The NDA government is likely to retain the fund allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the flagship programme of its predecessor UPA, in the Union Budget 2015-16.
Sources, however, said that the government could still look at tweaking the labour-material ratio under the scheme from the current 60:40 ratio as well as creation of more productive capital assets.
Former rural development minister Nitin Gadkari had been keen to revisit the scheme with plans to restrict it to just 200 of the poorest districts in the country.
Finance ministry sources said there will not be any cut in the social sector budget.
“The UPA has allocated Rs 34,000 crore for the scheme (MGNREGA) and we have not touched it. But the government can decide how it will distributed, it’s the prerogative of the Central government,” said a source in the government.
Launched in 2005 by the UPA government with cross-party support, the scheme aims to guarantee 100 days of wage employment to adult members of every rural household who volunteer to do unskilled work.
There have been also apprehensions raised by the opposition as well as non-governmental organisations that the Narendra Modi-led government may cut sector spending on programmes such as the rural job guarantee scheme.
With the Centre trying to meet its fiscal deficit target of 4.1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014-15, few economists also have expressed fears that there could be reduction in the social sector spending.
The UPA government, too, had tried to bring down spending on social sector schemes in order to curtail its fiscal deficit.
According to the BJP sources, there was a suggestion that instead of having it in all the districts, the job guarantee scheme could be reduced to certain districts and blocks of the country which are extremely backward.
A BJP leader pointed out that the land holding community, expected to be a key player in the prime minister’s ‘Make in India’ campaign, has been complaining about the MGNREGA scheme.
“There were suggestions that scheme could be implemented in backward districts or 500 blocks,” he added.
A revamp in the scheme was also indicated by finance minister Arun Jaitley in the Union Budget 2014-15 where he had stressed on the government’s intent to continue it.
“Wage employment would be provided under MGNREGA through works that are more productive, asset creating and substantially linked to agriculture and allied activities,” he had said.
Newly appointed minister for rural development, panchayati raj and drinking water and sanitation Chaudhary Birender Singh, too, has maintained that the government will not restrict the job scheme.