Need to get realistic on MGNREGA allocation

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There are gaps between actual and budgeted MGNREGA spending, which all three levels of government have to solve.

Even during the pandemic induced crisis, the Budget maintained the allocation for MGNREGA at ₹73,000 crores. It was budgeted for last year, and that year’s revised estimate stands at ₹98,000 crores.

The government hopes that their CAPEX push and increasing private investments will open up employment opportunities and choices for the rural folk. But this is disagreed by many, and even consider it perplexing to be initiated during a time like this.

A recent report of a parliamentary standing committee added fire to the debate.

The report recommends that the rural development ministry review its budgetary demand related to MGNREGA and ensure that the agreed-to labor budget is made at the concerned level keeping in view the previous year’s expenditure.

They also note the fact that since the initiation of the scheme, there has been a substantial hike at the Revised Estimate stage. The government views the program as demand-based. In that case, later the funds arrive, more delayed work under the program will finish.

The scheme is the responsibility of the local and state government. But the central government should also make more realistic assessments on outlays.

A recent news report cited a senior ministry official who said that there have been tremendous leaks in the past two years. That is despite moving to DBT for wages.

The malpractice is done where middlemen allegedly falsely show work by eligible beneficiaries for a commission from the wages credited to the latter’s accounts. There are plenty of technical solutions for it.

One of them is time-stamped location triangulation. It is something that the government can consider while working with the appropriate stakeholders.

One such method is the National Mobile Monitoring Software app that permits taking real-time attendance of workers at worksites along with geo-tagged photographs.

The department of rural development has claimed in a written reply to the parliamentary committee that, such supervising actions are good when done under a schematic framework. Other such ways include field visits and social audits.

The committee’s recommendation that the maximum days of work be increased from 100 to 150 needs to be looked at carefully.

The average days of employment per eligible household have fallen from 100 days to 51, 48 and 52, in FY19, FY20, and FY21, respectively.

At the same time, the number of those who completed the guaranteed 100 days of employment in FY19 and FY20 accounts for just 10% and 7%, respectively. Thus, raising the number of working days is not a solution.

The need is to fix the delay in wage payments, a concern that the committee flagged in its report. Most of them have to be addressed at the state’s end. Another recommendation that could work is indexing wages against appropriate inflation.

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