The rural development ministry is likely to seek a budgetary allocation of around Rs 1 trillion for the next fiscal for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). The scheme is expected to cost the exchequer a similar amount in the current fiscal also.
Against the budgeted Rs 73,000 crore for job guarantee scheme for the current fiscal, Rs 60,000 crore has been provided by the finance ministry so far. The rural development ministry has also asked for an additional Rs 25,000 crore from the finance ministry for MGNREGS implementation in the current fiscal.
In 2021-22, Rs 98,000 crore was spent under the scheme.
“We expect a similar level of expenditure for NREGS in the next fiscal,” a rural development ministry official told FE. However, the official said that the government is looking to improve implementation aspects of the scheme as there have been reports of irregularities from various states.
As reported by FE earlier, the government has formed a panel to review the scheme with the intent to improve its efficiency in addressing poverty. The nine-member expert panel, headed by Amarjeet Sinha, former secretary in the ministry, will give its report in three months. The financial allocation to West Bengal has already been stopped citing irregularities in the implementation of the scheme.
The government had spent a record Rs 1.1 trillion under the scheme in FY21 as it used it to address the rural distress caused by the pandemic. Additional allocations under the scheme in the form of supplementary demands have been common in the last few years.
Though the fiscal cost of the scheme is huge, the government has been liberal with the outlay, but concerns have been expressed about governance issues in implementation in many states.
Although the high level of rural employment justifies the elevated demand for the scheme, the government wants to ensure that each rupee is well spent and reaches the intended beneficiary.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for work under the scheme rose sharply.
According to official data, person days of work generation rose to 3.8 billion in 2020-21 from 2.65 billion in the previous fiscal. The person days stood at 3.63 billion in 2021-22.
Till November, 1.94 billion person days of work are generated under the scheme in the current fiscal. However, against the mandate, a household, on an average, has received only 37.4 days of work until November against the last fiscal’s tally of 50.07 days.
MGNREGS, launched in 2005, is a demand-driven scheme for the enhancement of livelihood security of the households in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work in every financial year. There is a provision for additional 50 days of unskilled wage employment in a financial year in drought or natural calamity-notified rural areas.
The scheme allows workers to be associated with various assets-creation activities such as road construction, ponds, rejuvenation of water bodies, among others.