The monthly demand for rural jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has touched a new high at 3.95 crore until May 20, with analysts saying it will most likely cross 4 crores by the end of the month.
This is significantly higher than the month-wise demand this year, which was 2.48 crore in January, 2,92 crore in February, 2.70 crores in March and 1.77 crore in April, according to the Ministry of Rural Development data.
It is also much more than the monthly average demand of 2.3 crores in 2019-20. The spike in May this year is indicative of the huge job losses all around, particularly in the informal sector, where lakhs of workers have suddenly become unemployed owing to the lockdown.
Reverse Migration during Lockdown period:
A significant part of this workforce has reverse migrated from cities to rural areas. In order to address this migrant crisis, the government has allocated an additional fund of Rs 40,000 crore for MGNREGA, as part of the stimulus package under Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.
With nearly eight crore migrant workers returning to their villages and an additional allocation of funds could be a moment for the true revival of MGNREGA.
However, in order to utilise the true potential of this scheme, there is a need to address the underlying challenges of MGNREGA.
About Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA):
MGNREGA is a social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’.
It aims 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.
MGNREGA has been a critical source of income for female-headed households. A major proportion of the beneficiaries much higher than their percentage in the general population belong to SC/ST and other marginalized communities.
The scheme has boosted agricultural productivity through development of wasteland/fallow land, and construction of post-harvest storage facilities and work sheds.
MGNREGA works have contributed to improved ground water levels, and increased availability of drinking water for humans and livestock.
When industries cease to function, where will the workers go?
The high number of people seeking work under the MGNREGA is due to desperation.
Most of these workers have gone home and have no work hence they are seeking jobs under the scheme.
An analysis of the data shows there is a spike in demand for MGNREGA jobs in May-June when the sowing season for kharif crops is set into motion.
The data also shows that states which have seen reverse migration of workers have seen a sharp rise, most significantly in Uttar Pradesh. The total number of applications in UP was 17.4 lakh in March and 12.7 lakh in April. This jumped to 49.3 lakh until May 20.
The increasing demand for MGNREGA jobs only seems to confirm what many organisations have projected about unemployment.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, rural unemployment rose from 8.49% in March to 22.67% on April 29.
Measures for Revival of MGNREGA:
- MGNREGA should be converged with other schemes of the government. For example, Green India initiative, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan etc.
- There has been a delay in the completion of works under MGNREGA and inspection of projects has been irregular. Also, there is an issue of quality of work and asset creation under MGNREGA.
- After the additional Rs 40000 crore allocated, the budget for 2020-21 is now above Rs 100k crore.
- This is the highest allocation for MGNREGA in any year since the passage of the law. However, the allocation, which amounts to 47 % of the GDP continues to be much lower than the World Bank recommendations of 1.7 % for the optimal functioning of the program.
- There is a need to strengthen the demand-driven aspects of MGNREGA through a focus on local level social audits, funding and tracking of outcomes.
- State governments must ensure that public work gets started in every village. Workers turning up at the worksite should be provided work immediately, without much delay.
- Local bodies must proactively reach out to returned and quarantined migrant workers and help those in need to get job cards.
- In order to improve transparency and the accountability of Sarpanchs, it is recommended that MGNREGA projects be tracked right down to the village-level and not just the Gram Panchayat level as is the practice now.
- Social Auditing creates accountability of performance, especially towards immediate stakeholders. Hence, there is a need to create awareness regarding government policies and measures in rural areas.
Residents and people reached back to their places also demand the simplification of the procedure of application for job cards which are necessary to find work under the scheme and also suggest the emulation of an urban employment guarantee programme based on MGNREGA.
Along with this, the letter also demands that dry rations be provided in addition to full minimum wages in cash for the next three months.
Also, those who are not permitted to work due to the existing medical advisory should be paid full wages till they are allowed to resume work.
MGNREGA is a bottom-up, people-centred, demand-driven, self-selecting and rights-based programme.
Thus, MGNREGA remains crucial for integrated resource management and livelihoods generation perspective.
Insights Current Affairs Analysis (I–CAN) by IAS Topper