Time to behave on MGNREGA

Time to act on MGNREGA

Printed: July 12, 2020 6:53:27 pm

The preliminary 5 years of MGNREGA was a interval of a lot progress. Expenditure and the dimensions of employment within the programme rose steadily until 2009-10. 

Written by Ankita Aggarwal and Anmol Somanchi

In a latest article (‘Credit score the place it isn’t due’, IE, June 10), Union Minister for Rural Growth Narendra Singh Tomar described the Mahatma Gandhi Nationwide Rural Employment Assure Act (MGNREGA) as a “failing scheme” earlier than 2014. MGNREGA beneath the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) authorities was not at all good, however when the Nationwide Democratic Alliance (NDA) authorities got here to energy on the centre, it initially displayed hostility in the direction of the programme, virtually throwing it beneath the axe. Within the latest previous, the NDA has made some effort to extend the dimensions of MGNREGA employment and scale back delays in wage funds. However this has been the results of repeated censure by the Supreme Court docket and to mitigate the destitution attributable to its ill-conceived insurance policies comparable to demonetisation and the latest lockdown.

The preliminary 5 years of MGNREGA was a interval of a lot progress. Expenditure and the dimensions of employment within the programme rose steadily until 2009-10. Whereas corruption was a significant issue within the early years, introduction of financial institution funds in 2008 and the net administration data system (MIS) in 2009 performed an vital position in growing transparency within the implementation of the programme. Regardless of functioning with numerous irregularities, until 2014-15, MGNREGA exerted an upward strain on rural agricultural wages, particularly for ladies.

Tomar cites two research, one by Paul Niehuas and Sandip Sukhtankar (NS) and one other by Clément Imbert and John Papp (IP), to say that corruption was rampant in MGNREGA beneath the UPA authorities. Whereas the NS examine certainly discovered important leakages, what the minister didn’t make clear was that their information was solely from Odisha, that too for 2008. Importantly, the minister misses (or ignores) the truth that the IP examine, primarily based on Nationwide Pattern Survey information, estimated that leakages dropped from 50 per cent in 2007-08 to 20 per cent by 2011-12. Estimates primarily based on the 2011-12 India Human Growth Survey instructed even decrease leakages — lower than 5 per cent.

This isn’t to say that every one was properly beneath the UPA. The share of Gross Home Product (GDP) spent on MGNREGA started to fall from 2010-11 and the annual scale of employment plateaued out until 2013-14. In 2009, the central authorities delinked the programme from the Minimal Wages Act. Since then, MGNREGA staff of many states have been working at unremunerative wage charges which can be a lot lower than their state minimal wages. Within the identify of effectivity, UPA II launched technocracy into the programme by growing its dependence on Aadhaar and numerous different ill-suited applied sciences . These so-called reforms had been additionally used for extreme centralisation of MGNREGA, which has prevented states from implementing the programme as per their wants and capabilities.

When the NDA got here to energy on the centre, it had a chance of reversing these developments. As a substitute, it sought to limit MGNREGA to the nation’s poorest 200 districts. It additionally needed to scale back the labour-material ratio from 60:40 to 51:49, with none proof that this is able to improve the standard of MGNREGA works. It was solely due to robust opposition to those proposals that they had been ultimately dropped. Additionally, because the NDA authorities continued the UPA II period caps on MGNREGA’s expenditure, and exhibited deep disdain for the programme, the dimensions of employment crashed to an all-time low in 2014-15.

The annual budgetary allocation for MGNREGA as a proportion of India’s GDP has hovered round 0.three per cent throughout NDA’s time period, half of what it was at its peak in 2009-10. The share started to extend marginally from 2016-17, however solely after a PIL filed by Swaraj Abhiyan highlighted the large-scale delays in wage funds brought about as a result of insufficient price range earmarked for the programme yearly. The widespread disruptions to the casual sector economic system brought about on account of demonetisation additionally compelled the central authorities to extend the dimensions of MGNREGA employment to supply some fall-back employment.

Tomar lauds his authorities’s push to extend checking account seeding with Aadhaar, routing of wage funds by the digital fund administration system and the transfer in the direction of common cost by direct profit switch. There’s little proof that these advanced applied sciences have streamlined the funds course of. In distinction, there’s widespread documentation of the hardships confronted by staff on account of diverted wages, frozen financial institution accounts on account of lack of digital Know Your Buyer (eKYC), and failed funds. Additional, Tomar’s declare that now 99 per cent funds are generated on time doesn’t take note of the lengthy and unpredictable delays that usually happen within the second stage of the wage cost course of.

As informal staff face unprecedented financial insecurity as a result of nationwide lockdown, the NDA authorities has as soon as once more resorted to MGNREGA (and the general public distribution system) to stave off starvation in rural areas. A rise on this yr’s budgetary allocation of MGNREGA by Rs 40,000 crores is a well timed transfer by the central authorities. But, if all 140 million job card holders are to demand 100 days of labor this yr (a probable proposition given the financial misery), the overall price range of the programme together with the elevated allocation, continues to be solely a couple of third of what can be required to fulfill the demand. Furthermore, the NDA authorities gave quick shrift to MGNREGA staff in response to the coronavirus pandemic — neither the assured variety of days nor the wage charges beneath MGNREGA have been elevated. The present disaster gives the central authorities with an unprecedented alternative to increase staff’ entitlements beneath NREGA.

Aggarwal is a PhD scholar at CUNY and Somanchi is a researcher at IIMA

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