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Modi govt stares at ‘shortage of funds’ for MGNREGS urban variant, drops idea for now

Housing and urban affairs ministry had held meetings with states during lockdown to discuss the plan, but has decided to drop it for now.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has dropped the idea to launch an urban variant of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the flagship rural employment generation programme, due to paucity of funds, ThePrint has learnt.

“The proposal is not under active consideration,” said a senior official of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, which is mandated with framing policies for the urban poor.

Two senior ministry officials told ThePrint that there were internal discussions to start an assured employment generation programme on the lines of MGNREGS in small urban centres with a population of 1 lakh during the initial period of Covid-19 pandemic to help the urban poor as many of them have lost their jobs.

Under the MGNREGS, which was launched during the UPA rule in 2006, the government guarantees 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

“We held meetings with principal secretaries of all the states to discuss the idea. It also got discussed at NITI Aayog and cabinet secretariat but the plan was dropped, mainly on account of shortage of funds,” said a second officialm who did not want to be named.

Besides the issue of funds, there were also practical difficulties in implementing and monitoring such a scheme in urban centres, the second official added. “There are over 3,000 cities in India. It would be a massive task to go about ensuring that the scheme is being implemented properly,” the official said.

“Unlike in rural areas, there are not many contract-driven work in urban centres. Also, it will be mostly earth work that will be covered under the urban job programme. In urban centres, scope for earth work is limited,” said the official. “MGNREGS in rural areas mostly involves manual earth work like digging for canals, etc. We don’t know how many urban poor would be willing to take up manual earth work.”

Also read: What an ‘urban NREGA’ should look like

Two states launch their version

While the housing ministry did not go ahead with its plan to provide assured employment to urban poor, two states — Odisha and Jharkhand — did get inspired by the idea and launched own programmes.

In August, the Jharkhand government launched the Mukhyamantri SHRAMIK (Shahri Rozgar Manjuri for Kamgar) Yojana, an employment scheme providing for 100 man-days of work in a year to unskilled workers in urban areas.

In April, the Odisha government had launched an urban wage employment initiative for six months, aimed to cater to around 4.5 lakh families.

However, the idea to launch an urban variant of MGNREGS is not new.

The first time the proposal came up was soon after the Modi government returned to power last year. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs had come up with the proposal for giving guaranteed employment to urban poor. But the proposal was put on the backburner after a lot of discussions in the corridors of power.

“The plan has not been junked altogether. But there is no plan to take it up immediately,” said the second ministry official quoted above.

Also read: 6 years on, PM Modi’s core team is in the grip of IAS, IPS, IRS officers from Gujarat


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