Unjust allocation by the Modi-led government is an assault on the rights of rural workers, say activists
The budget allocated to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) will only enable 16.64 days of work per active household, according to the estimate by a section of activists from NREGA Sangharsh Morcha and Peoples’ Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG).
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on February 1, 2023, earmarked Rs 60,000 crore for MGNREGS — a flagship programme that promises a minimum of 100 days of work.
Also read: Budget 2023-24: ‘Blood bath’ of MGNREGA as welfare scheme sees lowest allocation in last 2 years
Nikhil Dey from NREGA Sangharsh Morcha claimed that the budget announcement for the year 2023-24 is an assault on people’s right to work.
At least Rs 1.24 lakh crore is required to provide 40 days of work to all the active job card holders, Dey said while addressing a press conference in Delhi on February 6.
Ahead of the budget, the activists had demanded the Centre allocate a higher budget of Rs 2.72 lakh crore to enable workers to get employment for 100 days.
“At present, the pending liabilities have reached Rs 17,000 crore and the current budget failed to consider the additional funds or current inflation,” he said.
This meagre allocation will impact timely wage payment, demand for work and creation of quality assets, Dey said.
“If the remaining Rs 50,600 crore is disbursed to 16 crore registered households (HHs), the number of workdays will further reduce to 10,” he explained.
The allocation is by far the lowest in the history of MGNREGA in terms of Gross Domestic Product — down to 0.198 per cent of the GDP.
“The unjust allocation by the Modi government is an assault on the rights of rural workers and is a step towards killing the programme,” Dey added.
The activist alleged that the Union government has consistently resorted to unnecessary technical tinkering instead of providing adequate funds.
“The mandatory National Mobile Monitoring System application for registering workers’ attendance from January 2023 is one such anti-worker intervention,” he said.
Also read: Graft claims in MGNREGA squeezing poor workers, millions unpaid for months
After receiving backlash on the decision, the central government issued clarifications claiming that MGNREGS is a demand-driven scheme and the budget can be revised later.
However, such assurances are hollow as the government has failed to make additional allocations through rural employment schemes, the activist said.
“In 2022, for instance, additional demand of Rs 25,000 crore was made in November while the government has only now made provision for Rs 16,000 crore through rural employment,” he said.
West Bengal, which accounts for 10 per cent of the workers and budget of MGNREGA, has not received any funds for over a year. Dey said the Union budget of 2023-24 is insensitive towards the needs of the majority of the people who are still striving to earn a decent livelihood. Instead, it focuses more on reviving the economy of big corporate companies.
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