New Delhi: As MGNREGA completed 10 years, the NDA government on Tuesday claimed it has brought a "transformation" in the rural job guarantee scheme which was in a "pitiable" state under UPA due to frequent curtailing of funds.
Asserting that schemes are "not cast in stone" and their modification is required with the passage of time, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said MGNREGA underwent change under NDA and new initiatives were taken besides increasing the fund allocation to the scheme so that its benefits could reach the people in a better way.
"...tranformation has been brought in the implementation of this scheme. When a government scheme runs for many years, an attitude of indifference develops towards it. A kind of indifference towards it was growing by 2013-14 when the scheme has entered its seventh and eight years.
"When there was a change of government in 2014-15, there was a talk in and outside Parliament on whether the scheme will be discontinued or its fund allocation will be curtailed. But the new government not only took forward the scheme but also increased its fund," Jaitley said, delivering his key note address at MGNREGA Sammelan in New Delhi.
Rural Development Minister Chudhary Birender Singh said that in last 19 months, people availing the scheme have benefited in the true sense and were contended due to correct implementation of the scheme.
Minister of State for Rural Development Sudarshan Bhagat said the condition of MGNREGA was "quite pitiable" in the beginning of the 2014-15 when UPA was in power and claimed that it was the NDA government which gave the maximum funding for the scheme.
Singh said that the attraction which is now visible for scheme is due to its "transformation in last 18 months" of the NDA rule "which did not happen in last ten years".
He also lauded Modi government for increasing the fund allocation in MGNREGA from Rs 33,000 crore to Rs 36,977 crore.
The remarks by the Union Ministers came on a day when Rahul Gandhi is in Bandlapalli village of Anantpur in Andhra Pradesh to mark the completion of ten years of UPA's flagship rural job guarantee scheme, which was launched from there by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi in February 2006.
A political slugfest on the issue has already begun. Congress, which had earlier accused Modi government of trying to "dilute" MGNREGA, has taunted the government after it had hailed the measure as a "cause of national pride and celebration" on Monday.
Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying his government's praise of the MGNREGA is a "shining example" of Modi's "political wisdom" as he only had called the UPA's job guarantee scheme a "living monument of Congress" failure.
"After calling NREGA 'living monument of INC failure' Govt now hails it as cause of 'nat pride & celebration' !Shining eg of Modiji's pol wisdom", the Congress Vice President said in a tweet.
After calling NREGA 'living monument of INC failure' Govt now hails it as cause of 'nat pride&celebration'!Shining eg of Modiji's pol wisdom
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) February 2, 2016
The war of words on MGNREGA comes in the backdrop of Congress accusing the government of "appropriating" its icons" and "renaming" its schemes.
Jaitley claimed that it is perhaps for the first time that the actual expenditure of MGREGA is much more than that was provisioned for the financial year in the Budget.
There was perhaps not a time in last many years that there was no curtailment in the fund for schemes announced in the Budget, he said taking potshots at UPA.
Under the scheme, people in rural areas are guaranteed 100 days of work.
"Perhaps there was not one occasion in last few years that the allocation made in the Budget was not curtailed," Jaitley said adding this always led to curtailment in the planned expenditure, which ultimately affected development.
The budget cuts in MGNREGA when P Chidambaram was the Finance Minister in UPA had led the then Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh to write to him in 2013 that "huge cuts" proposed will "very severely affect these programmes particularly in states that need them the most".
The scheme's budgetary allocation has increased from around Rs 11,000 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 40,000 crore in 2009-10, and had since remained consistent at around Rs 33,000 crore till 2013-14. Next year's budget was Rs 34000 crore, which was raised to Rs 34,699 crore in 2015-16.
Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's jibe during the last Budget that MGNREGA was a "living monument" of the Congress-led UPA government's failures, the government had hiked the scheme's allocation from Rs 34,000 crore to Rs 34,699 crore, while promising to enhance the allocation by another Rs 5,000 crore if there was tax buoyancy.
"Government has spent maximum of the funds allocated for the scheme in the last financial year in comparison what was done in last five years. In comparison to what happened in last five years, our government ensured the creation of maximum Person Day in the last financial year," Bhagat said.
Noting that there is "some concern" in rural areas on whether MGNREGA would be scrapped, the Union Minister asserted that there is "no such possibility" and assured that the government would take forward the scheme without any laxity.
Congress has repeatedly accused the government of trying to "dilute" the provisions of the scheme.
Soon after the NDA government had come to power in 2014, an internal note circulated within the Rural Development Ministry had proposed restricting the scheme only to 200 backward districts of the country. However, it was not taken forward after a raging debate on.
When Nitin Gadkari was Rural Development Minister for few months, there was a proposal to change the labour wage-material cost ratio of the scheme from the existing 60:40 to 51:49.
Gadkari's proposal saw 28 economists from the country writing to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him not to "dilute" the Act.