MNREGA funding can be increased beyond the budget proposal

In her first public address after presenting the Union budget earlier this week, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hinted that the allocation for the government’s rural jobs guarantee program MNREGA would be increased “if demand arises”. makes you feel”.

The February 1 Union budget had reduced the allocation to the program from Rs 98,000 crore this year to just Rs 73,000 crore for the financial year 2022-23.

In fact, funding for the program, which is virtually the backbone of the rural economy, has been steadily declining in recent years. It was Rs 1.11 lakh crore in the year of the pandemic, but revised estimates for this year show it has come down to Rs 98,000 crore, with the proposal for next year dropping further down to Rs 73,000 crore.

However, yesterday’s statements from Sitharaman were aimed at raising concerns across quarters about its likely impact on rural consumption. Interacting with some of the biggest companies and industrialists in the country, she said, “If the demand increases, we will increase (the funds allocated to MNREGA).”

However, the Minister made it clear that the overall objective of the current government, in line with its structural stimulus measures and infra-oriented budgets of the last two years, was to formalize the workforce and skills, instead to support rural distress mainly through social protection programs such as the MNREGA. .

“Our effort is to secure jobs, not benefits,” the finance minister said, and added that the formalization of work through initiatives such as the E-Shram portal where informal workers can register with their skills, was the new strategy.

“The formalization of jobs is underway,” she said. “Rural distress is being addressed in a variety of ways, not just through direct benefit transfer (DBT), but through measures such as increased micronutrient allocation, past subsidies for importing fertilizer (although fertilizer subsidies have been reduced this year budget proposals), programs like Poshan Abhiyaan – as well as, of course, the E-Shram portal, which has already crossed 30 million registrations.

Sitharaman highlighted how the funds for the MNREGA were increased from the Rs 54,000 crore allocated in the financial year 2020-21 after the impact of the pandemic and nationwide lockdown and exceeded Rs 1 lakh crore that year . “What I find is that these are demand-driven programs,” Sitharaman said, “If the demand increases, we are ready to add (funds) if needed.”

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