Free food scheme eclipsing MGNREGA in Bihar, UP?

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By Our Special Correspondent

New Delhi, January 7: At a time when the economy is stated to be under stress and reports state that the rural wages are lagging behind the urban centres, lack of demands for the rural employments in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh under the flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is baffling the senior officials of the government.

The case of Bihar is puzzling the officials more, for the state is without industrial bases to offer better employment opportunities to the youth in the rural areas of the state. While the people under the NGNREGS can ask for a mandatory 100 days of employments in a year, such beneficiaries in the state are stated to be just 17000-18000, said a senior official of the Ministry of Rural Development.

The Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre is making second attempt to find a roadmap for the MGNREGS to make the flagship scheme contribute to India’s bid to become a $5 trillion economy in the next few years. Modi in his first term had handed over the task to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to recommend ways to improve the efficacies of the MGNREGS to make the scheme create durable assets. The report of the committee continues to gather dust with the Niti Aayog.

The Modi government in a second attempt has constituted a committee under former IAS officer Amarjeet Sinha, who had worked in the Prime Minister’s Office recently, to look into the shortcomings of the MGNEGS and ways the scheme could be improved upon. But the committee has an immediate challenge to solve the riddle of Bihar and UP where the demands for the rural employment are too low.

“Against the mandatory 100 days of rural employments, the average mandays in Bihar is 42, while it is 45 days in UP. Only 3.30 lakh people in UP have availed 100 days of MGNREGS employments in UP, which has a population of over 25 crores,” said a senior official in the Ministry of Rural Development. The government has made digital attendance in MGNREGS mandatory for the beneficiaries from January 1 this year.

The officials also claimed that the lack of demand for rural employments under the MGNREGS could also be on account of the free foodgrains scheme of the Central government for 80 crore people in the country, which was implemented following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The Pradhan Mantri Garib kalyan Anna Yojna has recently been merged with the National Food Security Scheme.

The Centre is keen to link the MGNREGS with schemes for irrigation, drinking water and sanitation. But the MGNREGS as per the Act of Parliament is mandated for unskilled labour in the country.

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