Allocation to social security programmes, including the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or MGNREGS, have been cut down in the Budget announced on Wednesday.

Allocation to MGNREGS, has been reduced to Rs 60,000 crore, the lowest in the last four budgets of the government.

The scheme was introduced in 2005 by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and is aimed at enhancing the livelihood security of households in rural areas. The demand-driven scheme guarantees 100 days of unskilled work annually for every rural household that wants it, covering all districts in the country.

This year’s budget allocation for the scheme has declined despite increase in revised budget allocation on MGNREGS in the last financial year of 2022-’23. In the last budget session Centre had allocated Rs 73,000 crore to the scheme and later revised it to Rs 89,400 crore.

Besides MGNREGS, the government has cut down the National Social Assistance Programme to Rs 9,636.32 crore from the 2022-’23 revised estimate of Rs 9,652 crore. The programme provides financial assistance to the elderly, widows and persons with disabilities in the form of social pensions.

The budget for Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2, aimed at welfare of children and women, has been brought down to Rs 20,263 from the 2022-’23 revised estimate of Rs 20,554.

Social security schemes budget (in crore)

Name Revised estimate (2022-'23) Budget allocation (2023-'24) 
MGNREGS Rs 89,400 Rs 60,000
National Social Assistance Programme Rs 9,652 Rs 9,636
Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 Rs 20,263 Rs 20,554

BJP proved it is anti-poor: Congress

Meanwhile, the Congress questioned the rationale behind reducing the budget allocation for the MNREGS.

“When it was most needed to increase the MNREGS budget, then its budget is cut beyond comprehension,” the Congress said. “Once again the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government has proved that it is anti-poor and anti-labour.”

According to the Economic Survey 2022-’23 presented by the government on Tuesday, 6.49 crore households demanded work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Out of this the 6.48 crore households were offered employment by the government and 5.7 crore actually availed it.

“The number of works done under MGNREGS has steadily increased over the years, with 85 lakh completed works in FY22 [financial year of 2022-’23] and 70.6 lakh completed works so far in FY23 (as on 9 January 2023),” the report had found.

Congress has pointed out the contradiction in Centre’s economic survey and the budget allocation for the scheme.

“So, by cutting the Budget allocation, they are either saying the MGNREGS demand will suddenly and dramatically come down or that people will ask and they will not be provided work,” Praveen Chakravarty, the head of the Congress’s data analytics department, told The Indian Express. This is illegal because, by law, you have to provide work. It is a demand-based programme.”

He added: “Or they will provide work and spend more, which means the deficit will go up. This is why I am saying that it does not add up.”