Government, Congress vie for credit for rural job scheme (Roundup)

New Delhi/Hyderabad, Feb 2 (IANS) Both the government and the Congress on Tuesday sought to take credit for work under the rural employment guarantee scheme, with minister Birender Singh saying allocation has gone up and the opposition party maintaining that its previous UPA government had a much better record on the scheme.

The scheme was launched by the United Progressive Alliance government from Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh on February 2, 2006. The Congress organised an event in Anantapur on Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the scheme, which was addressed by former prime minister Manmohan Singh and party vice president Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi also interacted with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) workers and activists.
Rural Development Minister Birender Singh, who addressed an event in the national capital to mark the 10 years of the MGNREGS, said the scheme has been infused with a major dynamism by the NDA government.
“The Rs.33,000 crore allocation for the scheme in 2015-16 increased to almost Rs.37,000 crore. Ninety-four percent of the money for MGNREGS work has already been disbursed to the states,” the minister said.
“Over eight crore families have been given employment under MGNREGA scheme, and we plan to target 11 crore families next year,” he added.
Birender Singh said 64 percent of total expenditure was on agriculture and allied activities and 57 percent of all workers were women, well above the statutory requirement of 33 percent.
On the occasion, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called for increased public spending on rural development to boost domestic economic growth amid a global slowdown.
“Bad monsoon in the last two years has resulted in rural spending going down. In such a situation, the government needs to come forward and increase its spending. The pace of public spending has increased,” he said.
In his speech at the Anantpur event, Manmohan Singh said the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act(MGNREGA) was the “most significant legislation of our times in many ways”.
“MGNREGA has a clear focus on the poorest of the poor. It seeks to reach out to those in need for livelihood security. MGNREGA is the gift of UPA to our people to assist them to fight poverty, ignorance and disease,” he said.
Manmohan Singh said Prime Minister Narendra Modi “does not like” the scheme despite its enormous potential.
“He has called MGNREGA an epitome of Congress failure and a living proof of 60 years of Congress misrule,” Manmohan Singh said.
“The Modi government seeks to kill the soul and spirit of MGNREGA by withholding payments to states. In 2014-15 alone, the government did not make payment of Rs.6,000 crore,” he said.
The scheme was launched by Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in 2006.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala in a statement accused the Modi government of taking a U-turn on the scheme and said it has suddenly discovered its virtues.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come around from a position of criticising the programme to celebrating it. He viciously criticised the MGNREGA in the Lok Sabha,” Surjewala said.
He said the scheme has received enormous acclaim and has also been studied for replication in other countries.
“Unfortunately the scheme has languished under the present government,” Surjewala said.
The Congress leader alleged that expenditure on the scheme has come down during the rule of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and there has been decline in the average days of employment per household.
Citing a study, he said the MGNREGA had prevented 14 million people from falling into poverty, has led to a decline in people relying on money-lenders, and MGNREGA households were investing more in children’s education than others.