India in 2017 has become a nation of contradictions. On one hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seen laying the foundation stone for the bullet train project in Ahmedabad. On the other side, his own government attempts to derail a universally well-acclaimed welfare scheme-MGNREGA.
Even though the right to employment is not a fundamental right in India, it was the Congress-led UPA government that made MGNREGA legally bound to provide employment to the poor in rural areas. But the recent irrational and retrograde steps of NDA government reveal that the much-acclaimed flagship scheme is going to lose its glory soon. The latest data shows that there are all the indications that the government is considering steps to curtail MGNREGA.
Driven by an anti-poor and anti-welfare agenda, the NDA government even reduced the total number of working days to an abysmal level. Despite the fact that rural population is facing severe rural distress in India, instead of 100 days, only an average of 39.98 days of employment was made available to the workers under MGNREGA last year.
The Modi government has also cut the financial allocation under MGNREGA. While the UPA government spent Rs 39, 778.27 crore and Rs 38, 552.62 crore on the scheme in 2012-13 and 2013-14, respectively, the spending went down to Rs 36, 033.81 crore and Rs 34, 226.80 crore in 2014-15 and 2015-16 respectively. Funds with states have dried up and 14 states, including Andhra Pradesh, have shown a negative balance.
It is alleged that the number of families getting 100 days of compulsory employment under MGNREGA has been systematically brought down by about half. Data says that 51, 73, 487 families got 100 days of employment in 2012-13 and 46, 59, 347 families got employment in 2013-14. But it has drastically come down to 24, 93, 840 families in 2014-15 and a dismal 20, 45, 161 families in 2015-16. There is close to around a 50 per cent delay in the total wages to be paid. Wages amounting to more than Rs 11, 000 crore have not been paid in the financial year 2015. In 2016, the average delay in wages was almost 60 per cent.
There has been a decline in the number of households completing 100 days in last two years. As per reports, only 25 lakh have completed 100 days in 2014-15 as against 47 lakh in 2013-14. Jobs were made available to 86, 75, 141 people out of 1, 95, 13,989 job-seeking families in the year 2016. At the same time, under UPA regime, 7.97 crores people got jobs under MGNREGA in 2012-13. But during the Modi government, it fell to 6.22 crore in 2014-15 and 5.79 crores in 2015-16.
MGNREGA is a unique social security system and confers upon economically deprived groups the right to demand work when they need it. This is specially made for marginalised and vulnerable sections of the society including Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, poor women, who are the worst sufferers of social inequality. It seeks to reach out to those in need for livelihood security and comes to the aid of those who may be under pressure to migrate in search of livelihood.
Modi's "sabka saath, sabka vikas" slogan fails to turn into reality.