By Shruti Appalla
A recent article carried in January 15, 2018, edition of the Times of India recounted the ‘astronomical’ rise in the demand for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in eight key states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
What is MGNREGA?
MGNREGA is the largest social security scheme in the world. It guarantees 100 days of unskilled manual work to all rural households in India. The Act gives rural households the right to work — making it obligatory for the State to give them work on demand. It was designed as a means of creating rural infrastructure using rural labour. The work is usually generated on projects employed to build durable assets like roads, canals, ponds and wells. The Act stipulates a minimum wage-material ratio of 60:40. The average wage per day per person in 2016-17 was ?161. The majority of NREGA workers are women, and nearly half are from lower castes or tribal communities – some of the most marginalised groups in India.
Rising demand for work
As reported by the Subodh Ghildiyal, “Chhattisgarh registered a sharp rise in demand, month-on-month, over 2016-17 — 1.18 lakh in August, 2.58 lakh in September, 4.27 lakh in October, 6.57 lakh in November and 7.86 lakh in December. In Gujarat, the last five months saw an extra demand of 72800, 76825, 43239, 84842 and 46574 ‘person-days’.The increase in ‘person-days’ in Jharkhand in the last five months was 2.9 lakh, 3.9 lakh, 4.12 lakh, 3.5 lakh and 1.2 lakh. The same trend of jump in demand was noticed in MP (39.5 lakh person-days), Maharashtra (11.35 lakh) and Rajasthan (10.66 lakh).”
What caused the demand to rise?
The scheme has faced substantial criticism over allegations of poor implementation, rampant corruption and low demand.
In this context, the sudden rise in work demand numbers is surprising. Many among the current political dispensation have attributed the revival of the scheme to an increased allotment of funds in last year’s budget and subsequently to PM Narendra Modi’s Rural Housing Scheme. The Secretary of Rural Development, Mr Amarjeet Sinha, claimed that 54 lakh houses were in different stages of construction under PM Awas Yojana where each house was being supplied with 90 days of labour from the job scheme. Also, a quarter of the expenditure under the PM’s rural road scheme came from MGNREGA, he added.
On a flip side, the rise in demand for rural employment could also very well be attributed to the stark unemployment created by demonetization among the wage labourers.
Despite the spike, according to the Ministry of Rural development, the demand for work is projected to touch 225 crores ‘person-days’ in 2017-18, as against 235.75 crores ‘person-days’ in 2016-17.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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