2022 has been a year of exposure. It started with the sensational “ THE KASHMIR FILES”. It ends with “TWITTER FILES” putting Biden under the scanner. The Modi government has also joined it with the “MGNREGA FILES”.
According to a report by The Economic Times, the Centre is auditing 25 states to find out the root cause of discrepancy in demand for MGNREGA funds. Central audit teams are visiting 1,360 Gram Panchayats situated in 341 blocks. The audit was necessitated by the demand for Rs 25,000 crores over and above Rs 59,000 crore provided by the Centre. Apparently, the revival of the economy should have meant that the demand for MGNREGA jobs would have declined, but it did not happen.
A senior official from the Rural Development Ministry said, “There are national level monitors. The blocks were red-flagged because these showed very high expenditure. This is why audit teams were sent to examine at the ground level if the expenditure incurred has led to proper asset creation,”
Reason behind it being untouched
This is the first time Centre has got serious on its intent to choke maliciousness prevailing the scheme. Presumably, it has been laying out the groundwork for it. The problem with MGNREGA is that it is mired by legacy issues. From the time it came into force to the time PM Modi took charge, the scheme was rarely scrutinised by public intellectuals. When the NDA Cabinet started to point out its follies, they had to face severe backlash.
The scheme has been positively associated with increase in rural roads, new plantations, unskilled construction, village tanks, ponds, check dams, water harvesting tanks, bunding, irrigation channels, renovation of existing water assets, drought and agricultural productivity among others. PM Modi’s initiative of initiating Direct Benefit Transfer also gave a feather to the flock. Experts now started to call it the epitome of transparency and something which India needs at any cost.
Statistical trends over the years
Subsequently, allocation of funds under the scheme increased, both in value as well as percentage of GDP terms. However, in terms of percentage of total government expenditure, significant change was not witnessed in it.
Probably, the government was aware of the trends of workforce participation. The scheme was designed to benefit SCs, STs and women. Between 2008 and 2019, participation of SCs and STs in the workforce largely declined. It did increase in case of women. But the fact remains that they were exploited on such a low wage. Women’s employment is supposed to be in the skilled segment and not in unskilled, backbreaking and exploitative pit digging jobs.
Covid and social audit
Between 2014 and 2019, the Modi government was unsure about MGNREGA’s sustainability. But, Covid mayhem and the return of people to their villages necessitated its revival. To maintain demand in the rural economy, Government allocation increased by more than 150 per cent (Y-o-Y terms) in FY21. The allocation has been on decline since the economy started to revive.
Meanwhile, a sensational social audit, mandated by Section 17 of MGNREGA act, gave a statistical justification to the allegations of corruption in MGNREGA. On comparing official records with on-ground realities, it was found that Rs 935 crores were misappropriated in MGNREGA funds between 2017 and 2021. One of the primary reasons for this misappropriation is state governments not following mandates of MGNREGA guidelines.
Centre has asked states to not allocate more than 25 per cent of funds to rural infrastructure. All in all, allocations under asset or infrastructure creation, administrative costs and wages should not cross 40 per cent of the budget. The Remaining 60 per cent has to be reserved for agriculture and related industries. Instead, states have been cutting down spending under state schemes and diverting MGNREGA resources towards rural infrastructure supposed to be created from their bourse.
For a major part of the last 17 years, MGNREGA has been pushed as sacrosanct and beyond query. Now that it has come under scanner, there is a need for a nationwide audit about pilferage of funds and other kinds of discrepancies.
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