NEW DELHI: The NDA Government is leaning towards continuity rather than disruption. Like the UID scheme and others, MGNREGS, the UPA’s flagship programme won’t be abandoned.
Just like the old PDS being tweaked to the new model of targeted PDS, we will get a “targeted MGNREGS”. So, instead of 65,576 blocks, the government will identify and zero in on 2,500 blocks characterised by high levels of economic distress and restrict MGNREGS’s scope to those. There will be sharper, narrower focus on how the MGNREGS funds can be used. Under the existing framework, the kind of work that can be done under the MGNREGS is defined rather loosely - or generously - as “building rural assets”.
Critics alleged that it encouraged a lot of pseudo-economic activity that created no infrastructural assets on the ground. This plan responds to that critique by limiting and defining the kind of activity permitted under the MGNREGS: it will have to create tangible assets in the shape of agriculture-related infrastructure.
Many of these will necessarily have to be irrigation-linked - dams, check-dams, canals that bring water to drier areas, and so on. Alongside, these can be used to build main arterial roads, and for greening purposes, that is, planting trees along such roads and highways.
Four, eligibility for work under the MGNREGS will also be sharply defined. It will have to be people from marginalised communities, nomadic communities, scheduled and unscheduled tribes, BPL families, women-headed families, families headed by disabled persons (has to be from the unorgainsed sector), and those who have got their dwelling through the Indira Awas Yojna.
The panchayats will have the power to certify those eligible - and anyone in economic distress outside of those explicitly mentioned categories is free to apply for work under MGNREGS too, and the panchayat can decide on his or her eligibility. There is also a provision for compensation, if a person’s application is not processed within 15 days.
They will then have to be given ‘unemployment dole’. Sources said the shift in policy will not be affected if Gadkari shifts to another ministry after the expected Cabinet reshuffle as “all of this is happening at the PMO’s behest”. A lot of the criticism of the UPA’s ambitious welfare scheme mirrored those about PDS or any other subsidy: It entailed a waste of resources, it was going to the wrong people, there were huge leakages in the system because of local corruption etc. Regardless of the extent of truth in the arguments, the Congress-led regime’s pro-welfare emphasis - a response to the economic distress caused at the ground level by the fast liberalisation seen in the years 1991-2004 - meant a reluctance to narrow the MGNREGS’s scope to meet this criticism.
Now Team Modi’s pro-growth emphasis is seeing not a total rejection of that path, but a reconfiguring of that project according to the tenets of managerial efficiency.