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Unleashing the potential of MGNREGA– in times of COVID crisis

Unleashing the potential of MGNREGA– in times of COVID crisis

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2- Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

GS – 3 – Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

In news:

  • The role of theMahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) as a lifeline for the working poor in rural India has been proved once again with the experience of the lockdown.
  • In April and part of May, it was the absence of MGNREGA which accentuated rural distress.
  • The Central government revised lockdown guidelines to allow MGNREGA work only from April 20, nearly a month after the nationwide lockdown was imposed, and released funds for it.

Sudden surge:

  • But once the money reached the States, the results are evident.
  • Whereas the number of households who got work in April 2020 was the lowest in several years at 95 lakh, in May the number went up to 3.05 crore.
  • Till the third week of June, 2.84 crore households had got work, much higher when compared to the same months last year.
  • With an average 23 days of work and a daily wage of Rs. 200, households who got work earned an average of Rs. 1,500 a month.
  • Even though this is meagre, it shows the potential of MGNREGA to bring work and relief, provided it is further expanded.

Pending issues:

  • Even in these months where there has been a welcome increase in workers who got work, it is extremely disturbing that as many as 1.82 crore workers who demanded work were turned back.
  • According to figures available on the Ministry’s website, in this fiscal year, 8.07 crore workers demanded work, but work was provided only to 6.25 crore workers.

Questions unanswered:

The announcement of the Central government’s “new” scheme, the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan, to provide work to migrant workers in 116 selected districts is welcome.

However, some questions are unanswered.

  • There is no clarity on this critical issuein the set of guidelines issued by the Ministry of Rural Development, the nodal Ministry for this scheme.
  • Last year, under MGNREGA, in these 116 districts taken together,an average of just 43.7 workdays were created, which was lower than the national average of 50 days.
  • This poor record of provision of workmay have been one of the reasons for the higher rates of migration from these districts.
  • Instead of new schemes MGNREGA could also be expanded to give work to all workers.
  • This is a legal right, whereas the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaanhas no such legal binding on the administration.

Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan:

  • Under this, 25 work areas have been identified for employment in villages, for development of various works.
  • These 25 works or projectsare related to meet the needs of the villages like rural housing for the poor, Plantations, provision of drinking water through Jal Jeevan mission, Panchayat Bhavans, community toilets, rural mandis, rural roads, other infrastructure like Cattle Sheds, Anganwadi Bhavans etc.
  • This Abhiyaan of 125 days, will work in mission mode, will involve focused implementation of 25 categories of works/ activities in 116 districts, each with a large concentration of returnee migrant workers in 6 states ofBihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha.
  • Public works to be undertaken during this campaign will have a resource envelope of Rs. 50,000 crores.
  • The Abhiyaan will be a convergent effort between 12 different Ministries/Departments, namely; Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Road Transport & Highways, Mines, Drinking Water & Sanitation, Environment, Railways, Petroleum & Natural Gas, New & Renewable Energy, Border Roads, Telecom and Agriculture, to expedite implementation of 25 public infrastructure works and works relating to augmentation of livelihood opportunities.

What is needed:

  • In this context of the need to strengthen MGNREGA.
  • MGNREGA should not be dilutedin the name of the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan.
  • The potential for MGNREGA to provide relief to the suffering of rural India should be utilised to its fullest capacity.
  • This will also require a removal of the restriction of only one person per household to make every individual eligible.
  • The cap of 100 days should be removed to expand it to at least 200 days.
  • Unemployment allowanceshould be guaranteed for all those turned away from work. And importantly, the government must ensure the release of funds on an emergency basis.
  • The Central government released Rs. 38,000 crore for MGNREGA work, of which 70% has already been utilised.
  • With the return of migrant workers to their home States and with substantial numbers having completed the quarantine period, the demand for work is bound to increase.
  • The remaining Rs. 8,000 crore fund available to the States is clearly insufficient.
  • It is therefore essential for the Central government to release the second tranche without delay.

Source:” The Hindu“.

POSSIBLE UPSC CSE MAINS QUESTION:

The role of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) as a lifeline for the working poor in rural India has become evident in the on-going COVID crisis. Substantiate. How could the full potential of the programme be unlocked?