Based on present assessment of fund required for the MGNREGA, an additional provision of Rs 40,000 crore has been made by the government, thereby raising the outlay to Rs 1,01,500 crore, the highest-ever provision for fund made under the scheme.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has seen stupendous demand in the past few weeks as crores of migrant workers have returned to their native villages. The Budget allocation under the scheme has been raised by Rs 40,000 crore to a record Rs 101,500 crore. Rural development minister Narendra Singh Tomar shares the thought process of the government on the scheme with Surya Sarathi Ray. Excerpts:
There has been a surge in demand for works under MGNREGA in past few weeks. Do you think, at this rate, will the high target of 300 crore person days address the demand for the current fiscal?
The MGNREGA is a demand-driven programme. It guarantees at least 100 days of wage employment to every rural household that volunteers to do unskilled manual work. Its mandate is to provide the fall-back option for employment. The government is committed to providing employment to willing workers as per the provisions of the scheme. For the current financial year, 281 crore person days is agreed, which may be revised upwards after due consultation with the states.
Is the demand for works higher primarily because of returnee migrant workers?
Under the MGNREGA, every job card holder is eligible for wage employment against the demand for work. My ministry has advised states/UTs to issue job cards to migrant labours as per the provision of the Act. The number of jobs offered in May 2020 witnessed a 70% Y-o-Y increase, which may be, inter alia, on account of jobs sought by migrant workers.
Almost every year, a wide difference can be seen between allocation under the MGNREGA at the BE level and at the RE stage. For the current fiscal, an additional Rs 40,000 crore has already been given. But given that a part of arrears from last year has been paid via outlay for this year and demand increase this year could be even sharper this year, even the increased outlay could fall short…
The MGNREGA, as I said, is demand-driven. Based on present assessment of fund required for the MGNREGA, an additional provision of Rs 40,000 crore has been made by the government, thereby raising the outlay to Rs 1,01,500 crore, the highest-ever provision for fund made under the scheme. On account of the very nature of the scheme, the budgetary allocation cannot be static. Whenever additional funds are required, necessary provision is made.
Will you broaden the scope of the rural employment guarantee scheme in coming days? Is there any thought to enhance the number of permissible days per household from 100 now?
There are 261 works permissible under the MGNREGA. These works are divided into community works and individual beneficiaries’ works. The scheme’s focus is on providing wage employment by creating a large number of durable and livelihood assets for the community and individuals. Such works cover water conservation and harvesting, agriculture and allied sectors, rural infrastructure sector and other related works in rural area.
Against a total of 13.94 crore registered households, an average of 40-50 lakh households used to seek wage employment for 100 days in previous years. On inclusion of more works under the scheme, the government would take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time.
Your government had been critical about the MGNREGA in the past, but, as things turn out, it provided succor for easing out the rural distress when it was most needed. Will you consider making MGNREGA more attractive for the poor?
My government was critical of the MGNREGS, per se. It criticized the way it had been implemented by the UPA government. This government has taken many initiatives to make the scheme more meaningful, worker friendly and transparent. The focus is on providing job to willing workers, creation of durable assets and their geo-tagging, water conservation and irrigation works and timely payment of wages directly into the accounts of the workers through DBT.
About 3.98 crore assests have been geo-tagged and 99% workers are getting their wages directly in their accounts through DBT. The Budget allocation for the scheme during current financial year is three times of what it was during 2013-14. The performance of the scheme on different parameters like budgetary allocation, yearly creation of assets and timely payment to workers has been far better than it used to be under the previous regime. Citizen information board and other good governance initiatives are now part of the implementation of the programme.
Is there any plan to extend the scope of Mahatma Gandhi NREGA for urban poor as well?
Mahatma Gandhi NREGA is meant for providing employment to willing workers in rural areas.
Will you consider making job card portable? Is there any plan to bring Mahatma Gandhi NREGA workers under some sort of social security net?
As per the provision of the Act, the adult member of every household residing in any rural area and possessing a job card can demand for wage employment in that area. The employment shall be provided within a radius of five kilometers of the village where the applicant resides at the time of applying. It is further provided that in case the employment is provided outside of the radius of five kilometers, it shall be provided within the block, and labourers shall be paid 10% of the wage rate as extra wages to meet additional transportation and expenses for leaving.
If a person employed under the scheme meets with death or becomes permanently disabled by accident arising out of and in the course of employment, she or her legal heirs shall be paid by the implementing agency an ex gratia as per entitlement under the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Suraksha Bima Yojana or as may be notified by the central government.
Are you planning to relax the 60:40 wage-to-material cost ratio?
The MGNREGA by its mandate provides the fall-back option for employment in the rural area. The focus is on providing wage employment by creating a large number of durable and livelihood assets for the community and individuals. For all works taken up under the Scheme, by the gram panchayat and other implementing agencies, the cost of material component, including the wage of skilled and semi-skilled workers, shall not exceed 40% at the district level.