The Telegraph
Friday , July 11 , 2014
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Social security in small doses

New Delhi, July 10: Arun Jaitley has continued with all the flagship programmes of the UPA government, allaying the doubts over the Narendra Modi government’s intent on social security initiatives.

He has, however, added scores of separate small-scale social-sector schemes too — instead of combining them under umbrella programmes — marking a trend that social activists say belies the Prime Minister’s slogan of more governance and less government.

While the activists are happy at the new government’s thumbs-up to the UPA’s pro-poor programmes, many of them feel the allocations are inadequate.

Jaitley has earmarked Rs 1.15 lakh crore for subsidised food — Rs 59,000 crore for the implementation of the National Food Security Act, passed last year, and Rs 56,000 crore for providing food subsidies till the act is universally implemented.

Last year, the UPA had allocated Rs 80,000 crore for food subsidies till the act was enforced, and Rs 10,000 crore for the act’s implementation.

The act seeks to provide subsidised food to up to 75 per cent people in rural areas and 50 per cent people in urban areas. It was supposed to be rolled out in all the states by July 5 this year.

Only a handful of states have implemented it, however, with most of the states yet to finalise their lists of beneficiaries. Jaitley today gave the states and Union territories three more months to enforce the act.

Job guarantee

A sum of Rs 33,364 crore has been allocated for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act programme, which guarantees up to 100 days of unskilled employment to every rural household in a year.

The programme’s future seemed to have come under a cloud recently when Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje wrote to Union rural development minister Nitin Gadkari suggesting the law be repealed and the programme converted to a scheme. She had argued that a legal entitlement to employment leads to lawsuits.

Social activist Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy had protested any move to dilute the legally guaranteed entitlement to employment.

Jaitley said: “However, wage employment would be provided under MGNREGA through works that are more productive, asset-creating and substantially linked to agriculture and allied activities.”

Dey was unimpressed by the allocation, saying the government’s dues in unpaid wages and unpaid material costs under the programme were Rs 5,000 crore last year. Adjusting for that sum, the allocation this year is Rs 28,364 crore, Dey said.

“Last year, Rs 38,000 crore was spent. Going by an inflation rate of 10 per cent, the allocation this year should have been Rs 42,000 crore. But the available money is only Rs 28,364 crore, which is almost Rs 14,000 crore less,” Dey said.

Former National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena too questioned the allocations for the flagship welfare schemes. “The increase is less than 10 per cent while the inflation is more than 10 per cent,” Saxena said.

He criticised the announcement about the scores of small schemes, worth sums like Rs 50 crore or Rs 100 crore — relating to issues ranging from teacher training and grading of schools to girls’ education and women’s safety on highways. To implement these, the government will have to provide logistics and bureaucracy, he said.

“The Prime Minister voices the slogan of more governance and less government but these small schemes will ensure more government and less governance,” Saxena said.

The additional schemes would require procurement of new vehicles and office space and the hiring of manpower, he said. “Ideally, they should have combined different schemes.”

Dey agreed. He said the smaller schemes do not perform well and their monitoring is always poor.

Among the other UPA flagship programmes left untouched are the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, the rural livelihood mission Aajeevika, the Right To Education and the National Rural Health Mission.

The allocation for Nirmal Bharat, which seeks to provide rural homes with toilets, is about Rs 4,137 crore, up from Rs 3,834 crore last year. The scheme may be renamed the Swatchh Bharat Abhiyan.

Roads, bandwidth

A sum of Rs 24,013 crore has been earmarked for the National Highways Authority of India. The target is to build 8,500km of national highways this financial year.

The government will also provide Rs 14,389 crore for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. A pan-India programme, Digital India, has been proposed to provide broadband connectivity and other IT facilities to villages.

The government will encourage the development of Metro railways, including light rail systems, in cities with two million or more people. Jaitley has allocated Rs 100 crore for Metro projects in Lucknow and Ahmedabad.