MGNREGA rural employment scheme not being diluted: govt

The government told the Lok Sabha on Friday that it was committed to the previous government's Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which provides work for rural unemployed, but noted that there were certain aspects, including the need to enhance asset quality, which require "revisit of the scheme".

Rural development minister Birender Singh sought to allay apprehension of the opposition that government was diluting the rural job guarantee scheme and said the Centre allocated Rs34,000 crore this fiscal against Rs33,000 crore provided for it last year.

He assured the House that the MGNREGA was not being diluted and added that state governments were also to be blamed for delay in payments.

Responding to a discussion in the Lok Sabha on ''the reported dilution of MGNREGA,'' Singh said payments were getting delayed because many state governments failed to submit the proper audit report in time for release of funds. From the Centre, he said there was no reduction in budgetary allocation for MGNREGA.

With the minister maintaining that MGNREGA was a demand-driven scheme and money is released accordingly, opposition members pointed out that by delaying payments, the government was making the scheme unattractive and, thereby, reducing demand. Also, members said the ministry itself was responsible for creating the misgivings with a slew of new guidelines.

On the labour-material ratio, Singh said it needed to be revisited as the average that has been achieved till now is 50 days a person per year instead of the guaranteed 100 days a year. Referring to the complaint of the poor quality of assets created by MGNREGA – articulated by several members during the discussion – Singh said that can be improved only when the labour-material ratio is made 50:50.

Having said this, he conceded that 73 per cent of labour component of the allocation is used as opposed to 24 per cent of the material. ''If we cannot utilise more than 24 per cent, I think there is no argument in saying that it should be increased,'' he said in response to the demand for increasing the material component.

As for the reports that the Act would be confined to 200 districts and 2,500 blocks of the country, Singh maintained that it would continue to be applicable nation-wide. But, as studies have shown that the programme needs to be intensified in 2,500 blocks, these areas were being given priority attention.