New Delhi: The national rural employment guarantee scheme has provided an average of 47.8 days of work to people who demanded it in 2015-16, less than the average of 50 days that the rural development ministry had earlier predicted.

Data posted on the ministry’s website also shows that the total number of households that had completed the mandatory 100 days of work as stipulated by law was 4.45 million in 2015-16.

In 2012-13, the total number of households that completed 100 days of work, under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), was 5.17 million and for 2013-14 it was 4.66 million.

This is significant given that both 2014-15 and 2015-16 have been designated as drought years, while 2013-14 and 2012-13 were seen as years with normal rain. There is higher demand for jobs in a drought year.

The data comes amid reports of the Supreme Court on Wednesday slamming the central government for unpaid wages under the rural job scheme MNREGA, saying the government could not turn a blind eye to it, the Hindustan Times reported.

“It’s meaningless to have welfare schemes if affected persons do not receive assured benefits on time. Thousands of crores is announced from the PM Relief Fund but the money reaches after three years," the report cited a bench headed by justice M.B. Lokur as saying.

According to government data, approximately 8,000 crore is the amount in unpaid wages.

Officials in the rural development ministry were not immediately available for comment on the data but in the past they have pointed out that the MGNREGS has not provided 100 days of work a year since its inception in 2006. The average has always hovered between 43 and 46 days. Mint had earlier reported that rural development ministry officials were optimistic that the average number of days worked would touch 50 in 2015-16.

According to the data on the ministry website, the total number of households who worked or whose members were able to avail of work in 2015-16 was 47.7 million, compared with 49.9 million in 2012-13 and 47.9 million in 2013-14. In 2014-15, the number was 41.4 million.

The approved labour budget was also lower in 2015-16 at 239.1 crore compared to 278.71 crore in 2012-13.

The ministry of rural development has been citing 2015-16 as the year of revival for MGNREGS after a slump in 2014-15.

According to activists, MGNREGS which was introduced by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was neglected by the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government after it came to office in 2014.

With NDA coming to power, speculation was rife that the government would wind up the programme or limit it to 200 districts instead of across the country.

According to activists, there were unwritten orders to local administrators not to start new activities and send away people demanding work.

But adverse election results in Bihar in November and pressure from within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) itself forced the NDA government to do a rethink.

This is something the NDA government has refuted. Finance minister Arun Jaitley in February said investing in social sector programmes such as the rural job guarantee scheme would benefit the hinterland, which is another “engine" that will pull the Indian economy towards higher growth given the adverse global economy situation.

The minister, who was chief guest at a function to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the MGNREGS in New Delhi, had also allayed fears that resources allocated for development programmes like the rural jobs scheme would be cut.

In the 2016-17 budget, the NDA government has allocated 38,500 crore, which is less than 46,000 crore spent in 2015-16, according to government figures.

The 10 states that have declared a drought have asked for central assistance of 38,667 crore. So far, the centre has sanctioned a relief of 11,938 crore for eight states out of the National Disaster Response Fund.

Rural distress in the country has risen leading to fall in demand mainly due to repeated crop failures. Firstly, the 2014 Kharif crop suffered losses due to a drought as the June-September southwest monsoon recorded a country-wide deficit of 12% compared to the normal. This was followed by a spate of unseasonal rain and hailstorms across 15 states between February and April 2015 that damaged the winter harvest.

Further, a widespread drought in 2015 that saw a rainfall deficit of 14% dampened the prospects of the Kharif crop.

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