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Three UPA-era initiatives prove crucial in Modi govt's war on Covid

Interestingly, when UPA was in power, the opposition BJP had strongly objected to Aadhaar and had even called it a fraud scheme
As the Central government grapples with various possibilities to reduce the impact on Covid-19 lockdown on the lives of poor and destitute, three UPA-era schemes have come to its rescue.

The National Food Security Act (NFSA), the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), and Aadhaar were introduced under the previous UPA regime. However, they were carried forward and expanded under the current regime since 2014 and have proved to be critical for it, as they provide a much-needed social security net to vast segments of the population.

And, as the Covid-19 crisis spills over, all three will continue to remain as the cornerstone of the government’s effort to provide social security during this hour of crisis.

National Food Security Act (NFSA)

Launched in 2013, the NFSA legally grants access to as many as 810 million Indians to grains at very low prices.

The scheme guarantees 5 kilograms of wheat or rice per month to all the identified beneficiaries at Rs 3 per kg of rice, Rs 2 per kg of wheat and Re 1 per kg of coarse cereals.

Under the scheme, households that have the AAY card receive 35 kg of grains per month.

The Act uses the 2011 Census as the base for determining the number of beneficiaries by state.

The scheme has not only ensured that a sizeable chunk of the population doesn’t go hungry during the Covid-19 crisis but also enables the government to expand its ambit by including free grains as well, as an additional relief measure.

In all, some 54-55 million tonnes of grains are drawn out from the Central pool every year under the scheme, which has ensured that stocks don’t bulge to unmanageable levels as states are duty-bound to pick up their share of grains and distribute them among the poor and needy.

Under the NDA regime

 
When UPA lost power in 2014, the Food Security Act, which was the last rights-based legislation drawn by it, was implemented in less than 20 states while the rules for its implementation hadn’t been properly framed.

The identification of beneficiaries by state wasn’t complete. The NDA government not only ensured that all states were included under the Act, but also framed its rules, such as those on cash transfers whenever states wanted to opt for the mechanism in lieu of grains.

The Centre also undertook a massive exercise to digitise ration cards and link them to Aadhaar, in order to stem pilferage.

The Act had a provision to revise the sale price of wheat, rice and coarse cereals every three years, but so far the NDA government in the last seven years hasn’t revised the issue price.

MGNREGA

Another UPA-era legacy that could provide vital employment to lakhs of migrant workers in the coming days in rural areas is MGNREGA.

NREGA was notified on September 7, 2005. Initially the scheme embraced 200 districts and later covered all the districts in 2008.

The scheme was credited by many for brining UPA back to power in 2009 with a bigger majority than its first tenure.

A 2015 study done by NCAER showed that the Act has helped in lowering poverty by almost 32 per cent between 2004-05 to 2011-12.

Data shows that in the first 10 years, that is, from 2005 to 2015, around Rs 313,844.55 crore was spent on the programme, of which 71 per cent went towards wage payments.

During this period, over 65 per cent of the works were linked to farming and allied activities.

In the first 10 years, a total of 19 billion man days were generated under the scheme.

The scheme provides guaranteed 100 days of employment to the rural poor and has host of other safety measures such as unemployment allowance and relief if wages aren’t paid on time.

But, the scheme was riddled with controversies in the last days of the UPA, with allegations of money being siphoned off in the name of employment and a sharp drop in the average number of days for which employment was provided.

A 2013 CAG report showed that only 20 per cent of the allocated funds under the scheme were released between 2009-10 and 2011-12 for Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, which account for almost 46 per cent of the rural poor in India.

Under the NDA regime

 
From calling the scheme a proof of UPA’s failure to lauding its achievements as a cause of national pride and celebration, the NDA government has, during the last six years, taken a virtual U-turn as far as the scheme is concerned.

Immediately after taking over, then Finance Minister, the late Arun Jaitley, allocated Rs 34,699 crore to the scheme  in his first Budget for 2015-16 and thereafter topped it up with Rs 7,000 crore through supplementary demand, making it the highest ever allocation for any year.

Thereafter, MGNREGA allocation has increased almost every year, though the pace of growth may have been much less than desired.

In 2015-16, the man day generation under MGNREGA was the highest in the second quarter (458.8 million) and third quarter (461 million) than it has been in the previous five years.

The scheme has been dovetailed with agriculture and water conservation in a big way during the current government, resulting in the formation of hundreds of thousands of farm ponds and quality assets in rural areas.

However, critics say that MGNREGA under the Narendra Modi government has been a pale shadow of its former self, as demand is artificially kept down so that its budget doesn’t escalate while expenditure is kept under control.

Aadhaar

The third UPA-era initiative that has come to help the current regime is Aadhaar, though in its present form, it has raised a lot of questions over privacy and other related issues.

Interestingly, when UPA was in power, the opposition BJP had strongly objected to Aadhaar and had even called it a fraud scheme. It had raised questions over violation of privacy. When UPA lost power, over 900 million Aadhaar numbers had already been generated, which so far has swelled to over 1.2 billion.

In the current Covid-19 crisis, Aadhaar has ensured that a significant section of the population does not get left out from government relief.

A significant portion of the Rs 35,000 crore disbursed so far to almost 400 million under the PM's Garib Kalyan Yojana has been executed using Aadhaar for identification and checking pilferage.

Under the NDA regime

However, a fundamental difference between UPA’s Aadhaar and NDA’s is that the former envisages Aadhaar as an identification tool, while the current government brought it as money bill which meant that transfer in whatever form from the consolidated fund of India had to be Aadhar-linked.

The NDA’s Aadhaar Bill is a najor departure from the one UPA piloted.

This has meant that in all the schemes where money transfer is involved, Aadhaar is needed. This has raised questions about privacy and exclusion problems as quite often it has been found to be inefficient mainly in rural areas.


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