Addressing Lok Sabha on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended the suspense over the fate of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Program. He said the scheme would continue, but as a living monument to the failures of the Indian National Congress.

For months, there has been uncertainty over the fate of the job scheme which was launched by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2005 with the intent of providing a measure of social security to the country's rural poor. Any household willing to do manual labour was guaranteed 100 days of work. Over nine years, the scheme generated more than 1,750 crore days of work. But it also garnered criticism for corruption and the inability to translate the labour into productive assets.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party government took charge last year, Nitin Gadkari, the rural development minister, indicated that the scheme could be limited to less than one-third of the districts in India. The minister also proposed other changes to the scheme, which could reduce the amount of wages given out under the scheme. In October last year, 28 economists wrote a letter to the Prime Minister expressing dismay over the proposed changes. There have been fears that the government would discontinue the scheme, seen as a legacy of the Congress.

Breaking the silence

Finally, Modi has spoken up, and even though he has said that MNREGA will continue, it hasn't exactly dispelled the fears surrounding the scheme's future, given the way he framed the scheme in disparaging terms.

"My political instincts tell me that MNREGA should not be discontinued," he said, mocking the opposition benches, "because it is a living memorial to your failures. After so many years in power, all you were able to deliver is for a poor man to dig ditches a few days a month."

The government's bias has already shown up in the way it has squeezed the scheme of funds. Data obtained by Scroll  showed that as of mid-December, barring five states, all others had received significantly lower funds from the centre under the scheme in 2014 as compared to the previous year. Unless the government has made up the shortfall in the last two months, the sharp drop in the scheme’s funding would have possibly hit millions of rural workers.