New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has laid out two key priority moves for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) over the next five years, linking it with skill development and eliminating delays in wages reaching beneficiaries.
With this, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has indicated its keenness to appropriate the Congress-led UPA’s marquee rural jobs scheme, despite its initial and very overt criticism of it.
MGNREGA, which promises 100 days of employment every year to each rural household, is implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development, and has a current budgetary allocation of Rs 60,000 crore.
“We have set two key priorities under MGNREGA for the next few years. One is to ensure greater emphasis on skilling in the scheme in a way that workers who seek jobs under the scheme also move up the skill ladder,” a senior ministry official who did not wish to be identified told ThePrint.
“The second is to ensure wages reach beneficiaries in time and without the delays we see now.”
When it came to power in 2014, Modi’s BJP-led government began by adopting a staunch stand against MGNREGA, with the PM going as far as to term it a “living monument of the UPA’s failures” in Parliament.
However, given the politically and electorally sensitive nature of the programme, the BJP went on to not only continue with the scheme, but also attempt to appropriate it by continuously enhancing its allocation and making several modifications in its implementation.
Also read: Govt still can’t manage MGNREGA promises, even with ‘highest ever’ fund allocation
The skilling plan
While MGNREGA was designed as a scheme to provide work to “any household residing in any rural area and willing to do unskilled manual work”, one of its biggest criticisms has been its inability to add any productive value to beneficiaries.
To address this, while the ministry has already been making efforts to integrate skill development and capacity-building with the scheme by converging it with various programmes, including the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, it plans to do this on war-footing for the next five years.
“We have to ensure some additional, basic skills are imparted to MGNREGA beneficiaries, in the area of agriculture for example, so they can do something of their own. This will be taken up in a big way now, as one of the main priorities,” the official said.
Bridging gap between wage generation & payment
The MGNREG Act mandates that wages should be paid within 15 days of completion of work, but delays in wage payments have been among its biggest implementation challenges. The Supreme Court has also pulled up the Centre over such delays.
While the ministry has succeeded in reducing the delays in the generation of wage payments to a significant extent, with 90 per cent being generated in time in the last fiscal as against 84 per cent in 2017-18 and only 43 per cent in 2016-17, wages continue to reach beneficiaries with delays.
“We have successfully fast-tracked generation of wages, but the challenge to make it reach the beneficiaries’ accounts in time remains. If 90 per cent are cleared in time, around 30 per cent of that reaches workers’ accounts with a delay,” said another ministry official, also on the condition of anonymity.
Ministry officials say the objective is to ensure “100 per cent timely generation and payment of wages”.
Also read: Modi govt’s 1,000-day rural target — 2 crore houses, roads to all villages, toilets in homes
It all looks so easy on the campaign trail. Six years after the first glorious run started, Secretaries to GoI are being requested to provide good ideas on how the economy can be restored to health. The Red Indians have a saying : Never criticise a man till you have walked in his moccasins for a week.
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