On MGNREGA, it is BJP versus Congress Back

June 15, 2020

Originally Published In

The proof of a policy is in its implementation. Sonia Gandhi needs to acknowledge that the MGNREGA has become truly effective under the BJP

In a democracy, politics is never just about elections. Competing parties are also expected to contest policy arguments, development programmes and debate frameworks for their implementation. It’s a clever ploy to take a narrow view of politics and indulge in grandstanding. Between the lines (‘This isn’t BJP vs Congress’ by Sonia Gandhi, IE, June 8), there appears a hidden agenda. Crass politics is being played through grandstanding, misrepresentation of facts and more importantly, a feeble attempt at whitewashing sins. It’s nothing hoodwinking the people to say, “Oh no, this is not about politics”. The Congress president must be told, “Sorry ma’am, but it is certainly about BJP versus Congress”. Our idea of politics involves performance on governance. It is no wonder that our approaches are markedly different and methodologies vary. We have created history in terms of successfully displaying flawless, transparent and accountable methods of policy implementation.

The Congress President’s indulgence in crass politics is perplexing. Rushing to score brownie points, she did not make any reference to former prime minister Manmohan Singh while outlining the recent history of MGNREGA. Again, enamored by her ex-colleagues in the extra-constitutional authority of the NAC, she forgets that it was V S Page, a Maharashtra Congressman during her mother-in-law’s era, who first mooted this idea as Employment Guarantee Scheme in the 1970s. It is, of course, pointless to expect that the writer would even know that in 1971, the Jan Sangh had in its election manifesto mooted a similar idea.

Unable to digest defeats, the Congress president’s personal politics had earlier reached a new low when her party vehemently opposed some nationally important reforms in key projects initiated when the Congress held power — like GST and Aadhaar. However, now she tries to play the victim card, complaining that the BJP has denigrated and undermined MGNREGA. In fact, the BJP had assailed the implementation of MGNREGA, not the concept behind it. This stands in contrast to what UPA-1 did with the previous NDA government’s Rashtriya Punarnirman Vahini (1998). This was an innovative scheme for rural youths to earn an income while working for village development. Sadly, UPA-1 also diluted the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana, the Golden Quadrangle and several other flagship schemes of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. The BJP, though, does not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Since implementation determines the success or failure of any scheme, the MGNREGA in the UPA era was undoubtedly a failure. A cursory look at the CAG’s reports on its implementation makes this clear.

CAG Report No .6 of 2013 reflects on how vast funds were wasted. It has stated that between 2007-08 and 2011-12, a total of Rs 2,252.43 crore were spent on inadmissible works in several states. It also points out that works worth Rs 4,070 crores were incomplete even after five years. About Durable Works, highlighted by the article, CAG Report No. 5 of 2013 said: “… it was also noted that MGNREGA implementation in the State lacked focus on creation of durable assets. Audit scrutiny revealed large numbers of incomplete works, as well as works improperly executed and not serving the intended objectives of assets beneficial to the local community.” Remember, Mahatma Gandhi had said: “India’s dignity cannot be saved if misgovernment and corruption flourish. I mention corruption because misgovernment and corruption always go together.”

While the government is a continuing institution, political parties securing a mandate are supposed to add some value to its processes. Whether Saubhagya or Jan Dhan, the Narendra Modi government has done exactly that. Similar schemes did exist in the past but we made a huge difference by fine-tuning implementation, plugging loopholes, and ensuring that benefits reach only the true beneficiaries.

Evidence of our achievements is abundant. Today’s Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna is the same as what was earlier known as the Indira Awas Yojana. Between 2010-14, the number of houses built under this scheme was 89.65 lakh whereas, between 2015-19, the total number reached up to 1.01 crore. The story is the same with toilets. Between 2009-14, under the then Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, the total number of toilets built annually stood at 85.97 lakh while in the next five years, under the Modi regime, toilets built under Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan numbered 2.17 crore annually. The same bureaucracy resolutely implemented reforms backed by political leaders. Far from alleged “dressing up of old schemes”, we have made them more result-oriented and effective.

Besides, unlike in the previous regime, today the focus is on both, “man-days” and asset creation.

Lastly, the Congress president will have to answer as to why seven key reforms in the MGNREGA, which were implemented during the Modi regime, were not introduced earlier? These reforms include establishing that MGNREGA is not a pension scheme but a programme for livelihood security. Second, increasing the allocation for individual beneficiary schemes. From 21.4 per cent of the total works under this segment in 2014-15, they have now reached 67.29 per cent. Third, giving highest priority to complete transparency with Aadhaar linking of accounts, near 100 per cent electronic Fund Management System (eFMS), 100 per cent IT/DBT and geo-tagging of assets, and most importantly a strengthened system of social audit to hold local government leaders accountable to the community. The fourth reform was about changes brought in the programme by making 60:40 ‘wages to material’ ratio applicable at the district level instead of at gram panchayat level. Fifth, ensuring that states with more manual casual labour and deprivation get more of the MGNREGA resources. Sixth, in view of climate change, making a provision to notify 150 days of work in regions that had a natural calamity or drought. And lastly, continuously improving the community connect and partnership of panchayat leaders, women self-help groups under the Livelihood Mission and the frontline workers through a people’s plan campaign. As for the allegations of delayed payments and work not being given, facts suffice as a response. During the last two months, due to targeted efforts, 99.5 per cent payments are being generated and credited in the specified two-week period. Today, MGNREGA works are underway in over 2.04 lakh grams panchayats as against 1.54 lakh gram panchayats during the same time in the last financial year. On June 8, work was offered to 3.61 crore persons against 1.81 crore persons on the same date last year.

Being possessive about MGNREGA is not enough. One has to take ownership of it and ensure that it succeeds. We have done that, ma’am.