Centre-state blame game holds up MNREGA

Work is slowing down under the United Progressive Alliance government’s biggest social welfare scheme as the centre and states fight over allocation of funds. According to the ministry of rural development, there has been a 13% fall in the number of works completed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MNREGA in the past one year. Data available on the ministry’s website shows that only 19.7 lakh works were completed under the rural employment guarantee scheme in 2010-11, as against 22.6 lakh in the previous fiscal.
The centre and states are locked in a blame game over poor utilization of funds under the scheme. While states say they are being denied funds at critical times because of a faulty release formula, the centre says states are unable to spend funds as they have not invested in capacity building. State officials say the ministry of rural development, which disburses the funds for the scheme, does not take into consideration the seasonal nature of the employment demand while sanctioning funds.
They say demand for MNREGA works peak between November and March, the time between sowing and harvesting of wheat crop, when demand is low for farm jobs. The ministry uses the average expenditure trend in the first half of the fiscal when the demand for MNREGA works is low to downsize the labour budget estimate for the entire year, state officials say. “We do get the opening balance, but the first six months constitute only 35% of the overall annual expenditure needed for the state,” a state rural development official said.
In its October review, the ministry tends to downsize the overall annual budget of the state on the basis of the expenditure trend in the first half of the fiscal, the official added. But the ministry of rural development rejects this argument. “We have to take into consideration how much states have been able to spend in order to release more money,” an official at the ministry said. “They can always come back to us to ask for more.” The Planning Commission, which reviews the scheme every quarter, has sided with the states. “The current system is wrong and needs to be looked at as it creates problems on the ground, which becomes a national problem,” said a Planning Commission official.
Civil society organizations and grassroots workers cite lack of planning at all levels of the government for the slowdown in MNREGA works. “The central problem seems to be absence of any planning at any level in the MNREGA,” said Vijay Shankar, member of Samaj Pragati Sahyog, which is involved in implementing the scheme. “So when the time comes, ad hoc work demands are prepared, matched with equally ad hoc labour budgets and randomly chosen works,” he said. A report prepared by a working group for the Central Employment Guarantee Council, a statutory body set up under MNREGA, has suggested an alternative way of estimating work demand and ensuring release of funds accordingly.
The report proposes a rolling plan at the village panchayat and block panchayat levels, wherein all possible works for a period of two years will be listed and made into a shelf of projects (SoP). The actual work is taken up on the basis of work orders, as and when demand comes and fund flow is ensured on the basis of these projects and an annual trend based estimation of work demand.
For estimation of demand for work, the report has proposed a one-time survey for estimation of labour demand, which could be periodically revised taking into account, among other things, natural calamities and drought years. “Once such a planning process is instituted at the Gram Panchayat level, there could be a better anticipation of work demand , timely request for works to be started and more proper fund flow,” said Shankar, who was also part of the working group. The demand of the states is far simpler. Most states demand that the labour budget should be prioritized and the allocation made in two installments instead of numerous small ones.
69 percent households gain from rural job scheme
Agartala, April 17 (AGENCIES): About 69 percent of rural households in the northeast get employment under the central government’s flagship rural jobs scheme, according to an official document available here Sunday. The objective of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREG) scheme is to provide at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
Nagaland topped the list with 93 percent households provided employment under MGNREG followed by Mizoram (69 percent), Sikkim (67), Meghalaya (63) and Tripura and Assam with 62 percent each. In 2010-11, Rs.4,180 was approved for the MGNREG scheme for six states in the northeast excluding Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
According to a Tripura government official, the union rural development ministry would review April 19 in Arunachal Pradesh the progress of eight flagship schemes being implemented in the northeastern state. The flagship programmes to be reviewed include MGNREG, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, Indira Awaas Yojana, Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana, National Rural Livelihoods Mission and National Rural Drinking Water Programme.