MGNREGA in times of COVID-19
13th Aug, 2020
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has been one of the main avenues for the Centre to provide employment to returning migrants and others in rural areas who have been rendered jobless due to the lockdown.
What is the current situation?
- MGNREGA continues to attract rural labourers pushed into distress due to the Covid-19 crisis triggering calls for increasing the mandatory workdays to 200 and raising the minimum wages under the scheme to Rs 600 per day.
- Data sourced from the MGNREGA website shows that in June 2020 around 43.7 million households sought work under the scheme that was the highest in last seven years, maintaining a trend seen in May as well.
- The surge in work demanded under the scheme comes after more than 20 million migrants returned to villages from the cities to avoid COVID-19 lockdown announced in March.
- To provide more work to the migrant laborers, the Central government in May raised the budget under the scheme by Rs 40,000 crore for 2020-21, taking the full year allocation for the scheme to over Rs 100,000 crore for the first time ever.
- The additional funds is meant to generate additional 0.2 billion person-days of work in 2020-21 over and above the budgeted 2.8 billion person-days.
Mandate of Mahatma Gandhi Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (MGNREGA)
- The mandate of the MGNREGA is to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
Problems facing MGNREGA
- Low wage rate: The low wage rates have resulted in lack of interest among workers in working for MGNREGA schemes, making way for contractors and middle men to take control, locally.
- Insufficient budget allocation:MGNREGA’s success at the ground level is subject to proper and uninterrupted fund flow to the states. But the fund allocation is insufficient to ensure proper implementation on the ground.
- Regular payment delays: Despite the order of the Supreme Court and initiatives and GO (Government Order) by the Union Ministry of Finance, no provision has yet been worked out in the MIS for calculation of full wage delays and payment of compensation for the same.
- Workers penalised for administrative lapses: The ministry withholds wage payments for workers of states that do not meet administrative requirements within the stipulated time period. It is beyond any logic as to why workers would be penalised for administrative lapses.
- The banking puzzle: Due to great rush and poor infrastructure, the bank passbooks are not updated in many cases. Often, the workers do not get their wages during times of need due to the hassle and the cost involved in getting wages from the bank.
- Faulty MIS data: There is a growing pile of evidence on how real-time MIS has made MGNREGA less transparent for workers, reduced accountability of frontline functionaries and aided in centralisation of the programme.
- Non-payment of unemployment allowance: There are a huge number of unemployment allowances being shown in the MIS currently.
- Genuine job cards being deleted to meet 100% DBT targets: While the government has been boasting about Aadhar-based savings, the reality is that a huge number of genuine job cards and ration cards are getting deleted and genuine people have been deprived of their due entitlements.
- Creation of awareness: The awareness programmes should be organized at war footing in the rural areas for educating people about these special provisions, which can go a long way in bringing further improvements in the implementation of the programme.
- Training of Gram Sabha & Panchayat members: The specialised training programmes be organised in the rural areas preferably in the village panchayats so that these functionaries get proper training for the better execution of the works.
- Exposure visits: It is recommended that Gram Sabha and panchayat members should be sent for exposure visits to other states like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala where NREGA has done wonderful work.
- Effective supervision: To curb corruption & malpractices, it is a requirement that MGNREGA works are properly monitored and supervised.
- Increase in wages: The wage rates to be paid under NREGA should be revised on one hand and subsequently every year there should be enhancement in the existing wage rates by a reasonable percentage say around 10-15% or so.
- Availability of worksite facilities: Women workers, particularly those with children, face major inconvenience due to lack of Creche facility and toilets. So the steps should be taken to provide adequate worksite facilities.
- Increase in employment (man working days): The programme has the provision for 100 days employment per household. As such if a household who has more than one adult member, the mandays should be increased suitably however with some ceiling.
- Skill generating work -The MGNREGS should develop a relevant instrument to provide skill generating work and activities for literate beneficiaries instead of engaging them completely in manual work.
- Participation of Women: Women participation can be enhanced by appointing female supervisors on MGNREGS works. Women should be involved in the selection of works, which can create further mainstream employment in the village.
- Action against Corruption: Strict actions should be taken against the officers and other employees who are found involved in misguiding the persons who make their approaches to them to know about the Government Schemes for employment opportunities.
The government has done the right thing by stepping up allocations both for MGNREGA and PDS grains. But in the end, MGNREGA cannot be any more than a scheme that provides employment during the agricultural lean season for landless labourers and marginal cultivators. Now, the focus has to be on getting people, including the migrant labourers, back to normal work.Also, it may be inferred that above suggestions, if taken care of, will definitely make MGNREGA a real instrument for overall rural upliftment, in general & improve the lot of the rural poor s, in particular.