MGNREGA Demand Rises

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    According to a recent study by the State Bank of India (SBI), the demand for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) 2005 has increased.

    About the Increased Demand

    • The demand has increased to 2.57 crore households, 92 per cent higher than 2020 and a record high for April since 2013.
    • Around 2.42 crore households demanded work under the scheme in August 2020 which was 66 per cent more than August 2019.
    • The large-scale reverse migration from urban employment centres to the hinterland has triggered greater demand under the scheme.

    (Image Courtesy: BS)

    Reverse Migration

    • In reverse migration, migrants move back from the place of their employment to the place they belong to.
      • According to the International Organization for Migration, a migrant has been defined as any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state away from his/her habitual place of residence.
    • The Covid-19 induced lockdowns in 2020, led people to reverse migrate due to lack of work in the big cities.
      • This was the second-largest mass migration in the recorded history of India, after the Partition, where more than 14 million people were displaced.
    • The resurgence in 2021 and resultant curfews has done the same and people are reverse migrating again. There is no official data on internal migration or reverse migration at the national level with a single source information centre.
    • Impacts
      • This sudden mass exodus will have a huge impact on the Indian economy, mainly in the impoverished, rural areas to which most migrants returned with their lives thrown upside-down.
      • Rural households will have a few extra members at home who will have to be fed and taken care of and lower incomes could cause stress within households in the high-poverty regions. 
      • A significant number of the m
      • Migrants returning home are expected to enter local labor markets, which will likely depress wage rates.
      • A large unoccupied workforce entering local labor markets could also take work away from the more marginalized and impoverished segments of the population.
        • For example, the women who traditionally do paddy transplantation in eastern India could be replaced by more able-bodied men at the same or lower wages.
        • This could severely impact women-headed households and other vulnerable segments of the local population.
      • In states like Punjab and Haryana, on the other hand, a fall in the agricultural labor workforce could make farming an expensive proposition.
        • Landowners in these regions are likely to shift toward further mechanization or take up alternate farming practices that require less labor.
      • It will also spread the highly contagious virus to the largely untouched villages so far.
    • Suggestions
      • Policymakers should aim to improve rural infrastructure with better agrarian policy which will lead to better harvest and income leading to decongestion of cities.
      • It is important to expand the pool of trained doctors accessible to the rural population and make careful use of informal health practitioners.
      • Government should launch more welfare schemes like the special employment-cum-rural public works programme called Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan (GKRA) for returning migrants
      • People must not be forced to migrate from rural areas in the first place in search of jobs that are often vulnerable and precarious, while living in inhospitable conditions.
      • Government should target untapped segments of the animal husbandry sector to boost rural incomes.
        • There is a need to address the small ruminant, poultry, and inland fishery sectors as well, all of which hold immense potential.
        • Cooperatives and farmer-producer companies can bring valuable foreign exchange by tapping the export market.
      • The number of migrants who have returned home is too large to be accommodated in the rural sector unless additional investments are made in rural India by the government and private sectors.

