Mains Paper 3: Economy
Prelims level: MGNREGA
Mains level: Rural Employment and MGNREGA
• The COVID-19 or Coronavirus pandemic and prolonged lockdown of economic activities have caused health and income insecurity amongst the socio-economically weak and vulnerable, especially, the migrants, the daily wage earners and the casual labourers. Considering the severity of this unprecedented situation on livelihoods of millions of citizens, Indian Prime Minister, gave a clarion call for initiation of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan [Self-reliant India Movement] on May 12,2020.
• The Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan is expected to stand firm on five vital pillars – economy, infrastructure, vibrant human resources, demand and technology driven arrangements and systems. Union Finance Minister subsequently, announced a slew of stimulus measures which, inter alia, included a package of assistance for rejuvenating rural and agricultural economy. Since poverty alleviation and employment generation have been the major objectives of India from the 1950s, the government, rested its renewed focus on reviving rural economic growth through broadening wage employment opportunities to the jobseekers.
Rural Employment and MGNREGA:
• Farm risks and uncertainties, population pressure on cultivable land, lack of alternate occupational choices, rural-urban income differentials and rising rural economic distress had, earlier, prompted massive rural-urban migration in India.
• But, the nation, with a migrant workforce of more than 423 million [Census 2011, Government of India] in cities and metros from States other than the origin, is now witnessing unrelenting reverse migration due to COVID-19 impact. During the next few months, the farm and non-farm sectors are expected to experience various ill-effects of under-employment and unemployment due to swelling in the existing workforce, in the respective regions. It is thus important to ensure adequate livelihoods through broadened occupational choices to the millions of workforce of the countryside.
• The perpetual concern on productive absorption of rural surplus workforce, besides building quality and productive community assets and enterprises, had pressed for enactment of a demand-driven wage guarantee programme – Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in September 2005.
• MGNREGA, an entitlement-driven and self-target oriented employment generation scheme, aims at enhancing the livelihood and economic security of the rural poor households.
MGNREGA’s Role in Self-reliant Rural India:
• MGNREGA, being a public works programme, has the capability to effectively harness the productive power of rural unemployed towards their socio-economic development. It is also capable of not only supplementing the income of jobseekers; the whole process would actually roll out an excellent social security and insurance mechanism by stabilising employment during the off-peak agriculture seasons in the rural areas.
• Considering its employment generation potential and productive absorption capacity of surplus work force during and after the pandemic, the Government revised its earlier earmarked allocation to Rs. 1,01,500 crore for 2020-21 by additionally allocating Rs. 60,000 crore under the package of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.
• Before delving into the MGNREGA implementation framework to find out the potent it has for ensuring a self-reliant rural India in future, one needs to explain and understand the central objectives of the Act. The principal objectives of MGNREGA, 2005 as defined in the Schedule I, Para (3) of the Act are:
a) Provision of at least 100 days of unskilled manual work as a guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every willing rural household as per demand resulting in the creation of quality, durable and productive community assets;
b) Reinforcing the livelihood resource base of the poor
c) Ensuring social inclusion; and
d) Strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions
In this context, this article is making an attempt to find out an answer to an often-asked question -will the world’s largest public works programme, MGNREGA be a game changer towards ensuring adequate rural employment and income in a post COVID-19 situation?
Some of the NRM Works could include works related to:
(i) Water security like construction of farm ponds, wells, earthen check dam, stop dam and other water harvesting structures with a special focus on recharging groundwater including the sources of drinking water.
(ii) Watershed management works like contour trenches, terracing, contour bonds, boulder checks, spring shed development.
(iii) Micro and minor irrigation works.
(iv) renovation of traditional water bodies including de-silting of irrigation tanks and other water bodies.
(v) afforestation, tree plantation and horticulture in common and forest lands and
(vi) land development works in common land. If these works are planned and prioritised in a systematic manner and executed scrupulously without diluting provisions of the Act can unlock immense opportunities for communities’ socio-economic growth in the years to come.
• Effective implementation of public works programme depends largely on how the community engages itself from identification of works to their planning and transparent execution.
• Decentralised planning under MGNREGA envisages preparation of district perspective plan that identifies the development needs and gaps in the local areas.
• Section 16 (4) of MGNREGA 2005 empowers the GPs to prepare a development plan and maintain a shelf of projects for execution upon demand. Since excellence of community MGNREGA assets rely on quality grass-root level decentralised planning, the human resource base at GP level needs to be adequately strengthened. A panel of experts drawn from line departments of Agriculture, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Soil Conservation, Forestry, etc. could be immediately directed to assist GPs to effectively implement MGNREGA works.
• MGNREGA allows work site amenities like medical aid, shade, drinking water creche facilities. Additional services viz. provision of masks, soaps, water, sanitizer, etc. should be ensured to address COVID-19 risks. This should be made a frequent feature at least for a year or until the fear about the pandemic subsides.
• Programme administration should ensure timely wage payments to encourage adequate job response. Wage payment is often delayed due to delay in work measurement, calculation of wages, wage-bill preparation, etc. Hence, all measurements of works done should be taken every week immediately after the closure of the muster, task-wise wages calculated and fed into the MGNREGA MIS for online wage disbursals to the respective job-seeker accounts.
• States need to ensure implementing a strong quality management system to ensure that the assets created under the Act is functional by location, design, operational management and with the provision of adequate and regular maintenance support services. It shall also be ensured that the assets so generated or are getting generated confirm to sound engineering standards in terms of design and workmanship.
• A review of MGNREGA works indicates that though the scheme has large financial absorption capability, it has not been able to generate quality community assets due to lack of focus on quality asset creation, faulty work plan and design, improper selection of projects and work sites, lack of survey of works, inaccurate work design estimates, inefficient work execution and inadequate technical supervision. Thus, just before utilising the funds of MGNREGA, the asset generating potential and technical viability of the projects should be reviewed and revisited.
• MGNREGA is capable of meeting challenges of economics hocks and rural income and employment during post-COVID period and can be productive and active catalyst in building a self-reliant rural India.
• Undoubtedly, enhanced allocation for MGNREGA will increase public investment in rural areas and ensure a suitable local fallback option for rural workforce. The programme is capable of ensuring livelihood security and can be a game changer in rural economy provided the implementing States take extra positive actions towards fulfilling the legal provisions with a well-coordinated approach.