New Delhi: With three months of financial year 2018-19 yet to be completed, 99.62% of the funds made available by the Centre for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Act (MNREGA) have been spent. As of now, no additional funds have been made available by the Centre and concerned members of parliament and members of state legislative assemblies have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The letter, which was also signed by activists, noted academics and other imminent citizens, alleges that the government has “systematically undermined” MNREGA as a scheme to provide employment in rural India.
“Illegal restrictions on its budget allocation, severe payment delays and low wages are crippling the programme and depriving people’s demand in distress of one of their most important legally supported structures,” the letter reads.
The signatories of the letter have demanded that the prime minister ensure that adequate funds are provided in a timely manner. MNREGA wages do not fall below minimum wages, wages are provided within the stipulated time and in case of delayed payment compensation is paid to workers.
Activists working on various aspects of MNREGA have also pointed out that the inflation-adjusted MNREGA allocation has fallen despite the government’s claims of making larger allocations for the employment guarantee scheme. While the budget allocation for MNREGA in 2017-18 was Rs 55,000 crore, it was only Rs 34,398 crore if adjusted for inflation. That figure was lower than the Rs 40,100 crore allocated in 2010-11.
Another issue that has been highlighted pertains to delays in payment of wages. As a result of delays, each year a large proportion of the MNREGA budget is spent on clearing dues of previous years. In 2016-17 for instance, as much as 28% of the budgetary allocation was spent on clearing previous years’ liabilities.
Highlighting the importance of MNREGA in times of rural distress, the letter to the PM urged him to take action to ensure that MNREGA serves its purpose, “For an act that has witnessed unanimous passage in Parliament by all political parties, it is our duty to ensure that the law is protected and is serving the best interests of the rural poor, particularly at a time of such severe distress.”