Ahead of Budget, activists demand allocation of Rs 2.72 lakh crore for MGNREGS in 2023-24

Considered inflation, pending worker wages and high demand, say NREGA Sangharsh Mocha and People’s Action for Employment Guarantee

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Tuesday 31 January 2023
About 21 per cent of the annual budget in the last five years has been spent clearing arrears carried forward from previous years, activist groups claimed. Photo for representation: iStock__

Social activist groups working for rural employment have demanded the Centre allocate a higher budget of Rs 2.72 lakh crore under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) for the financial year 2023-24.

NREGA Sangharsh Mocha and People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) put forward the demands January 31, 2023. The Union Budget 2023-24 will be announced February 1.

The demand was calculated considering the long pending dues to be paid for the workers in the financial year 2022-23 and the increasing demand for work, Nikhil Dey of NREGA Sangharsha Morcha said in a press conference.

Read more: Mandatory digital attendance for MGNREGS will destroy it, activists warn

“The unpaid dues in the financial year 2021-22 were registered to be Rs 24,403 crore against the budget allocation of Rs 73,000 crore. Consequently, 25 per cent of the budget was utilised to clear the dues, thereby creating a shortage of funds for the latter year,” Dey alleged.

About 21 per cent of the annual budget in the last five years has been spent clearing arrears carried forward from previous years, he claimed. In the current financial year 2022-23, the unpaid dues stand at Rs 16,070 crore.

“Considering the expenditure trend for the ongoing financial year, it is estimated that dues worth Rs 25,800 crore would be pending by the end of 2022-23,” he said.

Wages for the employment scheme must be equal to minimum agriculture wage, say the sections of employment guarantee Act of 2005, he said. The wages should be revised to Rs 311 per day considering the ongoing six per cent inflation rate as per the estimates released by the central government. 

At present, MGNREGS wages are as low as Rs 204 per day in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. 

“About 5.6 crore households took the benefit of the scheme in 2022-23. On calculating the wages for 100 days for each household, the bill amount will be over Rs 1.76 lakh crore. In addition, the material costs administration and other costs add up to over Rs 2.46 lakh crore,” he said.

On adding the pending dues of Rs 25,800 crore, the budget allocation for the scheme should be escalated to about Rs 2.72 lakh crore. The workers would be deprived of wages if the budget allocation is less than the estimate calculated, PAEG and NREGA Sangharsh Morcha said.

“Even if the allocation is reduced to Rs 2.23 lakh crore against the expected budget, the households will be able to work for 80 days. If the funds are further lessened to Rs 1.73 lakh crore and Rs 1.24 lakh crore, the workers will be able to work for only 60 days and 40 days, respectively,” Dey said.

2022-23 recorded the lowest average working days (person days) per household since 2016 at 40.7, found the Economic Survey and Management Information System (MIS) of the central government.

Read more: MGNREGA: Workers across 13 states protest to demand unpaid wages

Low budget allocation when work demand is high suppresses it and is unlawful, said Dey. “Allocating low budgets for the welfare scheme is a means to punish the needy,” he said.

Not clearing the pending dues for West Bengal since December 2021 is depressing the workers as it contributes about 10 per cent of the total workers in the country, he added.

The unique scheme has saved millions of lives during the COVID-19 pandemic years and serves as a crucial lifeline for the economically backward population. If the budget allocation continues with the existing trend, employees will not be able to work even for half a year.

“Only three per cent of the registered workers were able to gain employment for 100 days while only 1.7 per cent were deemed eligible for payable compensation,” he said. As per the law, workers seeking employment and not receiving work opportunities within 15 days are eligible for compensation.

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