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Amid Covid, an NREGS first-10 crore people used scheme

Amid Covid, an NREGS first-10 crore people used scheme

CONTEXT:

As the economy plunged into recession amid the coronavirus pandemic, the number of workers who availed the National Rural Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has crossed the 10-crore mark for the first time, marking an unprecedented demand for the rural job scheme.

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UNPRECEDENTED DEMAND FOR THE RURAL JOB SCHEME:

Latest data available on the NREGS portal shows that till January 10 in the current financial year, over 10 crore individuals across the country worked under the scheme.

  • It is 21 per cent higher than the 7.89 crore figure for 2019-2020.

The 10-crore number is the highest since the inception of the scheme in 2006 – the previous high was in 2011-12, when 8.2 crore individuals availed the scheme.

States wise Demand: West Bengal has seen the highest numbers this financial year, with 1.07 crore individuals availing the scheme.

It is followed by

  • Uttar Pradesh (1.06 crore),
  • Rajasthan (99.25 lakh),
  • Madhya Pradesh (91.62 lakh),
  • Andhra Pradesh (77.57 lakh) and
  • Tamil Nadu (75.37 lakh).

The expenditure under NREGA has reached an all-time high, with Rs 87,520 crore of the Rs-1-lakh crore allocated to the scheme being spent.

REASONS FOR UNPRECEDENTED DEMAND:

Economic distress in rural areas: The unprecedented jump in demand for unskilled work under NREGS is a pointer to the economic distress in rural areas.

A safety net: In wake of the pandemic, the scheme has emerged as a safety net for crores of unskilled workers, particularly migrant workers.

Economic package in Pandemic Year: As part of the economic package announced in the response to Covid, the government declared an additional funding of Rs 40,000 crore for NREGS, over and above the Rs 61,500 crore allocated in the Union Budget 2020-21.

  • With this hike, the NREGS budget has crossed the Rs 1 lakh crore figure for the first time ever.

FEATURES/SIGNIFICANCE OF MNREGA JOB SCHEMES:

1. LEGAL RIGHT TO WORK: Unlike earlier employment guarantee schemes, the Act provides a legal right to employment for adult members of rural households.

  • At least one third beneficiaries have to be women. 
  • Wages must be paid according to the wages specified for agricultural labourers in the state under the  Minimum Wages Act, 1948, unless the central government notifies a wage rate (this should not be less than Rs 60 per day). 
  • At present, wage rates are determined by the central government but vary across states, ranging from Rs 135 per day to Rs 214 per day.

2. TIME BOUND GUARANTEE OF WORK: Employment must be provided with 15 days of being demanded failing which an ‘unemployment allowance’ must be given.

3. DECENTRALISED PLANNING: Gram Sabhas must recommend the works that are to be undertaken and at least 50% of the works must be executed by them. 

  • PRIs are primarily responsible of the works that are undertaken for
    • Planning,
    • Implementation and
    • Monitoring

4. TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY: There are provisions for proactive disclosure through

  • Wall writings,
  • Citizen information boards,
  • Management information systems and
  • Social audits. 
  • Social audits are conducted by gram sabhas to enable the community to monitor the implementation of the scheme.

5. WORK SITE FACILITIES: All work sites should have facilities such as

  • Crèches,
  • Drinking water and
  • First aid.

6. FUNDING: Funding is shared between the centre and the states.

CHALLENGES: As found by Standing Committee on Rural Development

  1. FABRICATION OF JOB CARDS: Existence of fake job cards, inclusion of fictitious names, missing entries and delays in making entries in job cards.
  2. DELAY IN PAYMENT OF WAGES: Most states have failed to disburse wages within 15 days as mandated by MGNREGA.  In addition, workers are not compensated for a delay in payment of wages.
  3. NON PAYMENT OF UNEMPLOYMENT ALLOWANCES: Most states do not pay an unemployment allowance when work is not given on demand.
  4. LARGE NUMBER OF INCOMPLETE WORKS: There has been a delay in the completion of works under MGNREGA and inspection of projects has been irregular.
  5. OTHER KEY CHALLENGES:
  • Poor quality of assets created
  • Corruption in the implementation of MGNREGA
  • Insufficient involvement of PRIs.

ACHIEVEMENTS/SIGNIFICANCE OF MNREGAS: By Standing Committee on Rural Development

  1. ENSURING LIVELIHOOD: Ensuring livelihood for people in rural areas.
  2. LARGE SCALE PARTICIPATION OF MARGINALISED SECTIONS: of women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) and other traditionally marginalised sections of society. 
  • SCs/STs-51% of the total person-days generated and
  • Women-47% of the total person-days generated.
  1. RURAL ECONOMY: Increasing the wage rate in rural areas and strengthening the rural economy through the creation of infrastructure assets.
  2. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Facilitating sustainable development, and
  3. STRENGTHENING PRIs: by involving them in the planning and monitoring of the scheme. Gram Sabhas must recommend the works that are to be undertaken and at least 50% of the works must be executed by them. 

RECOMMENDATIONS/WAY FORWARD: By Standing Committee on Rural Development

  1. Regulation of job cards: Unlawful possession or fake creation of job cards to be made a Punishable offence.
  2. Participation of women: Since the income of female workers typically raises the standard of living of their households to a greater extent than their male counterparts.
  3. Participation of people with disabilities: Special works (projects) must be identified for people with disabilities; and special job cards must be issued.
  4. Utilisation of funds:  2010-11, 27.31% of the funds remained unutilised. 
  5. Regular monitoring: National Level Monitors (NLMs) should be deployed.
  6. Training of functionaries: of elected representatives and other functionaries of PRIs.

MGNREGS: