Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday tore into the Central Government for diluting the MGNREGA by reducing its budgetary allocations while asserting that it was this scheme that came as a blessing for the poor migrant workers across the country during the Covid-19 crisis.
It was the Congress-led UPA Government, which introduced the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in 2004, guaranteeing jobs of at least 100 days to the poor.
Speaking during Zero Hour at the Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi pointed out that several states had negative balances in their accounts to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore after the budget for MGNREGA was reduced. This had led to delays in payments to workers.
Gandhi asserted that the job scheme that was mocked by some, tacitly hinting at the BJP, had provided timely help to crores of affected poor families during the pandemic and played a positive role in helping the government when the latter was at sea during the crisis.
“This year, MGNREGA budget as compared to 2020 is 35 per cent lesser even when employment is on the rise. When the budget is slashed, there is a delay in payment of the workers, who have been considered as ‘first labour’ by the Supreme Court. The government should find a solution to this. I appeal to the centre to allot a proper budget for the scheme, and also that labourers should be given their wages within 15 days”, Sonia Gandhi said.
Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh also lashed out at Gandhi, accusing her of politicising the issue and claiming that her remarks were far from the truth.
The issue raised by the honourable member is far from the truth. The budgetary allocation for MGNREGA in 2013-14 (UPA years) was Rs 33,000 crore, whereas under Prime Minister Narendra Modi it had reached Rs 1.12 lakh crore. No need to show us the mirror, Singh said.
Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur alleged that the MGNREGA scheme saw massive corruption under the UPA government, which was weeded out by the Modi government.
Under the 2022-23 Budget, which was presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the allocated expenditure to the MGNREGP has been reduced by 25.2 per cent to Rs 73,000 crore; Rs 98,000 crore was allocated under the revised estimate for the program in the previous budget.
The program provides guaranteed 100 days of wage employment in every financial year to each rural household where an adult member engages in manual labour. The scheme was introduced in 2005 through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The scheme, which earmarks at least one-third of jobs for women, has emerged as an important safety net for poor and migrant workers in rural communities.
The Economic Survey 2022-23 itself highlighted that the demand for the scheme remained higher than pre-pandemic levels, indicative of the fact that many millions still are relying on the program to sustain themselves.
Sonia Gandhi, the Rae Bareli MP, also tore the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government, accusing it of “destroying democracy by proxy advertising on social media”.