Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Basic knowledge of comparison of MGNREGA and PM-KISAN .
Mains level: The news-card analyses how strengthening the MGNREGA would be more prudent than a targeted cash transfer plan like PM-KISAN, in a brief manner.
- According to several experts, strengthening the MGNREGA would be more prudent than a targeted cash transfer plan like PM-KISAN.
- Rural distress has hit unprecedented levels.
- According to news reports, unemployment is the highest in 45 years.
Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN)
- To allay some misgivings of the distress, one of the announcements in the Budget speech was that vulnerable landholding farmer families, having cultivable land up to 2 hectares, will be provided direct income support at the rate of ₹ 6,000 per year.
- This cash transfer scheme has been called Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN).
- The Ministry of Agriculture has written to State governments to prepare a database of all eligible beneficiaries along with their Aadhaar numbers, and update land records “expeditiously”.
- The letter further states that changes in land records after February 1, 2019 shall not be considered for this scheme.
Is PM-KISAN a reasonable solution?: Comparison with MGNREGA
- Undoubtedly, farmers’ distress needs urgent attention but one need to analyse if the PM-KISAN is a reasonable solution.
- Let us first compare some basic numbers with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
- MGNREGA earnings for a household is more than a year’s income support through PM-KISAN
- For example, if two members of a household in Jharkhand work under MGNREGA (picture) for 30 days, they would earn ₹10,080 and a household of two in Haryana would earn ₹16,860 in 30 days.
- Jharkhand has the lowest daily MGNREGA wage rate, and Haryana the highest.
- Put simply, a month of MGNREGA earnings for a household is more than a year’s income support through PM-KISAN anywhere in the country.
2. MGNREGA is a universal programme
- PM-KISAN is a targeted cash transfer programme and MGNREGA is a universal programme.
- Any rural household willing to do manual work is eligible under the Act.
- According to the 2011 Socio-Economic and Caste Census, around 40% of rural households are landless and depend on manual labour.
- The landless can earn through the MGNREGA but are not eligible for the PM-KISAN scheme.
- Notwithstanding the meagre amount, the PM-KISAN might be pitting the landless against a small farmer.
Other factors that strengthen the case for an existing universal programme
- It is unclear how tenant farmers, those without titles, and women farmers would be within the ambit of the PM-KISAN scheme.
- There is also substantial evidence to demonstrate that universal schemes are less prone to corruption than targeted schemes.
- In targeted programmes, it is very common to have errors of exclusion, i.e., genuine beneficiaries get left out.
- Such errors go unrecorded and people continue to be left out.
- It is in some of these contexts that strengthening an existing universal programme such as the MGNREGA would have been a prudent move instead of introducing a hasty targeted cash transfer programme.
Lessons to be learned from the MGNREGA implementation
- The Agriculture Ministry’s letter states that “funds will be electronically transferred to the beneficiary’s bank account by Government of India through State Notional Account on a pattern similar to MGNREGS”.
- There are important lessons to be learned from the MGNREGA implementation.
- The Centre has frequently tinkered with the wage payments system in the MGNREGA.
- It’s creditable that timely generation of pay-orders have improved, but contrary to the Centre’s claims, less than a third of the payments were made on time.
- And in contempt of the Supreme Court orders, the Centre alone has been causing a delay of more than 50 days in disbursing wages.
Field realities: hurried bureaucratic reorientation on the ground
- Moreover, repeated changes in processes result in a hurried bureaucratic reorientation on the ground, and much chaos among workers and field functionaries alike.
- Field functionaries are pushed to meet stiff targets.
- Being short-staffed and inadequately trained, this results in many technical and unforeseen errors.
Aadhaar hastily implementation for the MGNREGA
- A case in point is the rushed manner in which Aadhaar has been implemented for the MGNREGA.
- Several MGNREGA payments have been rejected, diverted, or frozen as a consequence.
- In the last four years alone, more than ₹1,300 crore of the MGNREGS wage payments have been rejected due to technical errors such as incorrect account numbers or faulty Aadhaar mapping.
- There have been no clear national guidelines to rectify these.
MGNREGS payments getting diverted
- There are numerous cases of MGNREGS payments getting diverted to Airtel wallets and ICICI bank accounts.
- In a recently concluded survey on common service centres in Jharkhand for Aadhaar-based payments, it was found that 42% of the biometric authentications failed in the first attempt, compelling them to come later.
- This continued harassment faced by people would have been a more humane question to address rather than brushing them aside as “teething problems” and build a new scheme on similar shaky platforms.
- The success of the PM-KISAN is contingent on there being reliable digital land records and reliable rural banking infrastructure, which are both are questionable.
- While ₹75,000 crore has been earmarked for this scheme, the MGNREGA continues to be pushed to a severe crisis.
- The MGNREGA allocation for 2019-20 is ₹60,000 crore, lower than the revised budget of ₹61,084 crore in 2018-19.
- In the last four years, on an average, around 20% of the Budget allocation has been unpaid pending payments from previous years.
- Thus, subtracting the pending liabilities, in real terms, the Budget allocation has been lower than 2010-11.
- Despite a letter to the Prime Minister by citizens and MPs in January 2019, (as of February 8) all MGNREGA funds have been exhausted.
- While the country stares at an impending drought, workers languish in unemployment.
MGNREGA not a panacea for all
- The MGNREGA is neither an income support programme nor just an asset creation programme.
- It is a labour programme meant to strengthen participatory democracy through community works.
- It is a legislative mechanism to strengthen the constitutional principle of the right to life.
- That the MGNREGA works have demonstrably strong multiplier effects are yet another reason to improve its implementation.
- Despite all this, the MGNREGA wage rates in 18 States have been kept lower than the States’ minimum agricultural wage rates.
- This acts as a deterrent for the landless.
- Yet, work demand has been 33% more than the employment provided this year — underscoring the desperation to work.
- By routinely under-funding this Act, the present government continues to undermine the constitutional guarantee.
- In an employment programme, adequacy of fund allocation and respectable wages are crucial, so meaningless claims of “highest ever allocation” and other dubious claims are unhealthy for democracy.
- The Central government should focus on improving the existing universal infrastructure of the MGNREGA before plunging into a programme pretending to augment farmers’ income.