Sunday Anchor

‘Decline began in late UPA rule’

In February, Ram Aathray, a 37-year-old farmer from Mahoba, lost most of his crop to a hailstorm. His four acres of land produced a mere two quintals of wheat. “It’ll only last for four months,” he fears. He could take a mortgage loan but he’s saving that for his daughter’s wedding. The only option would be to migrate to Delhi and work on a construction site. But there’s one thing that holds him back — MGNREGA — which, he said, has helped him during hard times. “I never left my village,” Mr. Aathray said, “because I could get MNREGA work.”

But that option is disappearing quickly. Delay in wage payments and budget sequestration by the central government has discouraged the villagers from being employed under the scheme. The last time Mr. Aathray was paid was in October 2014. Since then he has put in 70 days of work that merits a total of Rs.11, 000, but he hasn’t received this amount.

There is growing pessimism towards MNREGA in this district. “The government just doesn’t want people to work under MNREGA,” said Abhishek Mishra, who runs a non-profit, Arunday Sewa Sansthan. “There is work but there is no money, and when there is no money people won’t come to work. This way the government can say, ‘look no one is willing to work under MNREGA, so let’s just scrap this scheme’.” Local officials come to job sites 15-20 days late to measure work, he added, and a slow bureaucratic set up ensures that money reaches the workers late.

But the scheme has been successful so far, said Pushpendra Bahi, a local activist. It has given work to distressed farmers and built a network of wells that have come in handy in dry seasons, he said.

The good times of the scheme were between 2010-2011 when the UPA government was gracious with its budgets and cautious enough to put in checks and balances to secure the policy for future, he added. The scheme went through budget cuts after that. With this government cutting funds further, Mr. Bahi has lost hope. In 2010-2011 Mahoba’s MNREGA budget was Rs.76 crore; in 2011-2012 it was Rs.42 crore; in 2013-2014 it was down to Rs.28 crore; and in 2014-2015 it shrunk to Rs. 22 crore.

Prem Chandra Patel, Deputy Commissioner of Labour and Employment who supervises MNREGA in Mahoba, blamed the Congress-led government for damaging the scheme.

“The Centre should eliminate banks and computers from the policy,” he said. “They should give us the money and allow us to pass it on to labourers.” But to activists like Mr. Bahi, that’s where corruption begins. With low wages and delayed payments, “we are back to where we started,” he said.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 12:59:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sunday-anchor/decline-began-in-late-upa-rule/article7265267.ece

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