Union minister for rural development Chaudhary Birendra Singh has been facing considerable flak from activists who have been alleging that the ministry is holding back funds needed to give greater push to the NREGA. Excerpts from an interview with Lola Nayar:
There have been mixed reports from states about the performance of NREGA.
In some states, NREGA is going very well. In states which have declared drought like AP, Karnataka, MP, Telangana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, we have extended the 100-day job provision to 150 days in parts of various districts. This year we have been able to get extra funds (Rs 2,600 crore), more than the budget allocation for NREGA. The finance minister had allocated Rs 34,700 crore with a promise to give an additional 5,000 crore.
Yet many states are claiming they are receiving very little funds.
Till now we have released 93 per cent of the allocation and are now nearing Rs 39,000 crore plus. If any state is claiming they are not getting funds, it is not true. This is a demand-driven scheme and we are not short of funds. Where states are claiming shortage of funds, it is because they have not been able to provide audited reports of fund utilisation. We are very happy with the progress of NREGA and are trying to ensure it is used in convergence with the state plans to create better assets. We have issued new guidelines for 60 per cent of the funds to be utilised for agriculture and allied projects.
Considering that the prime minister had called it the “living monument” of the UPA government’s failures, what has brought about this change?
Rural distress or unemployment or underemployment can only be sorted out with NREGA. To a great extent, we have been able to plug the corruption and leakages which were rife earlier. Through direct benefit transfer (DBT), we hope to further plug the leakages and delays in payment. From January 1, we have started the pilot project in Kerala and will give it a pan-India dimension within the next two months. Another departure from the past is we are fixing NREGA wages. The Mahendra Dev committee has submitted its report which we have submitted to the finance ministry for action.