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Rural job scheme

Misgivings that the Centre might delay approval for the states’ labour budgets relating to the scheme are not wholly unfounded. A further withholding of funds is, therefore, likely. Many states are already facing huge arrears in payment to the job scheme workers primarily because of the Centre’s erratic release of funds.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

There is a degree of uncertainty over the funds that would be available under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act now that the Centre has linked its approval for the rural job scheme to budgets of the respective states. The parameters are embedded in what it calls transparency measures.

From April 1, the release of funds under the programme would seem to be under a cloud. The Union rural development ministry has written to all the states seeking data on the social audit conducted and the ombudsmen appointed. The audit operations at the level of gram panchayats are focused on the grievances of job card holders and on whether projects have been executed properly, if at all.

The states are required to appoint ombudsmen in every district to receive workers’ complaints and issue orders accordingly. In most states, the prerequisites have been implemented in a halfhearted manner; the coronavirus pandemic is said to have hindered the process further still. While most states have not abided by the Centre’s deadline on feedback, the action that the rural development ministry might take against them is yet to be spelt out.

Misgivings that the Centre might delay approval for the states’ labour budgets relating to the scheme are not wholly unfounded. A further withholding of funds is, therefore, likely. Many states are already facing huge arrears in payment to the job scheme workers primarily because of the Centre’s erratic release of funds. The social audits and the appointment of ombudsmen are necessary to ensure better and transparent implementation of the scheme. However, to link these measures to approval of the labour budget means there will be a delay in the release of funds and the schemes meant for rural development will suffer, if not languish for years.

According to official data on the scheme’s website, the programme had a negative balance of Rs 15,190 crore on 23 March this year as the rural development ministry had exhausted its allocated funds. Every year a certain liability is carried forward to the next financial year, when budgetary funds are released for the new fiscal. This data is required to apprise the Empowered Committee for consideration of the Annual Action Plan and labour budget for 2022-23 under the MGNREGA.

In January this year, the Union ministry for rural development had written to the states seeking information on social audit and the appointment of ombudsmen. Several states had failed to provide the data. The scheme envisages up to 100 days’ paid, unskilled work for every rural family in a year. The reach of the programme is as extensive as it is theoretically substantial.

An estimated 7 crore families seek work under this supposedly flagship programme every year. But anomalies in implementation and the measures now contemplated suggest the Centre wants more bang for its buck.