Relevance: GS Paper III
Theme of the article
Strengthening the MGNREGA would be more prudent than a targeted cash transfer plan like PM-KISAN.
Why has this issue cropped up?
Rural distress has hit unprecedented levels. To allay the distress, one of the announcements in the Budget was the cash transfer scheme called Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN).
Is PM-KISAN a reasonable solution?
- Comparison with MGNREGA
- A month of MGNREGA earnings for a household is more than a year’s income support through PM-KISAN anywhere in the country.
- PM-KISAN is a targeted cash transfer programme and MGNREGA is a universal programme.
- Around 40% of rural households are landless and depend on manual labour. The landless can earn through the MGNREGA but are not eligible for the PM-KISAN scheme.
- Notwithstanding the meagre amount, the PM-KISAN might be pitting the landless against a small farmer.
- Further, it is unclear how tenant farmers, those without titles, and women farmers would be within the ambit of the scheme.
- There is also substantial evidence to demonstrate that universal schemes are less prone to corruption than targeted schemes.
Problems with implementation of MGNREGA
- The Centre has frequently tinkered with the wage payments system in the MGNREGA. Less than a third of the payments were made on time.
- Repeated changes in processes result in a hurried bureaucratic reorientation on the ground, and much chaos among workers and field functionaries alike.
- Field functionaries are pushed to meet stiff targets. Being short-staffed and inadequately trained, this results in many technical and unforeseen errors.
- A case in point is the rushed manner in which Aadhaar has been implemented for the MGNREGA. Several MGNREGA payments have been rejected, diverted, or frozen as a consequence.
- In the last four years alone, more than ₹1,300 crore of the MGNREGS wage payments have been rejected due to technical errors such as incorrect account numbers or faulty Aadhaar mapping. There have been no clear national guidelines to rectify these.
- There are numerous cases of MGNREGS payments getting diverted to Airtel wallets and ICICI bank accounts.
- In a recently concluded survey on common service centres in Jharkhand for Aadhaar-based payments, it was found that 42% of the biometric authentications failed in the first attempt, compelling them to come later.
- Strengthening an existing universal programme such as the MGNREGA would have been a prudent move instead of introducing a hasty targeted cash transfer programme.
- The success of the PM-KISAN is contingent on there being reliable digital land records and reliable rural banking infrastructure.
At a time of such acute distress, the Central government needs to improve the existing universal infrastructure of the MGNREGA before plunging into a programme pretending to augment farmers’ income.