Written by Shreya Panda, a grade 11 student
What is MGNREGA?
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (MGNREGA) is a social security scheme that attempts to provide employment and livelihood to all rural labourers in the country. In 2006, MGNREGA was passed as a labour law and was implemented across 200 districts in an effort to make inclusive and overall development a reality. In two years, the act came to cover the entire country.
According to the Act, the scheme provides any adult citizen, who registers for rural employment, a minimum job guarantee of a hundred days each financial year. The unique part about it is that it includes both skilled and unskilled labour, making it one-of-its-kind across the world. MGNREGA is an entitlement to work that every Indian citizen holds. If such employment isn’t provided within a day of registration, the citizen becomes eligible for an unemployment allowance.
MGNREGA also aims at addressing the causes of chronic poverty through projects undertaken and thus ensures sustainable development. The scheme emphasizes on giving a significant role to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in planning and implementing these works and thus strengthens the process of decentralization.
In theory, the Act promises a lot. Its key features include the legal right to work, a time-bound guarantee of work and unemployment allowance, decentralized planning, worksite facilities, funding and transparency and accountability to the people.
However, despite the stated benefits, several issues have emerged regarding the implementation of this scheme. Statistics show that the average number of days of employment provided to rural households have been lower than the mandated hundred days and has been decreasing since 2010-11.
MGNREGA and the government
Some key issues raised include delay in payment of wages, non-payment of unemployment allowances, a large number of incomplete projects as well as several instances of corruption. From being criticized for increasing inequality, to being called an election card for the United Progressive Alliance, MGNREGA has been picked apart on several grounds. It has also been noticed by many that the actual benefits of the scheme don’t reach the rural labourers.
Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the biggest critics of the Act, calling MGNGREGA the “living monument of Congress’ failures”. Despite this, the NaMo government has actually brought about initiatives and changes to strengthen MGNREGA that have improved the mechanism for payment to tackle the issues pertaining to delayed payment of wages.
MGNREGA and COVID-19
The Centre gave instructions to reopen the scheme from April 20, but only 30 lakh people were provided employment under MGNREGA, about 17% of the usual. A bulk of employment was provided but only to a few states.
19 out of 34 states provided work to less than ten thousand households. States like Telangana didn’t record any work at all. Large states like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh provided employment to only 54,000 and 74,000 households respectively.
So it is clear that the decline in work provided through MGNREGA was alarming in April 2020. However, this decline has not come as a shock. As unemployment has increased since the start of the lockdown, the demand should actually have been higher than in previous months.
Moreover, the lack of clarity on the MGNREGA works being allowed was another factor for the decrease in work provided to people.
However, the question of how to ensure that MGNREGA works are safe in the face of COVID-19 remains unanswered. Perhaps, the only solution to this is to conduct more tests for the virus, and only allow the workers who have tested negative to work. Also, preference should be given to the smaller working sites where maintaining physical distance is possible.
In times like today, MGNREGA is the most important scheme available for the citizens of rural India. Smart imposition and strict social distancing must be followed for the safe and successful functioning of this scheme.
Written by Shreya Panda