The UPA government programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which completed 10 years this week, will get Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s distinctive imprint. According to a senior BJP leader, the government plans to not only ensure better implementation of the Act, but also “widen” its scope by incorporating work related to the PM’s pet themes of cleanliness, skill development and organic farming. At present, the scheme covers mostly digging ponds, making culverts and rural infrastructure.
From this year, the Ministry of Rural Development plans to build individual household toilets and Anganwadi buildings. The Prime Minister has been focusing on building toilets to stop the practice of open defecation ever since he gave the Independence Day speech in 2014. The Ministry also intends to build 5 lakh farm ponds and 10 lakh vermicompost pits, with a view to encouraging organic farming.
In a major departure, the Ministry will also utilise funds for imparting skills to workers. According to a source, it is planning to train barefoot technicians from households and through Project LIFE (Livelihood in Full Employment), as well as skill and train workers for wages, self-employment and livelihood upgradation.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, BJP national secretary Sidhartha Nath Singh said that the party has never criticised the scheme, but questioned its implementation. “When the Prime Minister said in Parliament last year that the MGNREGA was a monumental failure, it was not about the scheme, but for its poor implementation. It was a waste of money. The government now wants to transform the scheme by incorporating other components, besides digging soil, which was the practice earlier,” he said.
He also highlighted the fact that the utilisation of funds has improved under the NDA regime because of transparency. “As much 94% of funds were sent through direct benefit transfer (DBT) to beneficiaries’ accounts, which has improved transparency. This was possible because of the success of the PM’s Jan Dhan Yojana. Also, the utilisation of funds under the Act was the highest during 2014-15, which shows the government’s intentions to run the scheme in an effective manner,” said the BJP leader.
Singh also said that an amount of Rs 48,000 crore was utilised under MGNREGA during 2014-15 and this was the highest in the past five years. He also said that the participation of women has increased to 57% in 2014-15 against 53% in 2013-14. In the past one year, 64% of the money went towards creating assets in agriculture and allied sectors.
According to government figures, the government has so far spent over Rs 3,13,000 crore, out of which 71% has been spent towards wage payments to workers.
The year 2015-16 saw revival of the programme. The “personday generation” was highest in the second quarter (Rs 45.88 crore) and third quarter (Rs 46.10 crore) compared to what it was in the past five years. More than 64% of the total expenditure is on agriculture and allied activities, which is the highest in three years.
This revival has been possible due to several reforms undertaken by the Ministry of Rural Development. Funds to states were released in time. An electronic fund management system was successfully instituted which allows for real time and transparent release of funds to implementing agencies and beneficiaries. The Ministry has also improved coordination between banks and post offices and is monitoring pendency of payments, which has led to reduction in wage delays.