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NEW DELHI : A parliamentary standing committee has rebuked the Department of Rural Development for lack of effective coordination with states in terms of timely release of funds for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme.

According to the Department of Rural Development, one of the impediments obstructing the smooth flow of funds is the non-completion of requisite procedural formalities by the state governments within the stipulated timeframe, said the report presented by the panel in Parliament.

Issues like non-updating of muster roll within three days of completion of the work or delay in the submission of documents for release of wages or material share by the states along-with delay in release of states’ share of 25% material costs came to the fore, it said.

In its report presented in the Lok Sabha, the panel under the chairmanship of Prataprao Jadhav, a member of Lok Sabha, said: "The committee was bemused on the approach exhibited by the nodal agency of the scheme, i.e. Department of Rural Development in highlighting only the states’ loopholes."

Calling the "blame-game", inacceptable and "unpalatable" the report noted: "The ‘need of the hour’ in a federal form of government should not be limited to merely finger pointing at each other at the cost of detriment to a public welfare scheme, rather working in unison with the common goal of upliftment of the quality of lives of rural masses."

It has recommended the Department of Rural Development to entail all possible measures in bringing all the shareholders on a common platform and coerce the state governments to abide by the statutory provision of the MGNREGA Act in ‘letter and spirit’ so that the beneficiaries' fate does not keep hanging around the bureaucratic procedures.

Citing data on unspent funds, the committee said that at the end of FY21, a total of 5,270.76 crore was unspent while in FY22, as of 5 November, 2021, the unspent funds stood at 1,351.46 crore. It observed the "improvement" in reduction of unspent funds.

The standing committee said that it is of the view that, funds remaining unutilised on one hand along with the existence of pendency in payment of wages on the other, does not augur well for the performance of the scheme, thus putting a question mark on the administrative acumen of the nodal agency.

"Keeping this in mind, the Committee feels that this downward trend in the accrual of unspent balances need to be maintained through rational measures. Therefore, the committee recommends the Department of Rural Development to ensure that the unspent balances are completely mitigated by the utilization of allocated funds in a time-bound and financially prudent manner," said its report.

The Standing Committee on Rural Development and Panchayati Raj also suggested linking of wages under the scheme to a commensurate inflationary index. Noting that there is a need for an adequate wage rate in tandem with inflation, it said that at a time when cost of living is increasing day by day, beneficiaries of the scheme striving to make ‘ends meet’ surviving on the low wage amount is "quite concerning".

The development comes days after finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Union Budget for FY23, in which the government allocated 73,000 crore for the flagship programme. The government has also come under criticism over a 25% decline in the allocation over the revised estimate of FY22.

Responding to this criticism, the finance minister said in post-budget interactions that the scheme is demand-driven and as and when the need arises, the government would infuse more funds.

The report also spoke about the lower allocation for the scheme despite an apparent rise in demand and an eventual increase in funds in the past few years.

 

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