NEW DELHI: The Congress on Monday asked the government to expand the scope of MGNREGA to meet the growing work demand of 8 crore migrants expected to relocate in villages in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asking the prime minister not to view Centre's "reliance on the MGNREGA as the victory of the scheme or of BJP's political adversaries", Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the government should look at the scale of benefits the scheme will provide to migrants.
He said that the COVID-19 has demonstrated the "unmatched value of a people-centric scheme like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) with a humbled Modi government being constrained to commit an additional Rs 40,000 crore to it". "MGNREGA must be scaled up and made open-ended to meet the massively increased demand," he said at a virtual press conference.
Singhvi said the scheme was a Congress brainchild and it has proved to be the world's largest social welfare scheme and "clearly the most efficacious government scheme".
"Please forget that your remarks Mr Prime minister will come back to haunt you. Please forget political adversariness. Please forget that your current reliance on MGNREGA is the scheme's biggest victory and therefore, indirectly the victory of some of your political opponents. Please consider how much good you can do to the nation through this scheme. So don't take our remarks in an adversarial spirit. MGNREGA is a reality, it's a done deal and you have to build on it," Singhvi said.
He said since PM Modi is "compelled to fall back on a UPA scheme", it is only appropriate that the Congress provides him with additional guidance for the next steps.
The Congress leader said that the government has rightly given Rs 40,000 crore extra, but it must remember that the scale of the disaster of COVID-19 will require its further expansion. In May 2020, he said, 2.19 crore households have benefitted from this scheme, which is the highest for May in the last eight years.
Singhvi said as many as 12 crore people, as of March 31, 2020, have benefitted cumulatively from this scheme ever since its inception.
With 8 crore migrants expected to relocate due to COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress leader urged the government to increase the number of guaranteed days of employment to 200 from the current 100 under the scheme.
He said this will help provide employment opportunities to the relocated migrants near their homes and asked the government to make panchayats the fulcrum, in terms of both devolution of funds and in identifying prospective projects.
The nature of work must be left to gram sabhas, he said, adding local elected bodies understand the ground realities, the influx of workers and their needs. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in an article, has also said that this is not about BJP vs Congress, but MGNREGA should be used to help people of India.
"The Modi government has grudgingly come around to the significance of the programme. My plea to the government is, this is a time of national crisis, not a time to play politics. This is not a BJP versus Congress issue. You have a powerful mechanism at hand, please use it to help the people of India in their time of need," she said in the article.