    MGNREGA

    • It is a poverty alleviation programme of the Government of India, which provides legal Right to Work in exchange for money to the citizens of the country.
    • On an average, everyday approx. 1.5 crore people work under it at almost 14 lakh sites.
    • Till date, it has generated almost 31 billion person-days of employment, worth almost Rs. 6.4 lakh crores.
    • Objective
      • To enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
    • Features
      • Legal Right to Work: The Act provides a legal right to employment for adult members of rural households.
        • At least one-third beneficiaries have to be women. Wages must be paid according to the wages specified for agricultural labourers in the state under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
      • Time Bound Guarantee of Work: Employment must be provided within 15 days of being demanded to fail which an ‘unemployment allowance’ must be given.
      • Decentralised Planning: Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are primarily responsible for planning, implementation and monitoring of the works that are undertaken.
        • Gram Sabhas must recommend the works that are to be undertaken and at least 50 per cent of the works must be executed by them.
      • Transparency and Accountability: There are provisions for proactive disclosure through wall writings, Citizen Information Boards, Management Information Systems and social audits (conducted by Gram Sabhas).
      • Funding: It is shared between the Centre and the States.
        • The Central Government bears 100 per cent of the cost of unskilled labour, 75 per cent of the cost of semi-skilled and skilled labour, 75 per cent of the cost of materials and 6 per cent of the administrative costs.
    • Latest Budgetary Allocations
      • In the Union Budget 2021-22, the government allocated Rs. 73,000 crore for the MGNREGA.
        • It is nearly 34.5 per cent lower than 2020’s revised estimates of Rs. 1.11 lakh crore. The budget estimates were around Rs. 60,000 crore but had to be enhanced as the national lockdown happened.
      • This year’s budget was kept low assuming that the economic recovery would alleviate the need for such spending.
    • Significance
      • It is a social security scheme to generate employment for the rural poor and ensures livelihood for people in rural areas.
      • The scheme sees a large scale participation of women, Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other traditionally marginalised sections of society.
        • Women account for 47 per cent and SCs/STs account for 51% of the total person-days generated.
      • It increases the wage rate in rural areas and strengthens the rural economy through the creation of infrastructure assets.
        • Migration has reduced by 40 per cent because of the extensive irrigation system created through small dams constructed under the programme
      • It facilitates sustainable development which is very clear by its contribution in the direction of water conservation.
        • Over the last 15 years, three crore assets related to water-conservation have been created through the rural jobs scheme with the potential to conserve more than 2,800 crore cubic metres of water.
      • It has also strengthened local self governance by involving PRIs in the planning and monitoring of the scheme.
      • It also provides rural India with vital safety, the absence of which could push labourers into distress and poverty, something which data on the latest farm and farm labourers suicides reflects.
    • Challenges
      • Low Wage Rate: These have resulted in a lack of interest among workers making way for contractors and middlemen to take control.
      • Insufficient Budget Allocation: The funds have dried up in many States due to lack of sanctions from the Central government which hampers the work in peak season.
      • Payment Delays: Despite Supreme Court orders, various other initiatives and various government orders, no provisions have yet been worked out for calculation of full wage delays and payment of compensation for the same.
      • Corruption and Irregularities: Funds that reach the beneficiaries are very little compared to the actual funds allocated for the welfare schemes.
      • Discrimination: Frequent cases of discrimination against the women and people from the backwards groups are reported from several regions of the country and a vast number goes unreported.
      • Non-payment of Unemployment Allowance: There is a huge pendency in the number of unemployment allowances being shown in the Management Information System (MIS).
      • Lack of Awareness: People, especially women, are not fully aware of this scheme and its provisions leading to uninformed choices or inability to get the benefits of the scheme.
      • Poor Infrastructure Building: Improper surveillance and lack of timely resources result in the poor quality assets.
      • Non Purposive Spending: MGNREGA has increased the earning capacity of the rural people but the spending pattern of the workers assumes significance because there is hardly any saving out of the wages earned.
    • Suggestions
      • There is a need to carry out social audits as per rules and effective implementation of the delay compensation system.
        • Under the scheme’s compensation clause, agencies responsible for the delay are expected to pay 0.05 per cent of wages per day after closure of the muster roll.
      • The participation of women and backwards classes must be increased through raising awareness and making it more inclusive. Also, the people should be sensitised to do away with the discrimination against them.
      • Reasons for poor utilisation of funds should be analysed and steps must be taken to improve them. In addition, actions should be initiated against officers found guilty of misappropriating funds.
      • Villages must also be allowed to take control of their own water security, noting that catchment areas for many villages are on land controlled and owned by the Forest Department.
      • The frequency of monitoring by National Level Monitors (NLMs) should be increased and appropriate measures should be taken by States based on their recommendations.
        • The NLMs are deployed by the Ministry of Rural Development for regular and special monitoring of MGNREGA and to enquire into complaints regarding mis-utilisation of funds, etc.
      • Training and capacity building of elected representatives and other functionaries of PRIs must be done regularly as it will facilitate their involvement.
      • Its sustainability impact should also be measured and not just the number of works created or days of labour provided.

    Source: TH