Singh, Sonia silent on job scheme plea

New Delhi, Feb. 2: Target, 100. Average, less than 50. Two hundred? No comments.

A village woman's plea to increase from 100 to 200 the number of workdays a household is entitled to under the rural employment guarantee scheme (MGNREGA) got the audience's thumbs up today at an event to mark seven years of the central project.

But Manjeet Kaur, who came from Ludhiana, had to go back disappointed. Neither Prime Minister Manmohan Singh nor Congress president Sonia Gandhi ' both were on the dais ' commented on the plea. They had their reasons.

A report prepared by the rural development ministry and circulated at the event presented a grim picture of how the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was being implemented on the ground.

According to the report, the average workdays per household has been fewer than 50 days a year, and going down.

The Report To The People on MGNREGA said the average was 54 days in 2009-10. It came down to 47 in 2010-11, and 43 in 2011-12. The figure for the first three quarters of 2012-13 was 34.

The report said the allocation of funds for the scheme had also come down: from Rs 40,000 crore in 2011-12 to Rs 33,000 crore in 2012-13.

The scheme provides for 100 days of work to rural households who enrol for the job programme. The district administration has to provide work to the households within 15 days of their application.

Social activist Nikhil Dey said delayed payments, inability to provide work and wages lower than that fixed by state governments were some of the problems that were affecting the scheme.

In Rajasthan, for instance, the minimum daily wage fixed by the state government is Rs 147. The rate under the MGNREGA is Rs 133.

Sonia hailed the scheme as the world's biggest welfare project that has helped create community assets and increased the income of people in villages since it was launched on February 2, 2006.

"History was created with the launch of the NREGA," the UPA chairperson said. "It has the potential to create a second Green Revolution. But there are several challenges to be addressed like delayed wage payment, work in time to needy people and creation of tangible assets," she added, stressing on a proper social audit of the programme that has benefited Dalits and tribals the most.

More than half the beneficiaries have been from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The Prime Minister said the government was committed to strengthening the scheme but avoided commenting on the demand to increase the number of workdays.

Singh said the government had already spent Rs 1.3 lakh crore on the scheme. "The scheme has indirectly benefited as distress migration has come down. Management of natural resources has improved," he said.

But many workers had to leave disappointed as neither Singh nor Sonia gave any commitment on increasing the minimum number of workdays per year.

"In our area, we really need 200 days of work under the MGNREGA every year," said Ganesh Lal, a worker from Anandpuri panchayat in Rajasthan's Banswara district. "I appeal to the government to increase the work entitlement."

Speaking on wages, social activist Dey, who is associated with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, an organisation working on implementation of the scheme in Rajasthan, said the administration often does not follow even the lower MGNREGA rate.

It pays workers after measuring the amount of work done, its worth in the labour market and the number of people engaged for the specific task. "In Dudu block of Jaipur district, workers were recently paid between Re 1 and Rs 15 each a day. The junior engineer grossly underestimated their work. As a result, the workers were paid a meagre amount," he said.

Dey also alleged that the district administration did not capture the demand for work in many areas and said the rural development ministry needed to monitor the scheme better.

A ministry official said the scheme's implementation on the ground was the responsibility of state governments.

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