Source: Indian Express

Context: During discussions on the novel coronavirus numbers and lockdown, one important issue has missed the headlines — the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act Programme (MGNREGA).

More on news:

  • MGNREGA was criticised for digging holes, but today during the crisis it is coming for the rescue of distressed rural citizens.
    • Both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 budgets reduced MGNREGA allocations in comparison to actual expenditure in the previous year.
    • Migrant workers returning home to their villages are seeking work under MGNREGA. 
    • Since April 2020, 3.5 million new workers have enrolled under this programme. 
    • This is greater than the number of new workers in the previous year.
  • With unemployment figures at a 45-year high, and with the added economic destruction caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, MGNREGA numbers are set to rise.


  • Objectives of the scheme:
    • Generation of paid rural employment of not less than 100 days for each worker who volunteers for unskilled labour
    • Ensuring social inclusion by strengthening livelihood and 
    • Creation of durable assets in rural areas such as wells, ponds, roads and canals etc.
  • The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, earlier known as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was passed on 7th September 2005 to augment employment generation and social security in India.
  • It gives a significant amount of control to the Gram Panchayats for managing public works, strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions.
  • Gram Sabhas are free to accept or reject recommendations from Intermediate and District Panchayats.
  • Every rural household has the right to register under MGNREGA.
  • The work shall be provided within 5 kms jurisdiction from the village
  • If the work provided is beyond 5 Kms, the job seekers shall be given 10% of the minimum wages as additional amount
  • Equal payment for men and women
  • Wages to be paid within a fortnight (15 days)
  • 1/3 beneficiaries should be women
  • Work site facilities such as creche, drinking water and shade have to be provided

What needs to be done: 

MGNREGA is a key instrument to prevent violence and suffering in rural India in the aftermath of the novel coronavirus.

  • Ensure that each registered worker receives the full 100 days of work.
  • Revise wages: An expert committee had suggested in 2019 that it be revised to Rs 375 a day.
    • MGNREGA wages: The current MGNREGA wage of Rs 202 a day is 40-50 per cent lower than the average unskilled daily wage in India.
  • All wages need to be cleared within 15 days from the day work is done as stipulated in the Act.
  • Unemployment allowance period of 15 days should be extended to provide states and workers with some relief.