NREGS juggernaut slowed down in 2010-11; expenditure down

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme, popularly known as the NREGA scheme, seems to have slowing down as allegations over corruption have increased.

According to the latest numbers, the last financial year (2010-11) saw a 9.4% dip in the total employment generated through the scheme.

However, thanks to an overall rise in costs — including higher per-day wages — the total expenditure on the scheme went up by 3.9%.

12 crore adults (120 million) are members of the scheme and have their job-cards made, implying that around 25%-35% of India’s population is benefiting from it.

Started around five years ago, it is one the most expensive welfare programs in India, and indeed, in the World. It’s scale, however, is matched by the number of allegations about wide-spread corruption in the scheme, primarily around the use of fake job-cards and diversion of wages by corruption local level functionaries.

At around Rs 40,000 crore a year, the scheme accounts for nearly 10% of the government of India’s planned expenditure.

According to the latest numbers, it generated 257 crore (2.57 billion) work-days of employment. In other words, if every ‘job-card’ holder demanded the maximum of 100 days of employment, only 2.5 crore (out of the total 12 crore) would have got any work at all.

However, only around 4 to 5 crore (40 to 50 million) job-card holders usually seek work in a given year, implying that they got around 25 to 30 days of work last year.

Per day wages are fixed at around Rs 100 ($2.20), but can vary according to the minimum wage level in each state.

Total expenditure on the scheme was Rs 39,377 crore last year; despite the fact that nearly Rs 54,100 crore was available, including unspent amounts from previous years and a fresh allocation of around Rs 40,000 crore.

During the first quarter of the current year (Mar-June 2011), a total of Rs 4,963 crore was spent on the scheme, creating 31.3 crore work-days.

The average pay rose from Rs 153 for the whole of last year to Rs 159 during the first quarter, including administrative overheads.

The Centre has got around 2,100 different complaints about the scheme, despite the fact that complaints must be addressed to the state governments. It has, of late, started ordering investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into such complaints, after several transparency activists were either killed or seriously injured in attacks by those who benefit from corruption in the scheme.

“In practice, unavailable and fudged master rolls continue to be a serious issue. Job card entries are rarely made. In fact, job cards are not always in the possession of the household; instead the Sarpanch or other local official may hold it. The problems are exacerbated by low awareness of processes as well as high levels of illiteracy among MGNREG workers,” a World Bank report on the scheme said two years ago.