New Delhi: In a surprising move, the allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has reduced drastically in this year’s Budget – to Rs 60,000 crore. This despite the fact that the revised estimate for FY’23 was at Rs 89,400 crore, up from the budget estimate of Rs 73,000 crore.
This year’s allocation the lowest seen in the last four budgets, covering this entire term of the Narendra Modi government. This despite the fact that demand under the rural guarantee scheme rose drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A study by researchers at Azim Premji University found that this scheme, launched by the UPA government under Manmohan Singh, made up for 80% of the income loss during the pandemic. The same survey also found that not all demand was being met: 39% of households could not get a single day of work in MGNREGA in the surveyed blocks.
The lack of adequate funding has been a problem in the past as well, with studies finding that payments to workers were being delayed. In a statement released the day before the budget, the People’s Action for Employment Guarantee said that to make up for existing shortfalls, revise wages based on inflation and ensure that all work demand is met, “the minimum budget for FY 2023-24 must be Rs. 2.72 lakh crore”.
The finance ministry, however, appears to be moving in quite the opposite direction.