The rural development ministry has reportedly sought an additional allocation of Rs 17,000 crore for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Emploment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), over and above the budgeted Rs 48,000 crore for 2017-18, as the work provided under the scheme has exceeded 54 per cent of the approved budget.
The requirement for the budget had arisen due to an increase in demand for work for a combination of factors, including the government’s move to demonetise high-value currency and the general drought in some areas of the country, activists and others said.
The demand, if met, would take the total allocation to the scheme to around Rs 65,000 crore, the highest so far. However, a portion of the allocation could also go towards clearing of pending dues.
As on August 30, according to the MGNREGS website, wages amounting to Rs 914.53 crore was still to be paid for the 2016-17 financial year. This, when added to the material and administrative expenses, rises to around Rs 2,847 crore.
For 2017-18, the website mentions, the pending wage dues are to the tune of over Rs 865 crore.
“The extra allocation that the government is seeking might be because of two counts – the expectation of extra work in drought-hit areas, and a general rise in MGNREGA work demand since demonetisation,” says Reetika Khera, a professor at IIT Delhi.
She adds there is huge demand for full 100 days of work under MGNREGS in rural areas. By comparison, an average of 32 days of work has been provided in 2017-18.
Social activists say there could be additional demand for work from parts of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, which have not seen good rainfall in this southwest monsoon season so far. Much would, however, depend on how the situation develops over the next few weeks.
For 2017-18, the Centre has approved a labour budget of 2.16 billion persondays, which is lower than around 2.2 billion persondays of work provided in 2016-17. Of the approved total, the Centre has so far provided 1.18 billion persondays, or 54 per cent of the full-year target.
The ministry claims it made over 84 per cent payments on time in 2017-18 – that is among the best years. But activists counter on the grounds that much of this is due to a wrong method of calculation in use for the past few years.