The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was passed in 2005 as National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. It intends to provide guaranteed employment in manual work for 100 days in every financial year to rural adults willing to work. The Ministry of Rural Development was given charge of supervising its implementation and is the largest scheme run by the ministry. The scheme was introduced so as to help the rural population get employment during the non-agricultural seasons and to enhance their purchasing power which in turn, decreases their migration to urban areas. The act was first proposed in 1991 by P.V. Narasimha Rao. The founding pillars, according to the PIB, are social inclusion, gender parity, social security, and equitable growth.
The act was called the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), but the prefix Mahatma Gandhi was added to it on 2nd October 2009. MGNREGA is the largest social security scheme in the world — guaranteeing 100 days of unskilled manual work to all rural households in India.
MGNREGA is considered landmark legislation because it gives more power to the local bodies and follows a grassroots level approach. The local bodies are given more autonomy since they aren’t coerced to accepting recommendations. There is also more transparency which implies the people in charge are accountable. Due to legal provisions being inscribed in the act, the work may be subject to the court’s jurisdiction. The scheme has helped in decreasing the exploitation of rural labor. It has also narrowed the gender wage gaps.
Though critics say that the scheme has been misused by unethical people, according to recent reports, the number of youth employed under this scheme has increased by about 19% from the financial year 2017-18 to 2018-19.
The scheme: MGNREGA
The MGNREGA was first started in Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh on 2nd February 2006, introduced in order to provide work for unskilled as well as semi-skilled rural labor living below the poverty line. Interested adults could submit their name, age, and address to the Gram Panchayat along with a photograph. After primary investigation, they are given job cards and these registered people may write to the concerned authorities asking for work. A letter which confirms assignment of work is then given to the applicant and (s)he will be provided with employment within 15 days. In case there are any trivial problems in the functioning, they may be addressed in the Gram Panchayat. Grievances could be intimated through the MGNREGA website. The scheme provides 150 days of employment to drought-hit areas as well as tribal areas.
In case the government fails to provide work to people, it will still have to pay the workers their daily wages.
Status of the scheme:
The scheme initially covered only 200 districts in the entire country. It now covers 648 districts all over the country. It has helped increase rural household income. It has also helped increase the groundwater table alongside agricultural productivity. It currently provides the labor with 178 rupees a day. In the financial year 2019-20, 60,000 crore rupees were allocated for this scheme but another 15,000-20,000 crore rupees were requested for as the ministry was running out of funds given the high demand for work due to floods, droughts and other extreme weather conditions.
Skill development under MGNREGA:
- Project Livelihoods in Full Employment was introduced in April 2015 under the MGNREGA by the Ministry of Rural Development. It aimed at promoting self-reliance by improving the skills of the laborers. It was introduced so as to help them attain full employment from partial employment.
- Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kaushalya Yojana, which focuses on people between 15 and 35 years of age, so as to diversify the skills which help them eventually get placements and come out of poverty over time.
Problems with MGNREGA:
- Data shows that the scheme hasn’t been evenly implemented in terms of the wages given across all the states.
- The scheme witnesses rampant corruption and the bureaucracy overlooks it. Since June 2014, the scheme has slowed down progress.
- Jharkhand, which highly depends on the scheme, has the lowest wage rates.
- Due to low wage rates, many people are backing out of the scheme leading to middlemen taking control.
- There is also a need to enhance the skills of the workers under this scheme.
Achievements of MGNREGA:
- It is the world’s largest social welfare scheme and 3.14 lakh crore rupees were spent in the first 10 years.
- The scheme has managed to reduce the poverty levels in India by a huge amount. It was, hence, called a stellar example of rural development by the World Development Report of 2014.
- It has helped many women in rural areas to make a livelihood as well as gain social security.
- The unemployed youth in the age bracket of 18-30 got employment for 100 days a year.
- Helped employ the people effected by Demonetization and GST (Goods and Services Tax).
- Has rightly enforced the ‘Right to work’
- Since agriculture and its allied activities make up about 65% of the scheme, the sector was benefitted.
- It provides basic facilities like clean drinking water and first aid to all the labor.
- It has helped in uplifting Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).
- According to the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), this scheme has played a vital role in reducing poverty among the poor as well as the socially weaker sections (Dalits, tribals and marginal farmers).
According to the PIB,
‘During 2015-16, 235 crore person days were generated which was the highest compared to the previous 5 years. During 2016-17, 4.8 crore households were provided employment in 142.64 lakh works. In the process, 200 crore persondays of employment were generated. Out of the total employment, 56% have been generated for women. This is the highest ever participation of women since the inception of the program. Total expenditure since its inception is 3,76,546 crore rupees.’
Skill development was also promoted through initiatives like Bare Foot Technicians and Project LIFE (Livelihood In Full Employment) so as to enhance the skills of the laborers. The ministry also paved the way for Exchange programs among states so as to facilitate the sharing of ideas as well as successful practices. Many states have visited others so as to inculcate their methods.
No matter how good a program is, there is always scope for improvisation. For MGNREGA, the Centre must allocate more funds in the budget since the dearth of funds could lead to halting the work, thus causing the interruption. Also, the laborers must be paid well in time. The entire scheme could be decentralized so as to make the working a lot better. An increase in wages can help in making the scheme more successful. Also, the central government is now trying to include skill development in this scheme so as to increase the skilled labor in rural areas. It should also study and understand why exactly the funds aren’t being utilized properly and take the steps required so as to reach as many people as possible.
The scheme has been facing many hurdles in recent years and there is an urgent need for the government to look into it and promote the scheme because the recent issues have led to an economic slowdown and have also pushed the country into an unemployment crisis.