Congress President Sonia Gandhi today voiced concern over the budgetary cut for rural employment scheme MGNREGA, contending that several states have negative balance in their accounts to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore which has led to delays in payments to workers.
Raising the issue during the Zero Hour in Parliament, Mrs Gandhi urged the government to make adequate allocations to MGNREGA, a scheme that had helped the government during the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensure payments within 15 days.
Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh and I&B Minister Anurag Thakur hit back at Sonia Gandhi, accusing her of politicising the issue and claimed that her remarks were "far from truth".
"The issue raised by the honourable member is far from the truth. The budgetary allocation for MGNREGA in 2013-14 (UPA years) was Rs 33,000 crore, whereas under Prime Minister Narendra Modi it had reached Rs 1.12 lakh crore. No need to show us the mirror," Mr Singh said.
Mrs Gandhi said MGNREGA, which was mocked by some persons, had provided timely help to crores of affected poor families during the pandemic and played a positive role in helping the government.
"Still there is regular reduction in the budgetary allocation for MGNREGA. This year the budget for MGNREGA is 35 per cent less than that of 2020. This comes at a time when unemployment is rising continuously," she said.
Sonia Gandhi said the budgetary cuts were weakening the legal guarantee of timely payment and employment. She noted that the Supreme Court had likened the delay in MGNREGA payments with forced labour.
Mrs Gandhi said the states were told that their annual labour budget will not be approved unless they meet conditions related to social audit and appointment of Lokpal.
"Social audit should be made effective but workers can't be punished by stopping the money for this," she said.
"I request the Central government to allocate adequate funds for MGNREGA, ensure payment of workers within 15 days of work, and pay compensation in case of delay in payment of wages," Mrs Gandhi said.
Responding to Mrs Gandhi, Mr Thakur alleged that the MGNREGA scheme saw massive corruption under the UPA government, which was weeded out by the Modi government.
He said under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, geo-tagging of assets created under MGNREGA was introduced and payments were directly made to workers in their Jan Dhan accounts.
Congress members were up on their feet protesting the remarks targeting the UPA made by Mr Singh and Mr Thakur.
As the commotion continued, Mr Thakur said it was ironic for the opposition to criticise when a union minister had responded immediately to an issue raised by Sonia Gandhi.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)