The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development on Wednesday questioned the Centre’s rationale behind cutting down the budgetary allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or MGNREGS.

“The committee are concerned to note that the budget estimates for MGNREGS has been reduced by Rs. 29,400 crore for 2023-’24 when compared to revised estimates of 2022-’23,” it said.

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 scheme guarantees 100 days of unskilled work annually for every rural household that wants it, covering all districts in the country.

Allocation to MGNREGS in this year’s Budget has been reduced to Rs 60,000 crore, the lowest in the last four years.

The budget for the scheme was slashed despite an increase in the revised allocation for MGNREGS in the last financial year of 2022-’23. In the last Budget, the Centre had allocated Rs 73,000 crore to the scheme and later revised it to Rs 89,400 crore.

On its part, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government has repeatedly said that the MGNREGS is a demand-driven scheme and that its budget would be increased if the need arises.

In its report tabled on Wednesday, the Parliamentary Standing Committee noted that the scheme plays a key role for the distressed populace of the country and that its importance is reflected in the “substantially huge increment” the scheme gets during the stage of revised estimates.

“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 Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP K Kanimozhi-led committee 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.”

The committee also criticised the delay in wage payments and material funds to state governments under the scheme.

“In this context, the committee, through their experiences of ground reality and the facts and figures apprised to them during study visits are seized of the situation that the state machinery has time and again failed in providing the delay compensation due to being late in the payment of wages to the beneficiaries,” it said.

The panel flagged complaints against the digital capturing of attendance of the workers through the National Mobile Monitoring System, a mobile-based application. The committee said that while it understood the reason for the need for innovation, the government should also be aware of the problems faced by the workers.

“Needless to say that the MGNREGA beneficiaries belong to extremely deprived sections of the society, belonging to the different linguistic milieu,” the committee noted. “Expecting workers to be well versed with the functioning and language of app or for that matter even depending upon a nodal human intervention perhaps adds to their woes.”

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