From Modi To Sitharaman, The Total About-Turn On MNREGA -Praveen Chakravarty
In February 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a speech in Parliament, ridiculed the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) program as a symbol of the policy failures of the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh and, in his typical coarse style, taunted that he would bleed the program to a slow death.
Exactly six years later, on February 12, 2021, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rose in Parliament and proudly proclaimed that the Modi government has implemented MGNREGA program the best and incurred the highest expenditure ever in its 15-year history. In her characteristic television debate panelist style, she mocked the Congress party for not being able to match such levels of spending for the program during its tenure in government. Even by the low standards of public rhetoric, the hypocrisy of the Finance Minister was stunning.
Politics apart, Sitharaman was right to be proud about her record MGNREGA expenditure. Under MGNREGA, every Indian is entitled to the right to toil and earn a paltry 200 a day. The program is designed to be self-selective and attract only those that are desperate for an income and have no other means to earn. During the Covid-19 lockdown, when hundreds of millions of workers were displaced and thrown in disarray, MGNREGA proved to be their bedrock of support. On average, on every single day of the year 2020, more than a million people queued up to ask for MGNREGA work across the country, the highest since the scheme came into existence in 2006. Soon after the lockdown was announced, the number of people asking for MGNREGA work jumped by 170%. 63 million people pleaded for work, just in the month of June 2020. To put that in context, it is 12 times more, than the total number of people employed by all the publicly-listed companies combined!
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NDTV.com, 15 February, 2021, https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/mnrega-once-reviled-by-pm-narendra-modi-saved-the-day-2370825?fbclid=IwAR1PArQPhCFjXFqxNw5OuAqcaeh7k29yEEusOGqvwsyKnG6vchuY_S06yKA