The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has completed seven years since its launch. And, the number of people it provides jobs to has fallen, as has the number of workdays it has been able to provide.
Analysts say this is due to a shortage of funds, especially in the less performing states. The scheme, launched in 2006 after the law in this regard was enacted, is supposed to guarantee 100 days of employment in a year to anyone seeking work in the rural areas. The largest number it covered, 54.9 million, was in 2010-11; the largest number of workdays, 53.99 per person, was in 2009-10. Since then, it has slid.
Total spending on the scheme was Rs 39,377 crore in 2010-11. It fell to Rs 37,637 crore in 2011-12. In 2012-13 till January-end, the spending was Rs 26,508 crore. And, while people got 53.99 workdays in 2009-10, it fell to 46.79 and 42.43 in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively. It was 34.65 this financial year till January.
Some states do distinctly better than others. Andhra Pradesh, for instance, has consistently done well and in 2011-12, gave 57 days work on an average to every person it took.
This year so far, it has come down to 49 days. However, some poor performers have become worse. West Bengal, able to provide 31 days in 2010, gave 26 last year; this year so far, it has given 25.
Rajasthan did well till 2010, giving 52 workdays on an average; it is down to 37 this year. Uttar Pradesh also gave 52 workdays in 2010 and has given less than half of that this year. Karnataka gave close to 50 per person in 2010 and has managed only 24 this year.
According to K S Gopal, an activist on the scheme, this is the most visible feature, of the number of workdays coming down sharply. One has to probe the reasons at a national level, he says. He points to introduction of new technology and a financial crunch in the states as reasons for less work being given.
Officials in the rural development ministry hope for improvment by the end of this financial year, saying the number of workdays might go beyond 50, as in 2009-10. They also dismiss fear of allocation being cut in the coming Budget.
The optimism springs from the ministry having switched to centralised accounting, allowing it to send funds directly to just 33 accounts in the country, rather than to several departments and line agencies. The money would go to workers’ accounts from these 33 accounts, says an official.