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Parliamentary Panel Slams Govt Over Steep MGNREGA Fund Cuts; Says DoRD Reply ‘Routine’

The panel also urged the government to review use of the NMMS app for attendance, and ascertain issues faced by workers.
MNREGA budget cuts

New Delhi: The Parliamentary Committee on Rural Development and Panchayati Raj has slammed the government over the reduction in allocation for MGNREGA, saying it could hamper the work being done under the rural employment scheme.

The panel also pulled up the Department of Rural Development for not explaining the reason behind the cut in allocation.

MGNREGA witnessed a slash in its budget this year, with Rs 60,000 crore allocated for FY 2023-24. In the previous financial year, the government had allocated Rs 73,000 crore for MGNREGA, while the spending as per the revised estimates in the Budget was Rs 89,400 crore.

The panel said it is a steep reduction of Rs 29,400 crore from the revised estimates stage of FY 2022-23.

In a report tabled in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, the parliamentary committee pointed out that the Union government had pending liabilities of Rs 6,231 crore in wages and Rs 7,616 crore in material components under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MGNREGA) by January 25 this year.

"Taking into account the increased demand shown by the scheme at revised estimates stage during 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 and also considering that the proposed demand made by the Department of Rural Development for FY 2023-24 was Rs 98,000 crore, the committee had strongly recommended that the department not only assess the ground situation regarding demand for jobs under MGNREGA realistically but also impress upon the Ministry of Finance for increased allocation to MGNREGA," the panel said.

The committee said the Department of Rural Development, in reply on the fund cut, provided "numerical facts regarding the funds allocated to MGNREGA at budget estimated and revised estimates stages from 2019-20 onwards".

It clarified that the Ministry of Finance is requested to provide the funds whenever additional funds are required and added that the Government of India is committed to releasing funds for wage and material payments, the panel said.

The parliamentary committee termed the reply "stereotypical" and "routine".

The DoRD neither provided a concrete reply to the query of the committee as to how it arrived at Rs 98,000 crore as the budget estimate for MGNREGA at the proposed demand stage nor was it able to put forward any concrete mode of action to deal with the probable dearth of funds at this point of time, the panel said.

It expressed dissatisfaction with the approach elicited by the Department of Rural Development (DoRD) in handling an issue of such importance which could lead to hampering the work under MGNREGA due to fund shortage.

"Such a scenario will not augur well for the poor rural workers under MGNREGA as lack of funds could stall the projects creating pendency of wages, etc.

"In view of the above, the committee strongly reiterate their recommendation and urge upon the DoRD to handle the fund-related aspect of MGNREGA with a much informed and robust financial pragmatism through better coordination with the Ministry of Finance for seeking requisite allocation at the budget estimates stage every year rather than resorting to the allocation of required funds at revised estimates and supplementary stages which may hamper timely payment of wages and other payments under the scheme."

The panel said the delay in wage payments and material fund release would act as a deterrence to the needy beneficiaries of MGNREGA from getting some sort of relief from their penury.

It recommended the DoRD ensure the timely release of the Centre's shares in wages and materials through effective measures and better coordination with states.

The DoRD in its reply to the panel was "completely silent" on the progress made by it in the reduction of pending liabilities, the committee said.

"The committee finds such reply evasive in nature and may lead to lopsided implementation of MGNREGA. Therefore, the committee once again urges the DoRD to not shy away from their responsibility and initiate concrete measures to reduce and finally end the existence of pendency in the release of wage/material share of the Centre through result-oriented and concerted efforts," it said.

Review NMMS App, Panel Urges Govt

The panel urged the government to review the use of the National Mobile Monitoring System (NMMS) app for recording attendance in MGNREGA in light of the "difficulties" being faced by workers.

It asked the government to come out with an acceptable provision at the earliest after ascertaining the issues.

In the report, it noted the introduction of the NMMS app was aimed at capturing two time-stamped and geotagged photographs of the MGNREGA workers in a day.

The Committee said it was understood that through the introduction of a new attendance system, the Department of Rural Development wanted to usher in increased transparency.

However, they found that the actual success of this app depended upon various extraneous variables like the availability of smartphones, proper internet connectivity and the mandatory presence of MGNREGA workers at both the specified times to name a few.

"Taking note of these areas of concern, the Committee had urged upon the DoRD to review the implementation of attendance app holistically and after ascertaining the issues being faced by the workers, come out with an acceptable provision at the earliest," the Committee said in its report.

Noting that there is an exemption provision for taking attendance without using the NMMS app in cases of internet connectivity or device malfunction-related issues, the Committee expressed apprehension regarding the actual enforcement of this provision at the ground level in view of the "contradictory" information shared with the Committee by various stakeholders.

"Despite the submissions of the DoRD regarding the effectiveness of this app, the Committee are concerned to note the complaints from various quarters highlighting numerous difficulties being faced by MGNREGA workers in making their attendance on this app.

"So, in the fitness of things, the Committee reiterate the recommendation and implore upon the DoRD to have a holistic review of the ground reality regarding the effectiveness of NMMS and also ensure that the exemption provision is being complied with in ‘letter and spirit’ so that no genuine beneficiary is left behind," they said.

The government has implemented a new provision for capturing real-time attendance at the worksite through the mobile App, with two time-stamped and geo-tagged photographs of the workers in a day.

The app is available in five languages - English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

A protest was also held in Delhi's Jantar Mantar by MGNREGA workers under the banner of NREGA Sangharsh Samiti against the use of the app earlier this year. Several workers claimed they are facing difficulties in getting their attendance registered through the app.

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