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MNREGA is in fragile state: former NAC member

delhi Updated: Mar 10, 2013 11:41 IST
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Amid demands for scrapping of UPA's ambitious MNREGA, leading economist-activist Jean Dreze has asked the government to bring "some accountability" in the "very fragile" programme which was touted as a vote-catching programme.

Dreze, a former member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council which formulated the scheme, also warned that it will be "even more difficult up from here" if the government does not take immediate steps.

"One needs to look at the MNREGA, Food Security, health and education in totality...People are protesting about corruption in MNREGA but I think there always have been reluctance on part of the the government.

"And, unless they don't restore accountability and respond to the demands with actions, I see more difficulties from up here. And, what is strange is that the measures are all prescribed in the system but has not been used by the government," Dreze said.

He said measures suggested in the MNREGA system included unemployment allowances, compensation for delay in wages and provision for penalties but have not been by used.

There is a lack of political commitment and the government doesn't see any electoral gain in it anymore, he claimed.

There were demands in Parliament in the ongoing Budget session that the scheme be scrapped due to corruption. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and BJP's Hukum Dev Narayan Yadav (BJP) raised the demand with the former pointing to corruption and the latter alleging unscientific implementation leading to problems in agriculture sector.

Rejecting the demands, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the programme "provides a safety net" to a very large number of rural families in times of distress.

Demanding that social sector programmes be expanded, Dreze said, "Our social sector programme base is hardly 6% of the GDP. Even in developing countries, such social programmes amount to 25%. So, we need a big expansion on that front," he said.

The economist said that, "Currently I think from 1 per cent of the GDP, this share has now fallen to 0.3 per cent and with inflation accounted, it is even lesser...our only hope is that now the workers are getting organised and responding to the massive disruptions in the MNREGA," he said.

On cash transfer and Unique Identification (UID) or Aadhar card too Dreze expressed his reservations.

"This whole delusion about cash transfer. Where is the the budget...and as far as the UID is concerned, I'm against any use of it for MNREGA. I see it bringing in more harm than good. The infrastructure of surveillance, one doesn't know when can it be misused," he said.

The Belgium-born economist has served as a faculty member at both the Delhi University and the Allahabad Univerity.