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Review: Standing Committee reiterates certain recommendations it made to the Government on MGNREGA

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The parliamentary standing committee on Rural Development and Panchayati Raj tabled the report on MNREGA in February 2022. Recently, the Action Taken Report on the same was presented in the Parliament. While the government has accepted 26 of the 33 recommendations made, the government’s response to the remaining seven recommendations was not accepted by the committee. Here is a review. 

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) guarantees a minimum of 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. It was notified in September 2005. After about 16 years of implementation, a parliamentary standing committee on Rural Development and Panchayati Raj tabled the report, ‘Critical Evaluation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)’ in the Lok Sabha in February 2022. In that report, the Committee assessed and highlighted the shortcomings in the implementation of the flagship scheme and made a list of recommendations to be incorporated to improve the scheme’s outcomes. Recently, the Action Taken Report on the same was presented in the Parliament. Here is a review of the action taken report. 

Standing committee made 33 recommendations including revamping of MGNREGA scheme 

A total of 33 recommendations were made in the standing committee report covering various aspects of the scheme- from budget allocation, revision of wage rates and the number of days of work, social audits, and appointment of ombudsperson. Of the 33 recommendations, the government has accepted 26 of them. The government’s response with respect to the remaining 7 recommendations were not accepted by the standing committee. These responses were generic citing provisions of the Act and did not address the issue at hand. The action taken by the Government on some of the observations or recommendations that need reiteration according to the committee have been discussed in this review. Further, the committee has set a deadline of 3 months for the Department of Rural Development (DoRD) for the final action taken reports. 

Coordination between States and Centre should be improved to avoid delay in funds

The committee called for effective coordination between States and Centre for timely release of funds and completion of procedural formalities. Accepting this recommendation, the DoRD stated that “funds released under MGNREGA is based on the provision of the Act and guidelines”. The committee found this response stereotypical and added that if these provisions were followed, then the issue of delay in funds would not have arisen. The committee recommended that DoRD should revive the process to improve Centre-State ties for the timely release of funds. 

The delay in the release of skilled labour and material components share funds by the Centre and State resulted in incomplete projects under MGNREGA. The reason cited for this delay was the non-completion of documentary procedures for the release of the next batches of funds. Though the committee recommended DoRD supervise this to prevent delay, DoRD cited provisions of the Act elaborating on how funds are released in tranches as per the existing provisions instead of discussing the delay or taking measures to prevent it.  

Pendency in wage disbursal and revision of wage rates on par with inflation have not been addressed by DoRD

Previously, the committee noted that wage liabilities were Rs. 2763.78 crores as on 05 November 2021 and called upon DoRD to ‘pull up its socks’ and take all possible measures to clear off wage liabilities as soon as possible. To this, the department responded that the release of funds was a continuous process based on provisions. It has also been mentioned that an amount of Rs. 73,023.05 crores were released to States for the wage component. However, the committee felt that no specific action was taken to deal with the pendency and called for more effective steps to ensure there is no delay in wage disbursal. 

The Committee observed that indexing of MGNREGA wages to Consumer Price Index (CPI)- Rural as opposed to CPI-Agricultural Labour (AL), as recommended by Dr. Nagesh Singh Committee was not implemented. The Standing Committee recommended the Ministry to review its position and increase the wages to which DoRD replied that the Ministry decided to continue with existing CPI-AL for wage rates. The committee, expressing its concern for the beneficiaries of MGNREGA, again asked DoRD to review its position and increase wages by linking it to a suitable inflationary index. 

Observing that the wage rates notified under MGNREGA ranged from Rs. 193 to Rs. 318 in different states, the Committee recommended devising a mechanism for a unified wage rate across the country. However, DoRD’s reply was “unacceptable and evasive”, according to the committee and asked DoRD to consider uniform wage to end wage disparity.

Standing committee called for amendment in Act to provide additional days of work

With respect to the committee’s recommendation to increase the guaranteed days of work under the scheme from 100 days to 150 days, especially in the light of the pandemic, DoRD stated the provisions of the Act allow states to provide additional 50 days of wage employment in case of natural calamities. 

The committee found the response generic, highlighting the provisions of the Act. Thus, the committee reiterated its recommendation and asked DoRD to make an amendment to the Act so that the number of days is uniform throughout the country and not left to states to decide. 

Committee called out DoRD for citing only the obstacles for the implementation of any novel concept instead of examining it

Citing ‘Buldhana Pattern’ wherein water conservation is done through desilting and deepening of waterbodies by the removal of earthen material and silt, which is used for constructing the National Highway, the committee recommended convergence of various rural development schemes along with MGNREGA as it would help address rural poverty. DoRD responded that the transportation cost of soil from the site to the other place cannot be borne by the scheme. The committee reiterated its recommendation stating that DoRD should scrutinize the proposal elaborately instead of citing obstacles. 

Feasibility of linking existing women centric works with MGNREGA should be explored 

In response to the committee’s recommendation to link women Self Help Groups that are engaged in farm works or animal rearing activities with MGNREGA to empower women through financial independence, DoRD stated the women-centric provisions in the Act such as the provision of a minimum of 33% of the work to women labourers.

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It did not mention anything about the linkage of livelihood projects. The committee called for a thorough examination of the possibility of linkage of existing women-centric works as well as exploring the practicability of more women-centric programmes under MGNREGA.

Doorstep medical facilities for job cardholders has been recommended by the committee

Following the pandemic, the committee observed the need for incorporating newer safety measures for the workers, especially in such a mass-oriented scheme, in terms of the easily accessible medical facilities at the doorstep of villagers. It suggested that the scheme be revamped to cater to the new and unforeseen challenges the pandemic had brought to light. DoRD listed the medical facilities provided to the workers such as insurance, hospitalizations, etc. 

Acknowledging these measures, the committee recommended that doorstep medical facilities attached with job cards of the labourers be included. 

With respect to other recommendations such as strict monitoring and evaluation of the scheme, more participation of elected representatives, appointment of ombudsperson, etc., the committee accepted the government’s response. The committee appreciated the efforts of DoRD to mitigate unspent balances by bringing down the unspent amount from Rs. 5,270.76 crores at the end of 2020-21 to Rs. 1,351.46 crores as on 05 November 2021. However, it recommended that DoRD maintain and increase the momentum even further so that the unspent balance amount does not get accumulated. 

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