The erstwhile UPA government’s flagship Mahatma Gandhi tiol Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme is languishing in Congress-ruled Assam. Touted as the world’s largest anti-poverty scheme, it has been praised by the Intertiol Labour Organisation (ILO) for helping to stabilise and raise rural household incomes in the country. But that has cut no ice with either New Delhi or Dispur, now engaged in a blame game over this gargantuan scheme as well. It is a fact that the labour component of the scheme, funded entirely by the Central government, has been decreasing for Assam since 2010-11. The Centre has been regularly holding back more than 40 per cent of the sanctioned amounts, blaming the State government for failure to submit proper audit reports in time for release of funds. Thus it is that while Assam was sanctioned Rs 1,748.185 crore in 2010-11, it got only Rs 610.834 crore; In 2014-15, the State was sanctioned Rs 954.451 crore but received Rs 500.235 crore. So under the UPA or the NDA government, Assam continues to be a poor MGNREGA performer. This is hardly surprising, considering the widespread leakage, political favouritism and mismagement that has bedevilled its implementation here.
MGNREGA has simply become a milch cow going nowhere, but now the declining wage component means declining employment under the scheme in Assam. Fince Minister Arun Jaitley may have hiked its allocation margilly to Rs 34,699 crore in the general budget this year, but the future of the scheme is by no means assured. Prime Minister rendra Modi criticised MGNREGA in Parliament as a ‘living monument of the UPA government’s failures’; the Congress has ever since been accusing the NDA government of trying to dilute the scheme and squeeze its funds. Union rural development minister Nitin Gadkari recently slammed it as yet another government programme exploited for ‘partisan purpose’ — through which participating agencies and individuals have formed a ‘network of vested interests’ to milk the scheme for ‘persol benefit’. The matter has now reached the Supreme Court with social activist Aru Roy petitioning it to direct the Modi government for proper implementation of MGNREGA by paying timely wages, timely payment of compensation in case of delay and conducting regular social audits.