Taking note of the drastic cut in allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (MGNREGS) in the Union Budget, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development, in a report tabled on Wednesday, questioned the government’s rationale behind the reduction in the allocation for the scheme considering the key role it plays for the distressed populace of the country.
The Budget Estimate for the MGNREGS was reduced by ₹29,400 crore for the 2023-24 fiscal year compared with the Revised Estimate of 2022-23.
“It is a last resort of succour for the jobless section who don’t have any other means to feed them and their family members. The role and importance of MGNREGA was visible during the corona pandemic times when it acted as a ray of hope for the needy in times of distress,” the committee headed by DMK MP K. Kanimozhi said in the report.
The importance of the scheme is highlighted by the fact that during the pandemic, the government had to revise the budget from ₹61,500 crore initially allotted in 2020-21 to ₹1,11,500 crore and similarly in 2021-22, it was hiked from ₹73,000 crore to ₹99, 117.53 crore.
Even in the ongoing financial year, ₹73,000 crore was initially allocated to the scheme, but it was increased to ₹89,400 crore.
“The Committee is unable to comprehend the rationale for reduced allocation of fund under MGNREGA,” the report noted.
The panel also expressed distress over the delay in wage payments and material fund release to the State governments.
It further flagged a chronic problem of non-adherence to the provision of delay compensation, which several activists and organisations working in the field have repeatedly pointed out. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) says that wages have to paid within 15 days of the work and in case of any delay, the workers must be paid due compensation.
“In this context, the Committee, through their experiences of ground reality and the facts and figures apprised to them during study visits are seized of the situation that the state machinery has time and again failed in providing the delay compensation due to being late in the payment of wages to the beneficiaries.”
Reacting to complaints from the ground against digital capturing of attendance of the workers through the National Mobile Monitoring System, a mobile based application, the committee said that while it understood the reason for bringing in this innovation, the government should also be aware of the problems faced by the workers.
“Needless to say that the MGNREGA beneficiaries belong to extremely deprived sections of the society, belonging to different linguistic milieu. Expecting the MGNREGA workers to be well versed with the functioning and language of app or for that matter even depending upon a nodal human intervention perhaps adds to their woes,” the panel said.
The patchy Internet connectivity in many regions is also a live issue that the government cannot ignore while universally implementing the idea, the committee said.