Modi’s MGNREGA jibe at UPA backfires, allocation grows but jobs decline

A few months after taking office, Modi said in the Lok Sabha that MNREGA would be continued only because it would show how poorly Manmohan Singh’s government had performed: “My political instincts tell me that MNREGA should not be discontinued,” he said, mocking the opposition benches, “because it is a living memorial to your failures. After so many years in power, all you were able to deliver is for a poor man to dig ditches a few days a month.”

Modi would instead let the scheme die naturally as his government would create better jobs. This would be done by underfunding it and by making it accessible to fewer people. After the government had taken office, Nitin Gadkari had indicated that MNREGA would be limited to less than a third of India’s districts. Another thing that the Modi government would do to discourage MNREGA work would be to delay payments to workers who are meant to be paid in 15 days. Delays went up from 42 per cent in 2012 to 70 per cent in 2014. Six months after Modi had taken office, by December 2014, except for five states, all others had received significantly lower funds from the Centre in 2014, compared to 2013.

As India’s economy has begun to weaken and unemployment has risen, the Modi government has begun to invest more and more in the scheme the Prime Minister had called a failure.

In 2014-15 MNREGA got Rs 32,000 crore, in 2015-16 Rs 37,000 crore, in 2016-17 48,000 crore, in 2017-18, Rs 55,000 crore, in 2018-19 Rs 61,000 crore, in 2019-20 Rs 71,000 crore and in 2020-21 Rs 111,000 crore.

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