Expressing her concern over the budgetary cut for MGNREGA, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said on Thursday (March 31) that several states have negative balance in their accounts to the tune of ₹5000 crore, which has in turn led to delays in paying workers.
Gandhi brought up the issue during zero hour urging the government to make adequate allocations to MGNREGA, a scheme that had helped during the COVID-19 pandemic, and had ensured payments within 15 days.
Rural development minister Giriraj Singh and I&B minister Anurag Thakur hit back at Gandhi, accusing her of politicising the issue and claimed that her remarks were not true.
According to Singh, the issue raised by the honourable member is far from the truth. “The budgetary allocation for MGNREGA in 2013-14 (UPA years) was ₹33,000 crore, whereas under Prime Minister Narendra Modi it had reached ₹1.12 lakh crore. No need to show us the mirror,” Singh said.
Gandhi said MGNREGA, which was mocked by some persons, had provided timely help to crores of affected poor families during the pandemic and played a positive role in helping the government. “Still there is regular reduction in the budgetary allocation for MGNREGA. This year the budget for MGNREGA is 35 per cent less than that of 2020. This comes at a time when unemployment is rising continuously,” Gandhi pointed out.
The budgetary cuts were weakening the legal guarantee of timely payment and employment, she said, noting that the Supreme Court had likened the delay in MGNREGA payments with forced labour.
Gandhi said the states were told that their annual labour budget will not be approved unless they meet conditions related to social audit and appointment of Lokpal. Social audit should be made effective but workers cannot be punished by stopping the money for this, she said. And urged the Central government to allocate adequate funds for MGNREGA, ensure payment of workers within 15 days of work, and pay compensation in case of delay in payment of wages.
Meanwhile, Thakur, in his response to Gandhi’s statement, alleged that there was massive corruption in the MGNREGA scheme under the UPA government, which was weeded out by the Modi government.
In Thakur’s view, under Prime Minister Modi, geo-tagging of assets created under MGNREGA was introduced and payments were directly made to workers in their Jan Dhan accounts. Congress members got up from their seats to protest against the remarks made by Singh and Thakur. As the commotion ensued, Thakur added that it was ironic the Opposition should criticise when a Union minister had responded immediately to an issue raised by Gandhi.