The annual allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), the flagship social security programme of the UPA government, has been scaled down from last year’s Rs. 40,000 crore to Rs. 33,000 crore in this budget.
The cut, which will not amount to work shrinkage or wage reduction because the scheme has a legal guarantee, is on account of the fact that more than Rs. 10,000 crore has remained unutilised till the end of 2011-12 financial year.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee revised the allocated amount for 2011-12, putting it at Rs. 31,000 crore.
“The initial allocation is based on projected demand, which might not be sustained through the year — due to factors like good rain, etc. And in the case of some states, demand might be overestimated. There is also a need to scale up the ability of the panchayats to utilise the funds better,” rural develop-ment minister Jairam Ramesh said.
Right-to-work activists, however, protested the decision, calling it a setback to the scheme.
“The weakest part of the NREGA has been awareness and demand for work. A lower budget translates into officials not publicising the right properly and not ensuring the demand there on the ground. A cut in allocation would reverse the gains the NREGA has started showing now,” said Shankar Singh, a founder member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakthi Sanghthan, a right-to-work NGO.
The NREGS, launched in 200 districts in 2006, was expanded all over the country in 2008.
Boost to drinking water, sanitation
Overall, rural development received a boost — an addition of about Rs. 8,000 crore — and Rs. 4,000 crore of it went to drinking water and sanitation. This has been a 40% enhancement over 2011-12 for the two sectors, which Ramesh said should be focused on.
Aajeevika, or the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, which UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi launched in Banswara in Rajasthan last year, has been allocated R3,915 crore.
Under the mission for gainful self-employment, the government plans to bring every BPL household under the self-help group net with subsidy and credit linkages. Even the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, a component of Bharat Nirman, connecting hitherto unconnected habitations with all-weather roads, received major support in the budget — Rs. 24, 000 crore.
“The additional funds would help us reach out to hundreds of villages in central India, West Bengal and North East,” Ramesh said.