Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday highlighted the United Progressive Alliance’s achievements, including the success of its flagship rural job guarantee scheme and underscored the government’s efforts that brought the poverty ratio down.

“We have taken enough measures to protect the weaker sections against rising prices — the Public Distribution System (PDS) has been stabilised, prices in the PDS have not been increased since 2003. What’s more, through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), we have ensured that rural wages are indexed at the rate of inflation. This is a measure of protection for these segments of our society,” he said, addressing journalists here.

Jayati Ghosh, a leading economist, recognises the MGNREGA as “one of the greatest achievements of UPA-I,” but notes its performance has been declining since its peak in 2009-10. “The Centre has not been active in promoting it, and instead it is often an impediment to the State governments [in implementing it].”

“The PDS eliminated about one-fifth of the poverty gap in 2009-10. If the government was seriously concerned about protecting the poor, the Food Security Act, which reduces PDS prices and expands coverage, should have been enacted and implemented earlier,” said Reetika Khera, economist and social activist.

“The government has a schizophrenic attitude to the MGNREGA — the proud parent of ‘a historic law,’ yet abandoning it like an orphan while implementing it. Yet, all is not lost yet; reviving the MGNREGA is easy — the government can open works in all panchayats without waiting for people to demand them, and ensure that payments are made on time,” she said.

Previously, Dr. Singh rejected the National Advisory Council’s recommendation on payment of minimum wages to workers under the MGNREGA and chose instead to appeal against the Karnataka High Court judgment ordering payment of minimum wages. Social activist Nikhil Dey notes that despite the court’s rejection of the government’s stand, the Prime Minister has refused to accept the very notion of minimum wages. “The concept of indexing is a way forward, but you are not accepting the constitutional sanctity of minimum wages.”

Mr. Dey said a “different picture emerges” from the real monetary commitments to social sector programmes. More specifically, the impact of budget cuts undermined their objectives.

Further, the former NAC member, Aruna Roy, told The Hindu that “during UPA-II, for some programmes that help in poverty decline, it has been extremely tough to get any monetary commitment…, and this has been driven by budget cuts.”

Additionally, the government’s report card, released by the Prime Minister, reveals that the poverty ratio fell steeply to 21.9 per cent in 2012 from 37.2 per cent in 2004. “Under the UPA government, poverty in India has declined in an unprecedented manner. Average decline in poverty was 2 per cent per annum during 2004-2012, almost twice the rate of the preceding decade,” it said.

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