Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Union budget provided Rs.1,000-rore hike in allocation for the flagship programme Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS). The allocation has been pegged at Rs. 40,100 crore as against the allocation of Rs. 39,100 crore, where as the Ministry of Rural Development had demanded an allocation in excess of Rs. 65,000 crore for the next fiscal year.

The Rural Development Ministry had sought the hiked allocation particularly to meet its new decision to construct Bharat Nirman Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendra at each of the 2.75 lakh panchayats and in all the blocks across the country. The Ministry has estimated an expenditure of about Rs. 30,000 crore as the proposed structure at the panchayat level is expected to cost Rs. 10 lakh and Rs. 25 lakh for the ones proposed at the block level.

The Ministry proposes to allocate a good part of the funds allocated for the MGNREGS for the construction of these buildings to cover the labour component of the project. In the wake of criticism the Ministry is now seeking to meet the material component from funds allocated to other rural programmes like the Backward Region Grant Fund (BRGF).

The reservations expressed by social activists are that the construction of these buildings from the funds allocated for the MGNREGS will actually defeat the very objective of the law to provide jobs to those demanding it.

The Union Finance Minister has indeed hiked the allocation for the BRGF by 26 percent from Rs. 5,800 crore to Rs. 7,300 crore, but considering the enormity of the expenditure in the construction of the sewa kendras it was too little. Moreover, the utilisation of the BRGF was limited only to the backward regions only.

The allocation for the department has been increased from Rs. 62,670 crore to Rs. 66,100 crore in 2010-11. One of the highlights is the announcement of a new scheme to meet the needs of women under National Rural Livelihood Mission with a fund of Rs. 100 crore.

The Bundelkhand region which is in the heart of a major political controversy has been provided an additional Central allocation of Rs. 1,200 crore to fight the prevailing drought.

Another major announcement pertains to raising the unit cost of Indira Awas Yojana to Rs. 45,000 in plain areas and Rs. 48,000 in hilly areas to cover the increase in cost of construction of house.

The allocation for the IAY has been increased to Rs. 10,000 crore.

The allocation for the Bharat Nirman Scheme has been raised to Rs. 48,000 crore to upgrade rural infrastructure through the various programmes under the Ministry.