The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) completed its 10th anniversary recently. In this phase it earned a lot of fame, but it also faced ridicule from certain sections of the society.
Launched on 2nd February 2006, MGNREGA is a labour law and a social security measure. It is the world’s first and largest social programme of its kind.
What does it aim to achieve?
- To guarantee the ‘right to work’ and ensure the security of livelihood in rural areas.
- To follow the Directive Principles of State Policy enunciated in Part IV of the Constitution of India that defines the right to work as a basic human right.
How does it plan to achieve it?
- The scheme provides at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work, like digging, construction, etc.
- Allocating funds depending on the demand for jobs (a demand-driven scheme).
- A minimum limit to the wages, to be paid with gender equality.
- Unemployment allowance to be paid if the work is not provided within the statutory limit of 15 days.
Has it been successful in realising those goals?
Well, not completely. But it has not been entirely bereft of praise either.
- Lauded by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its accomplishment in enabling rural households earn and demand higher wages for their labour.
- A total of 20 billion person-days have been generated so far.
- Management of natural resources through initiatives such as drought proofing works, water harvesting and conservation, land development, and afforestation.
- Political benefit: widely credited for the U.P.A.’s win in the 2009 general elections.
- 23% of those employed were SCs while around 17% are STs.
- The proportion of women workers rose steadily and exceeded the statutory minimum of 33 percent by a large margin. A record 52 percent of all workers were women in 2015-16.
- Sustainable assets, such as irrigation canals and roads, have been created.
- A 2015 study showed that the Act has helped in lowering poverty by almost 32% between 2004-2012.
Some of the prominent projects that have been completed by this scheme:
- Nadia (West Bengal) – digging an irrigation channel through fields has helped to bring the fields under cultivation.
- Bundi (Rajasthan) in the Chambal river area, is a well-watered district in an otherwise water-scarce state. MGNREGA has been used for the maintenance of the canals, ensuring better water supplies to farmers.
- Rural connectivity: Creation of roads provided access to markets for farmers, initiated some form of public transport and made government services (such as hospitals) more accessible.
- Sunderbans: a variety of work was taken up –
- Embankments to shield against high tides
- Flood protection works
- Rejuvenation of mangrove forests.
- Jharkhand – over one lakh wells sanctioned and constructed
- Tamil Nadu – a remarkable experiment with solid waste management is underway and it is showing great promise.
- Fluctuation in the Central outlay for the scheme, in terms of allocations as a percentage of overall budget spending.
- Delays in releasing funds to States for wage payments. This has led to the worker being paid late, which has led to a decline in the number of people interested in joining the scheme.
- Issues related to fabrication of job cards.
- The rate of work completion has also declined. It has fallen from 88% to 51% in the last three years.
Several studies over the years have affirmed that MGNREGA has been largely successful in its purpose — providing employment to India’s rural poor and improve their livelihoods.
A critical evaluation clearly suggests that several issues continue to impede its successful implementation. To address these concerns, pertinent policy changes and process re-engineering have been proposed. It is evident that with better technical support, the programme has effectively demonstrated its potential for providing rural household welfare and infrastructure development.
MGNREGA has definitely stood the test of time. Yet, with changing times and exigencies, reforms in the scheme have and must be incorporated for it to become truly, as the rural development ministry has termed it, “a cause of national pride”.
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