PM Modi redesigned, reformed and cleaned MGNREGS, writes Gajendra Singh Shekhawat – analysis
Sanjaya Baru, former press adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his revealing book Accidental Prime Minister, he wrote on the morning of September 26, 2007, when a newly selected Congress Secretary-General, Rahul Gandhi, visited the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with Sonia Gandhi’s political adviser, Ahmed Patel. The latter delivered a statement issued by the PMO, saying that Gandhi had urged the PM to expand the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee System (MGNREGS) to 500 districts. Baru protested that it was not the PMO’s tradition to issue statements issued by PM visitors. However, at dusk, all the media published the content of the statement as a headline. Baru also noted the “obsession of the Congress party” to give full credit to the Gandhi family for MGNREGS.
These incidents underscore the Gandhi family’s obsession with MGNREGS ownership. Sonia Gandhi recently wrote an article accusing the National Democratic Alliance government of resorting to the plan after criticizing it for the first time. But she forgets that it was the abysmal handling of MGNREGS along with a series of corruption charges that led to the annulment of the government led by Congress in 2014.
When this government came to power, MGNREGS was in bad shape. It had the inherent power to be much more than the scheme that Congress had envisioned. After understanding his problems and the shoddy work the previous government did in his execution, the prime minister declared MGNREGS a living monument to the failures of the congressional government, but said he would not let him die. Thus, the government redesigned MGNREGS, fool-proof, driving reforms, interweaving it with technology, and strengthening the feedback mechanism. Building on these reforms, this government revitalized MGNREGS.
The funds allocated to MGNREGS for this fiscal year, excluding the additional allocation of Rs 40,000 crore in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, were Rs 61,500 crore. This was greater than the combined budget allocation of Rs 60,000 crore during the last two years of Congress (2012-13 and 2013-14). During the first tenure of the Modi government, Rs 2.64.864 crore were allocated to the scheme and the total expense was Rs 2.53.245 crore. When corroborating the annual increase in the budget allocation to the program during the first Modi government, there is an annual increase of 12.87% in the budget allocations. The rural work scheme is alive and kicking just for this.
Today, 99% of wages under MNREGS are paid electronically versus 37% in 2013-14. There was massive corruption in the way work was delivered; only a fraction of the wages went to the intended beneficiaries. It is not that the government of Congress has not recognized the presence of this massive flight of funds. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in 2009, admitted to the leakage of funds, however, over the next five years, he did little to cover this up.
It was the late Rajiv Gandhi who said that of each rupee spent, only 15-17 paisa reached the beneficiary. However, despite being in power for many years, the Congressional government did not ensure that taxpayer money did not end up in the pockets of spurious characters. Today, 400 schemes are included in the direct transfer of benefits. Another famous but abandoned child from Congress was Aadhaar. The Modi government used it well and through the trinity of schemes, Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile (JAM), blocked the leakage of funds.
Another big problem was the massive use of fake job cards under MGNREGS. In 2010, the Planning Commission after evaluating MGNREGS had discussed late payments and large-scale corruption. The Modi government carried out a massive cleanup. In 2017, almost 10 million fake MGNREGS job cards were found and left out of the scheme. In fact, it is confusing to find Sonia Gandhi accusing this government of not issuing job cards, when fake job cards proliferated under her party’s government. It is a shame that she accuses this government of late payment, when only 34% of the payment was made on time during his regime.
In the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (2007-12), it was mentioned that only 30% of the work under MGNREGS had been completed. Today, all work is geotagged and the goal-directed approach toward MGNREGS has been prioritized. In the words of the late Arun Jaitley: “Salary through MGNREGS will be through more productive jobs, asset creation and linked to agriculture and farming activities.”
By converging various aspects, almost 60% of the work helps in the management of natural resources. Another important reform of this government is the incorporation of individual beneficiary work; Today 67% of all jobs go to individual beneficiaries. In addition to creating sustainable livelihoods, it is this reform that will help our fight against Covid, as this work can be done while maintaining social distancing. Today, when a resolute Modi 2.0 government is battling the virus and its various results, the one billion rupees allocated to MGNREGS will help India navigate this temporary crisis.
The only reason this government is using MGNREGS in its fight against Covid-19 is not because this government believes in the political legacy of the scheme that Congress claims to own, but because we believe in the work done to reform it and make it trustworthy. and powerful tool that it is today.
Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is Cabinet Minister for the Union
The opinions expressed are personal.