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The Centre is "forcing" states to slash their projected demand for funds under the rural employment guarantee scheme due to which states were unable to provide employment to people, an NGO today alleged in the Supreme Court. A bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and N V Ramana was told by advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing NGO Swaraj Abhiyan, that the Centre cannot cap the funds under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) which provides for 100 days of employment per family per year. "Today, more than half of the state governments are controlled by the party which runs the central government. That is why the Centre is asking these states not to make a fuss about it (funds).
The Centre is saying that if you (states) will make a fuss about it, we will cut the budget," he told the bench. He said budgetary constraints could come into effect only if employment has crossed the limit of 100 days per annum per family and the government cannot limit the funds till then. "The Centre is forcing states to reduce the projected demand," he claimed, adding that the average employment provided under the Act has come down to 40-45 days against the stipulated 100 days annually. When the issue of job cards under the Act was raised during the hearing, the bench asked, "Suppose in a family, there are four persons out of whom two get government jobs, what will happen to the job card then? Will it be surrendered?." Responding to the query, while Bhushan said that "the Act does not say so", the counsel representing the Centre said "we will find out". "Here, the idea is to give employment to people who do not have employment. If people whose family members are in government jobs can still get 100 days job per year (under the Act), this is very strange," Justice Lokur observed. Bhushan today concluded his arguments, as the court fixed the matter for further hearing on March 5 when Attorney General K K Venugopal would advance his arguments. The Centre had earlier told the bench that there were no instance where it has either capped number of days of employment under the Act or not released funds to the states. It had said that in 2016-17 financial year, 20 states had crossed the agreed budget and the Centre had provided the funds to them. During the hearing today, Bhushan told the bench that several states had written to the Centre demanding more funds under the Act, as when the approved budget gets exhausted, the states cannot give employment to the people. He also gave data and figures of the amount allocated under the Act and said that for 2017-2018, the total fund allocated was Rs 48,500 crore. He said the Ministry of Rural Development had approached the Ministry of Finance for additional fund of Rs 17,567 crore as the allocated amount was exhausted but it had only received Rs 7,000 crore. When he referred to a letter by Tripura government to the Centre demanding more funds, the Centre's counsel said, "as far as Tripura is concerned, serious allegation of corruption was there and our audit team had gone there". He also raked up the issue of delayed payment, reduction in the person days from the projection made by the states and sought court's direction to strike down the concept of agreed to budget for MGNREGA. The court, which is hearing the plea which has sought relief measures in drought-hit states in the country, had earlier said that state food commissions, as mandated under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, should be set up even in states not hit by drought. The plea has alleged that parts of 12 states-- Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh-- were hit by drought and authorities were not providing adequate relief.
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