Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Monday reminded Prime Minister Narendra Modi that in 2014, (soon after becoming PM) he derided the rural job guarantee scheme launched by the Congress-led UPA that governed India from 2004 to 2014 as “a living monument of your failure” -- and that the Modi government has come “full circle”, falling back “on the UPA’s flagship rural-relief programme” against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and its fallout.
Her comments, made in a news article, came against the backdrop of reports that in May, 21.9 million households demanded work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the most in eight years. The demand comes even as both the urban and local economy has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown imposed to slow its spread. The lockdown forced factories, construction sites, restaurants and retail stores to stop work, forcing millions of migrant labourers out of jobs and making them undertake often arduous journeys back home.
Urging the government “not to play politics”, Gandhi said this was not a “Bharatiya Janata Party versus Congress issue”. “You have a powerful mechanism at hand (MGNREGS), please use it to help the people of India in their time of need.”
“Covid-19 has demonstrated the unmatched value of a people-centric scheme like MGNREGA with a humbled Modi government being constrained to commit an additional Rs 40,000 crore to it,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said in a video conference on Monday.
MGNREGS was the focus of finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s fifth and last tranche of the Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package to boost the economy hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown.
Last month, she announced that the government will allocate an additional Rs 40,000 crore to MGNREGS to help generate nearly 300 crore person-days in a bid to boost employment.
The earlier budget estimate for the scheme was Rs 61,000 crore.
BJP spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal said, “MGNREGA has seen three important changes over the years, first is asset creation with the work is now compulsory, (remember earlier dig holes and fill policy), secondly DBT has plugged all leakages, eliminating large scale corruption. And thirdly increased fund allocation.”
Gandhi also asked the government to “put money directly in the hands of the people in this time of crisis by clearing arrears, ensuring unemployment allowance, and being flexible about modes of payment”. She added that the Modi government “has not paid heed to demands to increase th number of workdays to 200.” The job guarantee scheme offers 100 days of employment to one member from every eligible household.
“Please forget that your current reliance on MGNREGS is the scheme’s biggest victory and therefore, indirectly the victory of some of your political opponents,” Singhvi said.