The Congress on Wednesday attacked the Centre over its implementation of the UPA-launched MGNREGA, alleging that the Modi government is "killing off" the scheme by cutting budgets and delaying payments, making it very difficult for rural workers to benefit from it.
Chairman All-India Unorganized Workers and Employees Congress Udit Raj said the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, (MGNREGA) was enacted by the Congress-led UPA government to ensure at least 100 days' employment to rural workers.
He alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi "never liked this scheme" and "vilified it on the floor of the Parliament".
"The Modi government was forced to rely on this great welfare scheme during the years of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 and 2022. Had MGNREGA not existed, imagine the plight of rural unorganised workers during Covid," Raj said at a press conference at the AICC headquarters here.
"PM Modi never admitted his mistake, and is now killing off the scheme by cutting budgets, delaying payments and introducing conditions like the National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS) app and Aadhar-linked bank accounts which will make it very difficult for rural workers to benefit from it," he alleged.
The Congress leader said according to revised estimates 2020-21, during pandemic times, Rs 1,11,500 crore was allocated to the MGNREGA, which saved the lives of crores of people.
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"However, even this allocation was not enough to provide 100 days employment to the workforce available in the country. Since then, the budget has been reduced every year -- this year, it has been cut to Rs 60,000 crore, about half of the peak, and even lower than before the pandemic," he alleged.
Currently, about 15 crore households are involved in this scheme, but now the budget has been cut even lower than five years ago, Raj claimed.
He said state governments are also finding it hard to continue MGNREGA works due to acute shortage of funds. Many states are approaching the central government time and again for the pending arrears, but it is turning a "deaf ear", Raj said.
"Most of the states in India are not using 100 per cent of the funds and corruption at the local level is very high. In the original scheme, material cost was not to exceed 40 per cent in any gram panchayat. This was to ensure that the scheme is mostly for workers, not contractors. In 2016, the Modi government changed the unit where 60:40 ratio was compulsory to the district. After the base unit has been changed, misuse is rampant in many places," he claimed.
The Congress leader also said the Modi government mandating the use of 'National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS)' application for attendance is "forcing" the workers to mark attendance between 7 to 10 AM and in the afternoon 2 to 5 pm.
Every worker now must have a smartphone, "but many cannot afford expensive smartphones especially women, Dalits and Adivasis, and they may not be not tech savvy also", he said.
"There are also many issues in rural areas - sometimes, mobile is not charged, electricity is unavailable, internet connectivity is not available or the server is down. In such cases workers cannot work for the whole day," Raj claimed.
"One more way the Modi government is killing the scheme is by forcing Aadhaar-based Payment System. This is a very complicated system, and the government's own data shows that 57 per cent of workers do not use it, he said, adding that as a result, workers who work are not getting paid.
Raj said the government should either give smartphones to workers or scrap the NMMS app. "It should also immediately compensate all workers who have lost their wages due to technical errors, and strengthen transparency and accountability through open muster rolls and social audits," he said.
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