Eye on polls, govt pushes through reforms in MNREGS

The Rural Development Ministry has gone into an overdrive before next year's Lok Sabha election to bring in reforms in the government's flagship job guarantee scheme, apparently to counter criticism of the scheme not meeting its mark.

Guidelines for convergence of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) with two other flagship programmes have been issued.

MGNREGS promises at least 100 days of employment to each rural household every year.

According to ministry officials, the measures are to address concerns like sliding demand for the scheme and poor quality of assets created.

The ministry had earlier this month issued guidelines to states for convergence between MGNREGS and the rural roads scheme, Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). This, according to the ministry, has been done "to improve quality of assets taken up under MGNREGS".

In a meeting of state rural development secretaries earlier, states had expressed reservations about roads identified for PMGSY being brought under MGNREGS.

The ministry had written to states for convergence between MGNREGS and the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) to "substantially enhance quality of assets being created in MGNREGS and ensure better sustainability of rural livelihoods".

These measures come close on the heels of other modifications, including compensation for delayed wages and penalisation of officials to fix delayed wages as well as construction of godowns for food storage under MGNREGS.

States have been expressing inability to deal with additional measures due to insufficient infrastructure and the mere 6 percent administrative expenses.

The existing infrastructure, some states said, was not enough and they were unable to make payments within the stipulated 15 days.

The reforms come towards the end of UPA-II and there may not be enough time to see successful implementation of all changes as some key states are busy with assembly elections.

In a recent meeting of state rural development secretaries, some states pointed towards non-feasibility of replicating successful features of the 'Andhra Pradesh model' in other states, with no matching infrastructure.

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