From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : particulars of the scheme
Mains level : social security
- The delay in payment of wages has pushed MGNREGS workers in West Bengal to the brink. There are allegations of corruption against the State government, the Centre’s reluctance in releasing payments, and the plight of the workers caught in this tussle.
What is MGNREGA?
- The MGNREGA stands for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005. This is labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘Right to Work’. The act was first proposed in 1991 by P.V. Narasimha Rao.
Significant Features of the scheme
- Fixed employment: MGNREGA is unique in not only ensuring at least 100 days of employment to the willing unskilled workers, but also in ensuring an enforceable commitment on the implementing machinery i.e., the State Governments, and providing a bargaining power to the labourers.
- Assured compensation: The failure of provision for employment within 15 days of the receipt of job application from a prospective household will result in the payment of unemployment allowance to the job seekers.
- Locality is ensured: Employment is to be provided within 5 km of an applicant’s residence, and minimum wages are to be paid.
- Legal backing: Thus, employment under MGNREGA is a legal entitlement.
- Non-purposive spending and corruptions: Many works sanctioned under MGNREGA often seem to be non-purposive. Quite often, they are politically motivated hotspots to create rampant corruption by dominant sections of the local population. Even social audits of such projects are locally manipulated.
- Workers penalized for administrative lapses: The ministry withholds wage payments for workers of states that do not meet administrative requirements within the stipulated time period (for instance, submission of the previous financial year’s audited fund statements, utilization certificates, bank reconciliation certificates etc). There is no logical or legal explanation for this bizarre arrangement. It is beyond any logic as to why workers would be penalized for administrative lapses.
- Genuine job cards being deleted: Genuine job cards are being randomly deleted as there is a huge administrative pressure to meet 100 per cent DBT implementation targets in MGNREGA. In states like Jharkhand, there are multiple examples where the districts had later requested to resume job cards after civil society interventions into the matter.
- Too much centralization weakening local governance: A real-time MIS-based implementation and a centralised payment system has further left the representatives of the Panchayati Raj Institutions with literally no role in implementation. It has become a burden as they hardly have any power to resolve issues or make payments.
- Local priorities being ignored: MGNREGA could be a tool to establish decentralized governance. But, with the administration almost dictating its implementation, it is literally a burden now for the people and especially for the local elected representatives. The Gram Sabhas and gram panchayats’ plans are never honoured. This is a blatant violation of the Act as well.
Lack of fund has negative implications
- Delayed payment: Due to this, payments for MGNREGA workers as well as material costs will be delayed, unless States dip into their own funds.
- Livelihood loss: MGNREGA data shows that 13% of households who demanded work under the scheme were not provided work.
- Halt of work: Many workers are simply turned away by officials when they demand work, without their demand being registered at all.
- Fall in demands: This has led to stop the generation of work. There is an artificial squeezing of demand.
What can be done according to rural development committee?
- Utilization of funds: A large amount of funds allocated for MGNREGA have remained un-utilised. For example, in 2010-11, 27.31% of the funds remained unutilised. The Committee recommends that the Department of Rural Development should analyse reasons for poor utilisation of funds and take steps to improve the same. In addition, it should initiate action against officers found guilty of misappropriating funds under MGNREGA.
- Context specific projects and convergence: Since states are at various stages of socio-economic development, they have varied requirements for development. Therefore, state governments should be allowed to undertake works that are pertinent to their context. There should be more emphasis on skilled and semi-skilled work under MGNREGA. In addition, the Committee recommends a greater emphasis on convergence with other schemes such as the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, National Rural Health Mission, etc.
- Regulation of job cards: Offences such as not recording employment related information in job cards and unlawful possession of job cards with elected PRI representatives and MGNREGA functionaries should be made punishable under the Act.
- Participation of people with disabilities: Special works (projects) must be identified for people with disabilities and special job cards must be issued and personnel must be employed to ensure their participation.
- Payment of unemployment allowance: Dated receipts for demanded work should be issued so that workers can claim unemployment allowance. Funds for unemployment allowance should be met by the central government.
Some innovation in MGNREGA can address the challenges
1) Looping in the skilled worker
- First, there is a suggestion to use it to meet the wage cost of their employment in small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
- Accordingly, skilled migrant workers may be placed in SMEs and their wages would be charged to MGNREGA.
2) Including farm related works
- In the last few years, un-remunerative prices of several crops have been the root cause of widespread agrarian distress.
- The suggestion is to allow farmers to employ MGNREGA workers in agricultural operations like land preparation, sowing, transplantation of paddy, plucking of cotton, intercultural operations and harvesting of crops etc. so as to reduce the cost of cultivation.
- The idea is to pay part of the wages of labour in agricultural operations from MGNREGA.
3) Increasing the number of Work Schemes
- Currently, there are only 2-3 work schemes (say PMAY) running per panchayat, which is leading to the crowding of workers at worksites.
- To prevent this and to ensure that all willing households are able to access employment through NREGA, the number of schemes needs to be increased, and 6-8 schemes must be introduced in each village.
4) Paying Workers Immediately
- Rural households urgently need cash-in-hand, and so the emerging demand is for immediate payment to workers. NREGA payments are frequently delayed by weeks or months.
- Given the circumstances, such delays will be entirely counterproductive.
- It is recommended that in remote areas, wage payments should be made in cash, and paid on the same day.
- Government and NGOs must study the impact of MGNREGA in rural areas so as to ensure that this massive anti-poverty scheme is not getting diluted from its actual path.
Q. Large scale social security programmes like MGNREGA are subjected to undergo several stumbling blocks in the times to come due to lack of fund. Analyse these roadblocks and give some innovative measures to tackle these roadblocks.