Making sure that the Budget passed by March 31 will help the government allocate Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) funds FY18 before the year begins; earlier, the funds used to come well into the first quarter of the fiscal year—according to a report in The Economic Times, half of the R48,000 crore allocation for the year will be made available to the states on April 1 itself. That would mean weeding out backlog of payments and getting the scheme running early in the year; thus, beneficiaries will have a longer window for availing work before the onset of monsoons. It will also help drought-affected states, especially with predictions of a poor monsoon this year. Considering that the Centre had to ensure 50 extra days of MGNREGS work in FY16 in the drought-affected states, all the states likely to receive less rainfall must factor in this aspect in their MGNREGS labour budget this year.
In any case, the bulk of the MGNREGS fund is used in agriculture or agriculture-related works, like drought-proofing and creation of irrigation infrastructure such as farm ponds. As per the programme’s expenditure data for FY17, more than 96% of the expenditure in Kerala is on agriculture-related works, while it is 79% in Karnataka, 78% in Tamil Nadu and 75% in Maharashtra. The government must also push for Aadhaar-based payments to avoid leakages. In Andhra Pradesh, while Aadhaar-seeding is complete for 100% of the MGNREGS workers, nearly 87% are getting Aadhaar-based payments. But, in Bihar, just 5% of the workers are getting Aadhaar-based payments. Even in states like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, with 93% and 89% Aadhaar-seeding, respectively, the Aadhaar-based payments are just around 20%. A comprehensive Aadhaar-based payment ecosystem alone can ensure that the funds allocated are utilised efficiently.