Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Unspent funds with states put question mark on NREGA

Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi April 20, 2010, 1:28 IST

The world’s largest employment programme is considered to be the jewel in the crown of the United Progressive Alliance government. But the irony is that most states are left with huge unspent funds under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP).

Quite a few states have clocked much less than half of the 100 days of work envisaged under the programme. In Bihar, workers got 27 days of work, which is of course better than 21 days last year. West Bengal workers got 36 days and Jharkhand, 34 days.

States like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan fared better at 63 and 68 days, respectively.

Experts say the poor average rate of working days per person either indicates that few want to work or few get to work.

Jharkhand, which is in conflict with Naxalites, had Rs 1,020 crore when it started the year in April 2009. This year it was left with Rs 529 crore of unspent funds. In Chhattisgarh, another Naxalite-hit state, the total available fund was Rs 1,601 crore, of which Rs 545 crore has been unspent.

With Orissa, which has been criticised by the rural development ministry for non-implementation of the scheme, funds available was Rs 925 crore. In January this year, it was left with Rs 350 crore unspent.

Uttar Pradesh had Rs 6,455 crore. It was still to spend Rs 1,339 crore in January 2010. In Bihar, where people are getting on an average 27 days of work a year, the unspent amount last year was Rs 1,040 crore. Out of the total available fund of Rs 2,042 crore, it had an unspent balance of Rs 2,033 crore this year.

Assam, Bihar, Haryana and Gujarat could spend less than six per cent of the money available with them. Over 34 per cent of the funds available with the states remained unspent last year. Of course, these states do not have to surrender the unspent amount as that goes into the next year’s programme as their opening balance.

The rural development ministry says the unspent amount is good in a way as it helps the states to continue with their work without waiting for fresh funds from the Centre in the new financial year.

The ministry says the unspent amount actually means nothing as work under the scheme is seasonal and happens mostly between September and June. This means it straddles two financial years and, hence, it is but natural for money to remain partially spent at the end of March each year.

Trade unions are not impressed by this argument. Pawan Kumar, secretary, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, which is now actively working among NREGA workers in Jharkhand, says the unspent money indicates denial of work and wages. “NREGA earnings go below the lowest limit set for poverty by the government and the issue should be revisited,” he adds.

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