Context: The COVID-19 lockdown yet again proved the potential and need of MGNREGA in our country.
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- During the initial days of lockdown, the absence of MGNREGA enhanced rural distress.
- The Central government revised lockdown guidelines to allow MGNREGA work only from April 20, nearly a month after the nationwide lockdown was imposed, and released funds for it belatedly.
- After which the scheme witnessed a thumping enrollment owing to the scanty livelihood opportunities available with the people.
- Increase in number of MGNREGA workers: Whereas the number of households who got work in April 2020 was the lowest in several years at 95 lakh, in May the number went up to 3.05 crore.
- Till the third week of June, 2.84 crore households had got work, much higher when compared to the same months last year.
- Reduced Fund allocation: Both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 budgets reduced MGNREGA allocations in comparison to actual expenditure in the previous year.
- The Central government released Rs. 38,000 crore for MGNREGA work, of which 70% has already been utilised.
- The remaining Rs. 8,000 crore fund available to the States is clearly insufficient
- Underutilised Potential: With an average 23 days of work and a daily wage of Rs. 200, households who got work earned an average of Rs.1,500 a month.
- Unable to meet the demand: According to Government data 8.07 crore workers demanded work, but work was provided only to 6.25 crore workers.
- Further the people were not paid unemployment allowance on time.
- Less focus due to other schemes: The announcement of the Central government’s “new” scheme, the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan, to provide work to migrant workers in 116 selected districts diverts attention from MGNREGA.
- The scheme is primarily meant for migrant workers in those districts where their numbers are 25,000 or more.
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.
- Fulfilling the target: 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.
- Timely Payment: All wages need to be cleared within 15 days from the day work is done as stipulated in the Act.
- Expanding Coverage: Looking at the gravity of the situation created by the pandemic, the minimum guarantee should be extended to 200 days so as to secure the living conditions for the marginalised.
- Further there should be removal of the restriction of only one person per household to make every individual eligible.
- Fund Disposal: The government must ensure the release of funds on a timely basis so that timely work or unemployment allowance can be provided to workers.
- Compliment and not Substitute: The MGNREGA should be complemented with other schemes like Garib Kalyan Rojgaar Abhiyan rather than seeing the latter as a substitute for it as
- 25 works allowed in Garib Kalyan Yojana are already covered by it.
- It is needed for women empowerment as 1/3rd beneficiaries must be women.
- It makes employment a legal entitlement which is not the case with Garib Kalyan Yojana.
- It gives Pan India coverage while the latter is restricted to 116 districts.
With unemployment figures at a 45-year high, and the added economic destruction caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, MGNREGA numbers are set to rise in future, making it imperative for the government to strengthen the scheme.
- 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
- 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.
- There would be Equal payment for men and women, with the latter making at least 1/3rd of all beneficiaries.
- Wages to be paid within a fortnight (15 days)
- Work site facilities such as creche, drinking water and shade have to be provided