One of the main reasons why the BJP could demolish the Congress in the general elections is the tardy implementation of its pro-poor welfare schemes. Take, for example, its anti-poverty flagship scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
Even though the scheme was credited with driving the Congress-led UPA to victory in the 2009 general election, the government was caught sleeping when cracks in the scheme surfaced. So it is refreshing to hear what the new rural development minister, Gopinath Munde, had to say about the signature scheme of the opponent party: “It’s a very good Act (MGNREGA). Now this is my responsibility, this law should be implemented. I will do this rigorously.”
The new minister has his work cut: Several reports have identified the shortcomings of the scheme. In 2010, a year after UPA 2 took over, the Planning Commission did an evaluation of the scheme. The plan panel questioned the effectiveness of projects implemented under the Act in boosting productivity and creating assets.
In a presentation made to the prime minister’s office, the panel highlighted the dearth of technical and professional support for implementing projects under the scheme, delays in payments to workers, and issues of corruption and leakages. Then there was the issue of fake muster rolls and the complaint that “elite groups within the workers” capture most of the job cards. Social audits also confirmed the worst fear.
Yet, the UPA government did not do anything. In 2013, the Comptroller and Auditor General did a performance audit of the scheme. Again the results were similar: Inefficient planning, human resource shortfall, delays in release of funds, no issuance of job cards, etc.
The scheme has huge potential for regenerating the village economy and providing employment to the rural poor and so at this stage, it needs probably more than just “tweaking”; rather, Mr Munde should crack the whip to ensure that implementation problems are ironed out without further delay.