New Delhi, Oct. 16: The Union rural development ministry today highlighted the findings of select studies to defend its plan to modify the rural job guarantee scheme and answer critics who have accused it of trying to dilute the programme.
A ministry note that cited these studies said the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) needed reforms to increase the creation of productive and durable assets and reduce politics and corruption.
One of the studies, done in Rajasthan by Bhanu Gupta and Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay from the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi Centre, says the Congress’s vote share rose in 2009 at places where the scheme allocated more funds. The implication: the UPA government spent more in areas the Congress hoped to do well.
Another study was conducted in Andhra Pradesh by Megan Sheahana, Yanyan Liub, Christopher B. Barretta and Sudha Narayanan from institutions such as Cornell University (the US), the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (Mumbai).
It said the distribution of the scheme’s funds was politically motivated, either as patronage following the 2009 election or as a vote buyer ahead of the 2012 by-elections or 2014 general election. “Voters rewarded the governing coalition for the well-targeted nature of the programme,” the note quotes the study as saying.
Another study, by Shila Matang, a Pradhan Mantri Rural Development Fellow posted in Khunti, Jharkhand, says the assets created under the scheme were temporary (like desilting of a pond, as opposed to a check dam) and their benefits non-measurable (like desilting again, as opposed to a grain storehouse).
Also, Matang said, the grant of work was non-transparent and the projects were delinked from the villages’ requirements.
The note is an answer to eminent economists and social activists who had written to the Prime Minister, asking him to stop the ministry from modifying the programme.
The ministry plans to cut the labour-material ratio in the scheme’s projects from 60:40 to 51:49, allowing more assets to be built and reducing the room for patronage. It has also asked the states to prioritise the scheme in the 2,500 poorest blocks in the country, raising fears that it would be neglected in the remaining 5,000 blocks. But the ministry believes the focus on the poorest areas would check political selection of sites.
“These reports are a testimony… that the scheme was allowed to be exploited for pure partisan purposes in states like Andhra Pradesh,” the note said, referring to “tendencies of acquiring easy money and using government funds for political party promotion”.
Social activist Nikhil Dey, a signatory to the petition sent to Narendra Modi, said the studies cited only suggested implementation problems such as faulty area-wise fund allocations. “This government could have ensured it didn’t repeat the UPA’s mistakes; what’s the rationale for confining the focus to 2,500 blocks?” he said.
Dey said corruption in the scheme should be tackled by enforcing village-level social audit and not by changing the wage-material ratio.
The note did not mention a study by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, which found the job guarantee scheme had improved groundwater levels, crop production and organic carbon in the soil.
It said the check dams, percolation tanks and desilting had enhanced groundwater depth, and water harvesting boosted the irrigated area leading to increased and sustained crop yields – from seven per cent in Bhilwara to 100 per cent in Dhar. Households reported more water consumption because of more water bodies.