have taken up construction. The completion of such facilities, which are supposed to serve as community centres, was a prerequisite for states to be able to receive the second tranche of funds under the scheme for this fiscal.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the flagship programme of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, guarantees 100 days of manual work a year to a member of each rural household. It has so far benefited 37.1 million households in 619 districts and has a budgetary allocation of Rs40,100 crore in the fiscal to March.

S.L. Rao, former director general of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, said the move set a bad precedent, with the Centre being unable to discipline states, even those ruled by the Congress party.

“There is no doubt that this reflects some sort of a growing clout of states. One thing is that the government is obviously worried about Centre-state relations,"he said. “But more importantly, this is reflective of the gross indiscipline in governance. If the Centre has issued a notification, it should ensure it is adhered to. After all, it is Central government money."

The rural development ministry paid out the funds to avoid a confrontation with the laggard states, but may not be as amenable next year about those who don’t meet conditions.

“The second tranche of funds has been released for this year. It was decided not to let it be a hard and fast rule right now since very few states have managed to construct the kendras (centres)," said a ministry official who wanted to remain anonymous. “It was more like a directive for now, but next year onwards, it might just become more stringent."

The ministry of rural development had laid out the condition in a letter to secretaries in charge of MGNREGS in the states in May.

Funds under MGNREGS are normally released to states in two parts every fiscal year. Under the new system proposed by the ministry, states are now required to meet certain prerequisites and submit the required information online before each lot of funds is released to them.

The new system was expected to be applicable only for the second tranche since the first had already been disbursed by the time the proposal was initiated.

Data given by the ministry of rural development as part of an answer to a Parliament question recently shows the only states to have completed construction of such centres are Haryana, Orissa, Rajasthan and West Bengal. Together, they have constructed six such centres so far. Overall, only 15 states have taken up the work, with a total of 16,935 such kendras under construction, with Rajasthan topping the list.

The centres, to be constructed at gram panchayat (village council) and block levels, are aimed at being “village knowledge centres" or community centres for the area. Their construction was included as a permissible activity under MGNREGS in 2009, drawing criticism from activists and civil society groups.