India's biggest anti-poverty scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MGNREGA, has been given its "highest allocation ever" of 48,000 crores in the government's annual Budget presented today, said Finance Minster Arun Jaitley to Parliament.
- Budget presented today focused heavily on rural spending
- Rural poor hit hardest by cash shortage following demonetisation drive
- MNREGA scheme provides jobs to approximately 50 million households
The scheme provides jobs to an estimated 50 million households.
Today's Budget focused heavily on rural spending, among the steps to help the economy recover from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's shock decision in November to ban 86 per cent of the notes that were in circulation.
Increasing the Budget for MGNREGA could help compensate the rural poor, hit hardest by the cash shortage that followed the demonetisation drive.
Despite the pain, rural Indian have expressed vast support for the PM's initiative and intent of using the notes ban to unearth tax evasion and punish the corrupt.
Under the NREGA scheme - introduced in 2006 by the previous Congress-led government - villagers can enroll for work building roads, digging wells or creating other rural infrastructure and receive the minimum wage for 100 days a year.
That income has helped improve nutrition levels and reduce child labour, especially at times when crops fail or prices shoot up, NREGA supporters say. It has raised rural consumption, created new markets and shored up growth when investment falters.
The majority of NREGA workers are women, and nearly half are from lower castes or tribal communities - some of the most marginalised groups in India.
NREGA is not without its flaws - critics say it is a heavy burden on taxpayers, wasteful and riddled with corruption. A 2013 government audit said the scheme, like most other welfare programmes, was poorly implemented and there were many cases of delays or non-payment of wages.
After taking office, PM Modi had described NREGA as totemic of the Congress' failure to provide effective governance but told Parliament in 2015 that he planned to sustain the scheme by transforming it.
(With inputs from Reuters)