MGNREGA must be made open-ended to meet the massively increased demand, the Congress said. (File)
The Congress on Monday asked the government to expand the scope of MGNREGA to meet the growing work demand of 8 crore migrants who are expected to relocate in villages due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Asking the prime minister not to view Centre's "reliance on the MGNREGA as the victory of the scheme or of BJP's political adversaries", Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the government should look at the scale of benefits the scheme will provide to migrants.
He said COVID-19 has demonstrated the "unmatched value of a people-centric scheme like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) with a humbled Modi government being constrained to commit an additional Rs 40,000 crore to it".
"MGNREGA must be scaled up and made open-ended to meet the massively increased demand," he said at a virtual press conference.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in an article published in The Indian Express on Monday, has also said that this is not about BJP vs Congress, but MGNREGA should be used to help the people of India.
"The Modi government has grudgingly come around to the significance of the programme. My plea to the government is, this is a time of national crisis, not a time to play politics. This is not a BJP versus Congress issue. You have a powerful mechanism at hand, please use it to help the people of India in their time of need," she said in the article.
Mr Singhvi said the scheme was a Congress brainchild and it has proved to be the world's largest social welfare scheme and "clearly the most efficacious government scheme".
"Please forget that your remarks Mr Prime Minister will come back to haunt you. Please forget political adversariness. Please forget that your current reliance on MGNREGA is the scheme's biggest victory and therefore, indirectly the victory of some of your political opponents. Please consider how much good you can do to the nation through this scheme. So don't take our remarks in an adversarial spirit. MGNREGA is a reality, it's a done deal and you have to build on it," he said.
He said since Prime Minster Narendra Modi is "compelled to fall back on a UPA scheme", it is only appropriate that the Congress provides him with additional guidance for the next steps.
"Our basic demand is that MGNREGA in its content, reach, must be massively scaled up, because it has proved to be the closest glove which fits the hand which is the hand of Covid distress," he added.
The Congress leader said the government has rightly given Rs 40,000 crore extra, but it must remember that the scale of the disaster of COVID-19 will require its further expansion.
In May 2020, he said, 2.19 crore households have benefitted from this scheme, which is the highest for May in the last eight years.
Mr Singhvi said as many as 12 crore people, as of March 31, 2020, have benefitted cumulatively from this scheme ever since its inception.
With 8 crore migrants expected to relocate due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress leader urged the government to increase the number of guaranteed days of employment to 200 from the current 100 under the scheme.
He said this will help provide employment opportunities to the relocated migrants near their homes and asked the government to make panchayats the fulcrum, in terms of both devolution of funds and in identifying prospective projects.
The nature of work must be left to gram sabhas, he said, adding local elected bodies understand the ground realities, the influx of workers and their needs.
"How many additional job cards (to accommodate an increase in the new migrant and existing rural job seekers) have already been issued and how many persons have been given employment," he asked.
The Congress leader alleged that people in the PM''s own adopted village of Domari in Varanasi are reportedly struggling to get rations and employment.
"Have all arrears from the past financial year been cleared? The increase to Rs. 1,01,000 crores is in actuality only 84,000 crores due to outstanding liabilities carried over from the last fiscal year. Will the curtailed outlay be sufficient to meet incoming demand," he asked.