Budget cuts and fund squeeze hit MNREGA in its 10th year

There is a 16 per cent decline in employment this year in comparison to 2013-14

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | February 3, 2015 | New Delhi



The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), as it enters 10th year, will be critically undermined by budget cuts and fund squeeze. The proposed dilutions to the provisions and the arbitrary capping of funds will be major attack on the implementation of the Act, activists say while addressing a press conference in Delhi on its ninth anniversary.  According to them, despite considerable achievements, the programme had to respond to serious implementation challenges. And these two attacks will stand in blatant violation of the law.

They also said that the funds allocated to MNREGA are decreasing in real terms, despite being demand based legislation.

Jayati Ghosh, senior economist and professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), pointed out that MNREGA funding has not been keeping to its demand based requirements and has fallen steadily from 0.8 per cent of the GDP in 2009-10 to 0.22 per cent.

“MNREGA is the most efficient programme of this nature. Even during its peak (2009-10), the money spent on this scheme was miniscule. Still it was providing employment to over 10 crore people a year.”

Calling it an extension of the Gujarat model of growth which is anti-rights based, Ghosh said the attack on MNREGA began under the UPA government but it is more drastic and explicit under the new government. She said, “The most critical point is that it is demand based scheme. And because of lack of support from the centre many states are forced to pay from their own budgets. And where states are not able to pay, workers stop coming for work and the demand dries up.”

She said states were given a capped quota in the middle of the year beyond which they were told not to spend. And to make matters worse, the finance ministry made further cuts which resulted in pending liabilities and increasing numbers of delayed wages.

MNREGA, which promises 100 days of work every year to each rural household, says the payments should be made to workers within 15 days of completion of work. But delayed payments have been one of the biggest criticisms. It not just causes problems for workers enrolled but also discourages other from working under it.

As per the government’s data, only 28.22 per cent of wage payments have been made within the stipulated 15 days till December. The data also shows West Bengal and Punjab as the worst performing states.

Nikhil Dey, from the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, pointed out that the budgetary restriction was met with strong opposition from many state governments, and a number of chief ministers, including that of Bihar, Tripura, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Odisha have written to the center to roll back the cuts and allow the states to run the programme.

He further said that the allocations for MGNREGA in the upcoming union budget will prove to be a test for the government to see whether it is even willing to meet its legal responsibilities and adequately fund MNREGA in keeping with the spirit of the Act.

Impact of fund squeeze

As per the ministry of rural development’s online reports, in 2014-15 till December, 72 per cent of the total wages disbursed are delayed. Also pending liabilities has been increased from Rs 2000 in 2011-12 to Rs 5,800 crore in 2013-14, which shows that there were not enough funds with the state governments to implement the programme.

There has also been a 16 percent decline in employment this year in comparison to 2013-14. States like Bihar and Chhattisgarh have suffered severely.


Workers forced to move to cities again

The MNREGA, which has curbed distress migration, brought back Sanjay Sani (32), to his village in district Muzaffarpur in Bihar. He was working as an electrician in the national capital. When he got to know about the MNREGA, he went back and started working under MNREGA since 2012. In the first year, he managed to get work for about 90 days and earned around Rs 16,000. In 2013-14 the number of work days reduced to 50. He worked as a road and well constructor. But the current year was worst when he could not find work for a single day. Sani also work with a local group called Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sangathan to work on empowering workers to demand work, timely and proper payments under the scheme.

"The scheme has benefitted many who do not own a land. MNREGA was a piece of land for us. But now the government is slowly killing it,” says Sani who has to now look for other avenues to earn money for his family of six, including a wife, two children and parents. He said more than 8000 people have demanded work in the district, but the demands are not even registered.

He further added that it is a violation of human rights as poor workers are neither getting work nor wages for work already done. He also pointed out that people in his area in Muzaffarpur marked a ‘kaali diwali’ to protest and highlight the distress they are facing. Sani and many of his friends are back in the city looking for work opportunities.
 

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