Official panel points to bid deficiencies in rural job guarantee, pensions, housing and other programmes.
Wage payment delays are a distressing feature of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), an official panel says.
This has to be adequately addressed, by the Centre and states, to keep the programme’s spirit alive, it has said.
It and some other findings of concern are the result of a multi-state Common Review Mission, done last month, of the impact on the ground of programmes under the ministry of rural development.
Chaired by former finance secretary Sumit Bose, it comprised 32 people from the civil services, academics and other professionals.
The situation is quite bad in some areas, it found. For instance, in Madhya Pradesh, there are places where workers under MGNREGS had not been paid even a year after completion of the work.
Delay in payments to suppliers have led to incomplete works. And, in general, maintenance of records is poor on the ground. So also the updates on job cards.
The 32 members were divided into groups of four each that visited all the major states on May 4-13.
They interacted with senior state officials and went to the field.
On their return, the teams briefed the Union rural development minister, Birender Singh.
They’ve made various suggestions. For instance, on the various pension schemes run by the ministry under the National Social Assistance Programme, the panel says the amount granted (Rs 200 a month) is far inadequate.
They want raises to be linked to the rate of inflation. And, inclusion of landless manual labour from the disabled category in the old-age pension scheme, with the criteria of disability be lowered to 40 per cent from the existing 80 per cent.
“Much of the findings are already being addressed by the government, while other issues are being tackled systematically,” a senior official said.
In the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (the rural roads programme), the team found delays in forest clearance and land acquisition had hampered progress.
The review also found sharp downward revisions in the Budget Estimates from 2012-13 to 2013-14 (under the earlier government) had impacted the programme across all states.
A rise in issue of funds in 2015-16 and 2016-17 (where it’s got Rs 19,000 crore) had partially addressed the problem.
The review suggested modifications in the programme to enable faster connectivity in sparsely populated and hilly areas.
The aim is to cover all eligible habitations by March 2019. States need to strengthen their project implementation units.
Another big problem with PMGSY is maintenance of the roads built.
The panel says only three of the eight states they visited had a proper maintenance policy. Most hadn’t adequately provided for this in their Budget.
“Till March, 477,842 km of roads were constructed under PMGSY and of these, 70 per cent will be due for maintenance after 2016-17…the annual cost of which roughly is Rs 7,000 crore,” it has said.
On the rural skilling programme, Deendayal Upadhayay Grameen Kaushal Yojana, the panel noted accommodation problems leading to high dropout rates.
It also says stability in the employment offered should be tracked for at least for three years, to understand why people getting jobs under the programme are leaving these.
On another ambitious programme of the Centre, to provide housing for all by 2022, the team said it was a challenge to build 3.3 million houses annually.
The achievement till date hasn’t exceeded two mn a year. Many states have not yet identified and verified the beneficiaries. Some have not provided land.
Some of the beneficiaries, such as women or the elderly, require support to construct their houses. And, asbestos is being used in some states, though there is supposed to be a ban on this.
Also, expansion of women-run Self Help Groups are being constrained by lack of fund allocation.
MGNREGS: Delayed payments, poor record keeping and technical staff to assess quality of work done
Old-Age Pension Scheme: Rs 200 is inadequate, should be revised linking it to inflation
Rural Housing Scheme: Meeting ‘Housing For All’ target by 2019 a challenge
Rural Skilling Programme: Stability of employment needs to be monitored
Rural Livelihood Programme: Expansion of women-driven self-help groups constrained by funds