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Published on: Dec. 12, 2022, 3:15 p.m.
MGNREGS: the blame game
  • Opposition-ruled states allege that the Centre is using the scheme to target them

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is in the news again -- and for the wrong reasons. Opposition states are alleging that the Centre is using the scheme for politically targeting them.

This follows the notice served by the Union Rural Development Ministry on the Telangana government asking it to return Rs152 crore spent under the scheme for the construction of fish/ grain drying platforms, which is not permitted under it. The Centre has threatened to take action against the state under Section 27 of the MGNREG Act, which empowers it to give directions to the state for effective implementation of the Act. Invoking Section 27 clause 2 of the act, the Centre can stop funds for any violations. Invoking the same provision, action was taken against the West Bengal government too earlier this year. The case remains unresolved. 

Telangana appears to have come under the scanner in the performance of MGNREGA on another count. In the ongoing fiscal, the state has the most proportion of delayed payments for work done under the MGNREGA. Until 17 November 2022, as much as 33.2 per cent of the MGNREGA payments in the state were delayed. 

Another Opposition-ruled state that has complained of discrimination is Kerala. The Union Rural Development Ministry has some time back imposed a restriction on the number of simultaneous works in a gram panchayat for the state. The Centre had directed the states, by an order in July this year, that a muster roll for new work may not be issued, if as many as 20 assignments are available in a gram panchayat. The only exception, which were not counted in this 20, were works under Pradhan Mantri Awas Gramin Yojana (PMAGY). 

Pressure from Kerala

The impact of this order was felt in Kerala. M.B. Rajesh, minister for local self-government, wrote a letter to the Union rural development minister on 31 October, urging the ministry to consider the restrictions for ‘panchayat wards’ instead of panchayats in states like Kerala, where the panchayats are quite big in terms of geographical area and population. “On account of the restrictions imposed by the ministry, we may not be in a position to provide jobs to many registered job card holders who demand work,” Rajesh wrote. Following pressure from Kerala, the Centre capitulated. In a written letter to the state government last fortnight, the ministry has said that, instead of existing cap of 20 simultaneous works per gram panchayat, the state can have up to 50.

Telangana and Kerala have at one point decided to take up a united fight against the Centre’s ‘negative’ attitude and on the MGNREGS at national level.

E. Dayakar Rao, minister for panchayat raj & rural development, Telangana, alleges that the Centre’s restrictions on MGNREGS works had already resulted in Rs800 crore loss to his state’s exchequer. Telangana otherwise had been at the top in implementation of the scheme. He alleged that the Centre had stopped the scheme funding to West Bengal for the last six months and sent supervisory teams to non-BJP ruled states, such as Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Telangana and others to investigate ‘baseless allegations’.

  • Telangana and Kerala have at one point decided to take up a united fight against the Centre’s ‘negative’ attitude and on the MGNREGS at national level

The squeeze on West Bengal has political overtones. Panchayat polls are scheduled in the state for early next year and the state government is desperate to get the job scheme rolling for villagers. And Central funds are key to it. The state administration claims that wherever Central teams found cash irregularities, they gave clear instructions to recover misappropriated funds.

In fact, Mamata Banerjee, chief minister, WB, has requested a meeting with Modi to discuss the implementation of MGNREGA. There are reports that thousands of people from Malda, Murshidabad, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur Hooghly and Nadia districts have migrated to other states, particularly in the south, in search of livelihood.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be another attempt at fine-tuning MGNREGS, the Modi government has set up a committee to look into the deficiencies and suggest possible changes. The panel was set up to study the flagship welfare programme in its 16th year after Modi, who has in the past mocked the scheme as an example of the policy failure of the erstwhile Congress-led governments, flagged key discrepancies in the jobs guarantee scheme at a recent review meeting on the rural sector. Modi expressed particular concerns that the utilisation of the funds earmarked for the scheme was skewed in favour of more affluent states instead of poorer states getting more money.

Jugal Kishore Mohapatra, former rural development secretary, however, points out that the ‘better governed states usually secure a higher share of the MGNREGA fund, as the scheme is demand-driven’.

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