Parliament’s Standing Committee on Rural Development has expressed concerns over a five-year low provision of Rs 60,000 crore in the FY24 Budget for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MNREGS). The panel, which submitted its report in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, said the budget estimates for MGNREGS have been reduced by Rs 29,400 crore or for 2023-24 when compared to the revised estimates of 2022-23.
The government, however, reiterated that being a demand-driven scheme, outlay for MGNREGS could be hiked in the course of the year, if the demand is high. Recent months’ data indeed show that the demand for the scheme is still elevated with supply doesn’t matching up.
“The Act governing (the scheme) provides ‘Right to Work’ to such deprived sections of the rural populace who are willing to work. It is a last resort of succour for the jobless section who don’t have any other means to feed them and their family members,” the panel said in its report.
“The role and importance of MGNREGS were visible during the Corona pandemic when it acted as a ray of hope for the needy in times of distress,” it said.
Official sources told FE recently that rampant misappropriation of funds allocated under the scheme is one of the reasons for the Centre to make a five-year low provision of Rs 60,000 crore in the FY24 Budget for the jobs programme. The MGNREGS, the government’s largest social sector scheme is administered by the rural development ministry. For FY23, the government has enhanced the outlay for the rural job guarantee programme from Rs 73,000 crore in the Budget estimate (BE) to Rs 89,400 crore in the revised estimate (RE).
Under the programme, the Centre has spent Rs 98,468 crore in FY22 and a record Rs 1.1 trillion during the Covid pandemic FY21 to give succour to migrant labourers.
“After the big jump in FY21, it was observed that cartels at the state level and panchayat level look at the budget and find a way of spending, whether there is demand or not,” a senior official had told told FE earlier.
The rural development ministry said: “There was an increase in the allocation in the previous two-three years because of the abnormal situations created due to Covid, the Ukraine war, and inflation… now the situation has normalised a bit. In 2020-21, the original budget was Rs 61,000 crore,” the ministry said.
“Since it is a demand-driven scheme when the need arose it was enhanced to Rs 1,10,000 crore. Whenever there is a need for extra money we go to the Finance Ministry and they allocate extra money for this. There is no dearth of money if the demand arises for wage employment,” the ministry said.