The Union Budget 2023-24 presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday proposed a 33 per cent cut in the allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), setting aside Rs 60,000 crore for the flagship scheme launched by the erstwhile Congress-led UPA government in 2005.
The allocation of Rs 60,000 crore corresponds to the lowest allocation for the scheme in four years, and is significantly lower than even the revised estimates of Rs 73,000 crore in 2022-23.
The MGNREGS guarantees 100 days of wage employment to at least one member of every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work in a year.
Allocation lowest in four years
This year’s allocation is the lowest seen in the last four budgets presented by the Modi government. In 2020-21, Rs 1,11,169 crore was spent on the MGNREGS, while in 2021-22, an actual expenditure of Rs 98,468 crore was incurred on the MGNREGS. The revised estimate for the flagship programme was Rs 89,400 crore for the current financial year.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while presenting the Budget in the House, mentioned MGNREGS only once, in the context of work on mangrove conservation.
On Tuesday, the Economic Survey stated that the number of persons demanding work under MGNREGS is back to the pre-pandemic levels from July to November 2022, and attributed it to the “normalisation of the rural economy” and “swift recovery from Covid-induced slowdown”.
“In FY23, as on 24 January 2023, 6.49 crore households demanded employment under MGNREGS, and 6.48 crore households were offered employment out of which 5.7 crore availed employment,” it noted.
Meanwhile, the Rural Development Ministry has been allocated Rs 1,57,545 crore, around 13 per cent less than the estimated expenditure made by the ministry in the current fiscal.
Opposition hits out at Centre over fund cut
Several Opposition parties have criticised the reduction in the allocation of funds for the scheme.
Jairam Ramesh, general secretary in-charge of communication in Congress, tweeted, “Last year’s Budget drew applause for allocation towards agriculture, health, education, MGNREGS and welfare of SCs. Today the reality is evident. Actual expenditure is substantially lower than budgeted. This is Modi’s OPUD strategy of headline management — Over Promise, Under Deliver.”
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik too expressed concern over the drastic reduction of funds under MGNREGA and food security allocations in the Budget saying, “this will hit the poor and farmers”.