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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 32, New Delhi, July 24, 2021

Economic Crisis and MGNREGS | Singh & Dhaka

Friday 23 July 2021

by Ranbir Singh and Rajvir Dhaka*

The two ways of Corona that have adversely affected all the sectors of Indian economy in 2020 and 2021 culminated in large scale unemployment in almost all the states of the Indian Union in general and in the relatively backward states of U.P., Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in particular. The flagship rural development programme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), that has been launched by Manmohan Singh led UPA (I) Government in 2006 can be a fairly effective instrument for dealing with this problem. As a matter of fact, this scheme is a fulfillment of the promise of Right to Work that had been enshrined in the Directive Principles of State Policy Indian Constitution which have been regarded as fundamental in the governance of the country by the Supreme Court of India. It is pertinent to mention here that this scheme guarantees an employment for 100 days to that rural household which seeks work under it. An application has to be made by it for registration and for seeking the job card to the Village Panchayat. It is mandatory for this institution of grassroots governance to provide work to the job seekers within 15 days of the receipt of application. The wages for work are to be deposited in their bank accounts within another 15 days. In case of delay in the provisions of work, the workers are to be given compensation by the implementing agency. Besides, arrangement for crèche, water supply, shade and the first aid have also to be made by the Gram Panchayat. The Scheme provides for the gender justice by ensuring equal payment of wages to the males and the females. The workers are also entitled to get subsidized medical treatment under the National Health Insurance Scheme. A social audit mechanism has also been put into place for checking malpractices in its implementation.

The MGNREGS also down a comprehensive list of priority works that can be undertaken under it. These include management of natural resources, water conservation, minor irrigation, renovation of traditional sources for water supply, tree plantation and land development. But in addition to the above, the MGNREGS also permits creation of durable assets for vulnerable sections of rural society, land development, horticulture/plantation/social forestry; constructions of cattle sheds, promotion of fisheries, manufacture of eco-fertilizers and activities for the promotion of Rural Livelihood mission. However, it prohibits undertaking of unmeasurable works such as weeding out of grass, pebbles and agriculture related works, as well as the use of machinery for the performance of these works.

This unfairly maligned scheme has also indirectly helped the rural poor by compelling the land owners to increase the wages of agricultural labour.

However, the MGNREGS will have to be customized as per the changed milieu. Only such works will have to undertake as could ensure social distancing. These should be such as could be accomplished by members . The allocation of works for the construction of farm ponds, piggery shelters etc. may also be undertaken..

Under the scheme secondly, the payment to the workers has to be made instantly and the current practice of delayed payment will have to be discontinued. Thirdly, the number of the days will have to doubled from 100 to 200 per year. Fourthly, the wages will also have to be increased as the current wage have become inadequate on account of rising inflation.

Last but not the least, it will be worth able to pay wages in kind instead of the cash. Food grains may be given instead of cash by taking one from an old scheme of Government of Maharashtra known as food for Work. This will also help in utilizing the pending stocks with Food Corporation of India. Last but not the least, the Government of India must double the amount is being spent on MGNREGS as the demand for work has magnified on account of large scale increase in rural unemployment Besides, it should allow the states to customize it as per their needs.

* (Authors: Prof. Ranbir Singh, Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi | Dr. Rajvir Dhaka, Senior Faculty Member, Haryana Institute of Public Administration, Gurugram.)

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