Union Budget 2017: Thumbs up for NREGA

The Asian Age.

India, All India

Arun Jaitley announced the highest ever allocation of Rs 48,000 crore for it in the Union Budget for 2017-18.

New Delhi: Despite flaying the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) while being in Opposition, the Modi government seems to have embraced the job guarantee scheme as the pet project. Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday announced the highest ever allocation of Rs 48,000 crore for it in the Union Budget for 2017-18. In 2016-17 the allocation for the scheme was Rs 38,500 crore.

Besides providing employment, MGNREGA, the finance minister said should create productive assets to improve farm productivity and incomes.

Against a target of 5 lakh farm ponds under MGNREGA, 10 lakh farm ponds would be completed by March 2017, he said, while informing that during 2017-18, another 5 lakh farm ponds will be taken up. Highlighting another significant point, Mr Jaitley said that women participation in the project has increased to 55 per cent from less than 48 per cent in the past.

“Honourable members would be happy to note that the Budget provision of Rs 38,500 crore under MGNREGA in 2016-17 has been increased to Rs 48,000 crore in 2017-18.  This is the highest ever allocation for the MGNREGA. The initiative to geo-tag all MGNREGA assets and putting them in public domsain has established greater transparency. We are also using space technology in a big way to plan MGNREGA works,” Mr Jaitley said in his Budget speech.  

Bullish on rural India, Mr Jaitley exuded confidence that the construction of roads under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) has increased to 133 km per day. He said the government will connect 65,000 eligible habitations by constructing 2.23 lakh km of roads in rural areas by 2019.

Aruna Roy, social activist and co-founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, said “regardless of the Budget allocation, what needs to be understood is that for the MGNREGA to work as per the legislation, it needs to have adequate resources to be made available for work to be provided on demand. As of today, 22 out of 34 states have negative balances. As per the ministry’s own data a total of Rs 3,469 crore in pending liabilities have already piled up, even as they have spent 93% of the funds available for this financial year. This may shoot up over the next two months, as traditionally demand for work has peaked during this season.”

She said at this juncture, 54% of the wage payments “continue to be delayed, and hence, Rs 231 crore of compensation to workers also remains due”. She said that “with pending liabilities already piling up, the situation is likely to get worse in the next two months as budget releases will only be made in April.”