Photo by Martin BERNETTI / AFP
Photo by Martin BERNETTI / AFP

New Delhi: The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MGNREGA) enacted during the UPA regime has proved to be an effective way to address the agrarian distress over the years so much so that even the Modi government continued it with increased allocation of funds. But the flagship rural job scheme has come under stress as 99% of allocation for the current financial year is already exhausted and no additional funds have been approved during the lean agricultural season when demand for work under the scheme increases.

Members of Parliament and the State Assemblies from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat, Haryana and Bihar have shot off an urgent letter to Prime Minister Modi to renew his government’s commitment to the flagship scheme by sanctioning more funds that did not come in the supplementary budget passed by the Lok Sabha this week. In a parallel action, economists Prabhat Patnaik and Jayati Ghose and activists like Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander and civil society groups like People’s Action for Employment Guarantee and independent researcher Rajendran Narayanan warned the government that undermining the scheme would add to the rural distress.

They suspected that the scheme is being run down by creating a shortage of money as they said there cannot be a ceiling on such a demand-driven programme, particularly when a large number of people turn up for work under the scheme. A study undertaken by Narayanan in 3500 gram panchayats showed that they were denied 32% of the total demand of work under the scheme. The activists said the Union Budget had allocated Rs 55,000 crore for the scheme in 2018-19, while only Rs 500 crore are left on January 4 as against the rural development ministry’s estimate that an additional Rs 21,000 crore will be needed in the next three months. Deepender Singh Hooda, Congress MP from Haryana, said there is a severe decline in the scale of work as a consequence of the fund shortage while another Congress MP K Raju said the scheme will be implemented in a mission mode in the states headed by his party and the Act clearly envisages the Centre to fund the entire expenditure.

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