Concerns about a big cut in the budget for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) led Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to say on Friday that the budget for the rural job programme has not changed.
During a meeting with the media here after the budget, the Union finance minister said that because MGNREGS is a demand-driven scheme, the government keeps making more money available as the need grows. This has been “proven since 2014 until today,” he said.
In the Union Budget for 2023–2024, Rs 60,000 crore has been set aside for the rural job scheme. This is 21.66% less than the budget estimates for the 2022–2023 year, which were Rs 73,000 crore.
“During the budget estimate and throughout the year, we set aside money. When the number of people who want it goes up, we change it, and in the extra grants, we add more. “This is different from what went on from 2004 to 2014,” Sitharaman said.
The Union finance minister said that, in addition to giving money at the beginning of the Budget, it is just as important to keep responding to changes on the ground and even more important to use it all.
Sitharaman said that the MGNREGS fund has been fully used up by the end of the year during the nine years of the Narendra Modi government, compared to the 10 years (2004-2014) of the Congress-led UPA government. She also said that during the Covid pandemic, spending went over Rs 1.10 lakh crore.
“So, it’s not right to look at the budgeted time and say that you cut it down. It grows as the need for it grows, and we keep giving it as the need grows. By the end of the year, we also make sure it gets spent,” she said.
On the issue of cutting the budget for buying food grains at the minimum support price (MSP), which Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also brought up in his response to the budget, saying that it will “hit the poor as well as the farmers,” Sitharaman said that they have not cut the buying.
“The amount of buying has gone up in the last eight years compared to any other time. “Because the minimum support price (MSP) rate is high, the total amount given to farmers after procurement is also very high,” said the finance minister. “The total amount spent on buying things is now high,” she said.
The Union finance minister said that the GST council needs to decide whether or not to include gasoline and diesel in the tax.
When the government asked again and again for Odisha to be given special category status, Sitharaman said that the Finance Commission has made it clear that no state can be given special status.
On Adani-Hindenburg row
When asked if the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the national market regulator, has kept her up to date on the Adani investigation, the Union finance minister said that SEBI is an independent regulator. “Whatever they search for and find, they will take it with them. They don’t tell the government about everything. There is a court hearing today…it might not be right to say anything,” she said.
When asked if the loans to Adani Group are putting stress on the banks, the finance minister said that the State Bank of India has already said how much exposure it has.