NEW DELHI: Amidst opposition in several quarters to its plan to tweak the rural job scheme, NDA government today asserted that it would go ahead with MGNREGA reforms as it charged that the flagship programme of the previous UPA regime "was allowed to be exploited for purely partisan purposes".
"The tendencies of acquiring easy money and using government funds for political party promotion could be curbed only when a spirited team of genuine and unbiased individuals is asked to look into the question of reforming MNREGA," the government said.
Citing various studies and excerpts of CAG reports on MGNREGA, it added, "What is urgently required is a thorough review of the scheme by independent organisations and individuals, essentially those who so far have never been involved with MoRD (Ministry of Rural Development) schemes."
A note prepared by the Nitin Gadkari-led MoRD said, "Unless an extremely likely network of interests is not broken, the real picture will not emerge.
"Excerpts of CAG reports and critical studies, including those done during the UPA regime and presented at a conference called by the that government, are an eye opener. These reports rarely find mention in MoRD documents.
"These reports are testimony to the fact that the scheme was allowed to be exploited for purely partisan purposes in states like Andhra Pradesh," it said.
The government's reiteration of its stand comes two days after several leading economists urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not dilute the provisions of the rural employment guarantee programme, which provides economic security to millions of poor.
However, the ministry said it was necessary for the scheme to be converted into "a popular movement aimed at zero- unemployment in villages".
"'HamaraGaon-HamaraRojgar!–HamaraVikas!', or similar slogans may inspire villagers to use the scheme to evolve a collective vision for their village and, in the process, eradicate unemployment completely.
"Unless this spirit is successfully inculcated, the scheme will continue to be yet another government programme where money is doled out. Since anyway it is easy money, all participating agencies and individuals consider nothing wrong in seeking personal benefits out of the same," the ministry said. The government said in spite of clear evidence of rampant corruption at various places, the scheme continues to be presented as a successful scheme.
"This perhaps is due to a solid network of vested interests involving political party functionaries, government officials, NGOs, research institutes and experts desirous of milking the scheme to their advantage," it said. Stating that the scheme has earned "quite a bad name", the note said that under it there was "lack of genuinely demand- driven implementation mechanism (and) non-transparent functional structure".
Also, it noted, there was "absolute lack of collectively thought-out development projects leading to complete delink between requirements of the village and the activities carried out under the scheme".
The ministry said that being part of a "right-based framework", the scheme could also be effectively linked with skill development.
"Youths and women seeking work could be offered free-of- charge skill training, which is inadequate in a village.
"For example, if a village has no masons or electricians, MNREGA funds could be utilised for training under some kind of an understanding between the Gram Panchayat and the work- seeker making it mandatory for him/her to stay in the village and provide professional service," the note said, referring to some key flaws in the design of the scheme.
The NDA government has said that it wants to alter the labour-material ratio for MGNREGA from 60:40 to 51:49. According to it, the "lack of asset creation (through MGNREGA) is due to unnecessary centralisation".
NDA government has noted that most MPs in Lok Sabha have demanded scrapping of MGNREGA to make way for the creation of more measurable assets like minor irrigation dams, check dams and canals.
"The skill component required for truly long-term, permanent asset creation is high and does not fit into 60:40 (ratio)," it said, adding that reforms to address these concerns "are being undertaken as per the directions of the Rural Development Minister".The ministry said that Gadkari's direction only modifies Schedule I of the MNREGA Act with a view to enabling the states to increase the skilled component to up to 49 per cent if they so desire, as its wording is that 'the skilled cost of the project shall not exceed 49 per cent'.
Hence, if states so desire they can stay within the 40 per cent ceiling as the scheme to provide employment is to be formulated and implemented by the state governments, the ministry added.
The government said that the Act was modified many times by UPA through executive orders to include making of buildings like Rajiv Gandhi Bhawans in each village even though the CAG had pointed out that the skilled labour component for the Rajiv Gandhi Bhawans was 95 per cent.
"That reform was much welcomed in Lok Sabha and will ensure that large, productive and measurable assets like irrigations dams, check dams, canals can be built under MGNREGA," it added.