‘MGNREGA revamp a political gimmick’

It was learnt many states apart from West Bengal have not been paid by the central ministry for even 100-day jobs. ‘Forget 150 days, they had not even paid for 100 days. This is a political gimmick ahead of the Lok Sabha election,’ a senior Trinamool Congress leader said. Sources said rural development minister Jairam Ramesh took the decision earlier after post facto sanction from the union finance minister P. Chidambaram. ‘But he announced the decision on Thursday intentionally to woo the voters,’ a ministry source said. Earlier, on 15 January, Jairam wrote a letter to Chidambaram stressing that that if fund allocation was not done it will be difficult for his ministry to execute developmental related works. He also wrote that, ‘The uncertainty on the funds position is hampering the implementation of both Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MGNREGA) and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) and the blame is falling on the UPA government.’

However, ground realities show the rural development minister, instead of releasing funds to many states for 100 days’ rural job under MGNREGA, has extended it to 150 days, inviting a mass political criticism. The West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, while slamming the UPA government’s decision, said, ‘The central government has now stopped funding even for 100 days’ work and just to pay lip-service to the people they have decided to increase it to 150 days! Is it not a sham to extract political mileage?’

Under MGNREGA, the government is bound to provide 100 days of work to people in rural areas. ‘In my state, I can say that about Rs 900 crore is still pending with the central government for 100 days’ work which we have already completed. Since this is the peak season for generating more man-days, our further requirement is another Rs 1,200 core. We thus need about Rs 2,100 crore from central government for this programme,’ explained Banerjee. The enhancing of the statutory man-days under the MGNREGA comes close on the heels of the government having already hiked the wages under the scheme by taking into account the inflation rate.

Incidentally, the UPA was credited to have reaped the electoral dividends from the success of the MGNREGA in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. But in recent years, the demand for jobs under MGNREGA had been on the down side despite the government expanding the scope of works to be undertaken. After drought had affected some parts of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka, the Centre has made an exception for them to give 150 days of works to the people in the rural areas.
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