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Expert panel asks govt to revise criteria for MGNREGS funding

  • Government funds meant for the rural poor under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or MGNREGS are ending up in wealthy states rather than those with the greatest concentration of landless labourers and the poor.
  • In its report submitted to rural development ministry, the panel constituted to identify beneficiaries and prioritize funds for their uplift—recommended that MGNREGS prioritize people suffering from multiple deprivations in order to reduce poverty.
  • The recommendations are based on data from the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC)—started in 2011 and concluded in 2015 —which was the first such exercise in seven decades.
  • The SECC evolved some exclusion criteria that would determine whether a rural household was eligible for government assistance.
  • For instance, a household is automatically excluded if it has: a motorized vehicle, or a kisan credit card with a credit limit of over Rs.50,000, members in government jobs or a member earning over Rs.10,000 a month.
  • On the other hand, deprivation parameters which qualify households for assistance include not having an adult member aged 16-59 years, female-headed households with no adult male member in the age group of 16-59 years and households without a literate member above 25 years.
  • However, the panel of experts led by former finance secretary Sumit Bose, recommended that the SECC criteria of automatic exclusions cannot be applied to MGNREGS because it is a demand-driven scheme.
  • According to the panel, the states with higher concentrations of poor people are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. But the top recipients of the funds under the programme are Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
  • Rural development ministry needs to evolve some institutional arrangement to support those states with higher concentration of deprived households to respond to potential demand. This not only will ensure better performance of the scheme but will also help in changing the socio-economic landscape of the poor regions of the country.
  • The rural poor in Bihar is six times that in Tamil Nadu but allocation of funds under MGNREGS for Tamil Nadu is four time more than in the case of Bihar. This anomaly crops up because the MGNREG Act says the scheme is meant for everyone asking for work.