Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have called it the “living monument” of the Congress’ failure, but the rural development ministry has termed achievements of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) “a cause of national pride and celebration” as the scheme completes 10 years on Tuesday. In fact, the ministry claimed the scheme witnessed a “revival” in 2015-16, as the person-day generation was the highest in five years in the second and the third quarters (45.88 crore and 46.10 crore, respectively).
It announced that the focus in coming years will be to simplify and strengthen the procedures of the scheme to build sustainable assets for the benefits of the poor.
Analysts, however, pointed out criticism of the scheme is not entirely misplaced, adding it witnessed some success in 2015-16 as many parts of the country witnessed a second straight year of a deficient monsoon, which forced farmers to look for alternative means of earnings such as the jobs scheme.
Nevertheless, the ministry said more than 64% of total expenditure under the scheme this fiscal is on agriculture and allied activities, the highest in three years. Around 57% of all workers are women this year, well above the statutory requirement of 33% and the highest in three years. As many as 23% of person-days are being done by SC workers, and 18% by ST workers — again the highest in three years.
Analysts said that even according to the ministry’s data, only 44% of all wage payments are being made on time. Moreover, they are divided over the efficacy of the scheme in lifting rural income and demand — complaints of high level of leakages, delays in payments, poor quality of generated assets and a shortage of labourers for crop harvesting have always served to dampen its appeal.
Based on NSSO data for 2011-12, economist Surjit Bhalla had earlier argued that the scheme accounted for just 0.65% of total rural employment. He had also said that as many as 60% of the beneficiaries were non-poor and they even got 17% more workdays than the poor.
Since the start, the expenditure on the programme has been to the tune of Rs 3,13,844.55 crore, 71% of which has been spent on wage payments to workers, the ministry said.
During the Budget session last year, Modi had said: “Do you think I will put an end to the scheme? My political wisdom does not allow me to do it. This is a living monument of your failure to tackle poverty in 60 years. With song and dance and drum beat, I will continue with the scheme.”
It noted that since the start of the programme, the expenditure on the programme has amounted to over Rs 3,13,844. 55 crore of which 71% has been spent on wage payments to workers. “Of the workers, the percentage of Scheduled Caste workers has consistently been about 20% and Scheduled Tribe workers has been about 17%,” it said, adding that a total of over 1,980 crore person-days have been generated so far out of which the percentage worked by women has steadily increased much above the statutory minimum of 33%.