NEW DELHI: The new NDA government is leaning towards continuity rather than disruption. Like the UID scheme and many others, MGNREGS, the UPA’s flagship programme won’t be abandoned. One question everyone asked when the UPA was giving way to Modi sarkar was: What will happen to MGNREGS? Will it be junked? Well, here is the answer. There will be MGNREGS Mark-II.
How will it be different? Under new Rural Development Minister Nitin Gadkari, the vehicle is looking set for a drastic remodelling of sorts. The chassis will be made a lot, lot leaner, and the engine tweaked a bit. The driving idea is to derive more mileage. And make it travel fast, but in a certain pre-set direction.
As of now, MGNREGS covers 65,576 blocks all over the country. There is no differentiation between blocks or states on the basis of which one is poorer, or has more landless labour, or any other economic criterion. Like the old PDS, there were differences in the efficiency of implementation depending on local factors, but as envisaged from New Delhi, it was universally available all over India. 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.
The total outlay will be divided clearly to demarcate how much gets used for what. Broadly, 60 per cent of it will have to be ploughed into the building of assets, which reduces the amount that can be used to pay wages for 100 days of work to 40 per cent.
Effectively, the bulk of MGNREGS outlay gets diverted to ‘infrastructure building’.
Three, 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 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 MGNREGS: it will have to create tangible assets in the shape of agriculture-related infrastructure.