Even as a parliamentary standing committee raised concerns over the reduced fund allocation for the MGNREGA scheme, the government said there is “no dearth of money” if the demand arises for wage employment.
The Standing Committee on Rural Development, which submitted its report in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, said the budget estimates for MGNREGS have been reduced by Rs 29,400 crore for 2023-24 when compared to the revised estimates of 2022-23.
“The Act governing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme provides ‘Right to Work’ to such deprived sections of the rural populace who are willing to work. It is a last resort of succour for the jobless section who don’t have any other means to feed them and their family members,” the report said.
“The role and importance of MGNREGA were visible during the corona pandemic times when it acted as a ray of hope for the needy in times of distress,” it said.
The ministry, in its response, stated that the scheme is demand-driven and whenever needed, the allocation has been increased.
“There was an increase in the allocation in the previous two-three years because of the abnormal situations created due to Covid, the Ukraine war, and inflation… now the situation has normalised a bit. In 2020-21, the original budget was Rs 61,000 crore,” the ministry said.
“Since it is a demand-driven scheme when the need arose it was enhanced to Rs 1,10,000 crore. Whenever there is a need for extra money we go to the Finance Ministry and they allocate extra money for this. There is no dearth of money if the demand arises for wage employment,” the ministry said.
The committee also said that it was concerned to note the continuous pendency in the disbursement of the Centre’s share of funds under wages and material components of the scheme in respect of several states/Union Territories.
According to the information received from the Department of Rural Development, it has been observed that as on January 25, 2023, Rs 6,231 crore in wages and Rs 7,616 crore in the material component is a pending liability on the Centre’s part, it said.
“The committee finds accrual of such liabilities as severe impediments hampering the beneficiaries’ plight. The committee takes into account the plausible reasons that have been time and again cited by the Department of Rural Development for such types of pendencies such as non-receipt of documents.
“However, a scheme of such huge proportion like MGNREGA which caters to the nook and corners of the country and has millions of beneficiaries enrolled as job card holders, such delay in wage payments and material fund release would only deter the needy person from availing the benefits under MGNREGA and would also cause them further turpitude for non-receipt of money when the sole intent of the scheme was to provide timely relief to poor in times of duress,” it said.
It also highlighted the issue of unspent balance under MGNREGS during the last three years — Rs 2,913.32 crore (2019-20), Rs 5,270.76 crore (2020-21) and Rs 6,454.87 crore (2021-22).
When asked about the reasons for huge unspent balances during the last three years and whether the ministry will be able to utilise the current year’s unspent balance of Rs 744.18 crore before March 31, it said, in a written reply, funds released to the states/UTs is a continuous process depending upon the demand on the ground.
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