Call to strengthen MGNREGA to help the nations poor

Update: 2023-02-08 19:05 GMT
Women engaged in canal digging work under the MGNREGA scheme. (File Photo: PTI)

Ananatapur: The reduction of allocations for the MGNREGA scheme in the Union Budget this time would have an adverse impact on the farm sector, feel agricultural and other experts from Rayalaseema region.  

Young India Project Founder Narendra Bedi, who has been connected with the welfare of farm labourers for many decades in Anantapur district, said the cut in the funds will hit the farm labourers and result in an increase in migrations to other states.

In the Budget 2023, the central government slashed the allocation for the scheme to  Rs 60,000 crore, the lowest in the past four years. This, compared to the Rs 73,000 crore allocated in the budget estimate for 2022-2023, was 17.8 per cent less.

Further, many drought-hit areas were confronting a cash-crunch due to the pending bills vis-à-vis payment to the workers. As a result of such adverse conditions, the poor tend to migrate to urban centres for their livelihood.

Tens of hundreds of families have migrated from Adoni division in Kurnool district to urban areas within and outside the state. Such migrations are more now from a majority of the villages in Anantapur district to the cities.

The eminent positive role played by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), it acting as a lifeline for the working poor in rural India, has been proven majorly at the time of Covid-related lockdown, Dr.Suresh Babu of Praja Science Vedika observed.

He said that in 2021, with an average 23 days’ work and a daily wage of  Rs 200, households that were part of this scheme earned an average of Rs 1,500 a month. The Niti Aayog report of 2020, citing the impact of the scheme on household income and poverty alleviation, had called it a "powerful instrument for inclusive growth in rural India."

An increase in the number of such working days for the poor is possible only with a substantial enhancement in the allocation. For instance, providing even 60 days of work would require about Rs 1.1 lakh crore while providing work for 80 days would mean a spend of Rs 1.5 lakh crore.

In last five years, the annual average increase in wages has been 5.1 per cent. Assuming that this would remain true for the next fiscal, the average wage of Rs 217.7 per person per day the current year would rise to Rs 229 in the coming year. It is essential to provide an average of 48 days of work to each poor household under the scheme, it is proposed.

As per the calculations included in the report, the number would have to be raised to a little over Rs 87,500 crore for the coming year. However, allocations have to also take into account the pending wage bills of the previous year, Suresh Babu said.

For instance, in Jan 2022, the pending bill accounted for Rs 3,358 crore. Considering a similar pendency, MNREGA spending would have to be more than what has been allocated in 2022-23," said the report.

MGNREGA has been described by the World Bank as the largest antipoverty state-run employment-generation scheme in the world.

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