More

    Thinking Beyond MGNREGA

    GovernanceFinance and EconomyThinking Beyond MGNREGA
    - Advertisment -

    Thinking Beyond MGNREGA

    MGNREGS should be envisioned as a platform to grant labourers the agency to determine where, how and on what projects they wish to engage, while also ensuring they reap equitable benefits from the assets they create while simultaneously addressing the pressing issue of climate change through natural resource restoration component.

    By Ali Siddiqi

    Is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act capable of yielding tangible assets that can lead to a second-round economic impact, particularly through natural resource restoration works? Can the full benefits of MGNREGA be harnessed without the proper safeguarding of worker’s rights and entitlements?

    Have endeavours like farm pond restoration, embankment works (commonly referred to as “bandh works”), afforestation, irrigation projects, and local water conservation efforts (“kholikaran”) contributed to improving agricultural productivity, boosting the income of fishermen, enhancing access to water resources for livestock, and addressing water security issues in the village?

    The complete potential of MGNREGA’s impact has not been realised in this context, primarily due to geographical constraints, suboptimal employment generation and creation of low-quality assets.

    As one of India’s most important welfare programmes, MGNREGA seeks to protect the rural poor from joblessness and enhance their livelihood. It was set against the backdrop of the challenges that India’s rural economy encountered during the 1990s, marked by an agrarian crisis which was characterised by declining productivity and real wages. It acts as a mechanism for social protection of the most vulnerable living in rural India guaranteeing wage employment opportunities every financial year to do unskilled manual work. More importantly, it serves an empowering force for participatory planning, enabling individuals to determine their own development priorities and actively contribute towards its realization.

    - Advertisement -

    This scheme also seeks to recharge the rural sector by aiding the construction of assets that raise productivity in agriculture and generates a second-round impact in the local village level. The works undertaken are largely works that would strengthen the natural resource management and address issues such as soil erosion, drought, water conservation (ponds, wells, check dams), plantations and irrigation canals. Works that lead to construction of roads, private works that allow the construction of houses (under the rural housing scheme), cattle sheds and provision of irrigation facilities to SC/ST households are also included.

    Lessons from history

    There are several provisions in place to include transparency and accountability mechanisms like social audit, creation of a public data portal that provide regular updates on the progress in a reported time, basic work-site facilities, payment of wages within 15 days, reducing gender-wage disparity and many others.

    Arguably, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Employment Act’s roots can be traced back to the Employment Guarantee Scheme that was launched in Maharashtra in 1974 by the Maharashtra state government and it was put into operation for the entire year.

    As of now, the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) has been integrated into the MGNREGA as part of a guideline issued by the Central Government. The Employment Guarantee Scheme was a policy of direct transfer to the poor through the provision of public works.

    The benefits and the impacts have been empirically studied. Additionally, in 1972-73 it was observed that food consumption did significantly decrease during the drought, but the public employment guarantee programs helped maintain labourers’ income share in total consumption.

    In fact, Maharashtra is the only state that was able to prevent an increase in poverty measures during the 1987-88 drought.

    Additionally, we can see a considerable effect on the severity of poverty since EGS augmented the income of the poor. It is also worthwhile to note that the scheme came about because of public action efforts led by citizens. The Scheme owes its origin to the commitment of concerned citizens for reducing ‘distress’ of the poor. The origin can be traced to a committee called Dushkal Nivaran and Nirmoolan Samiti (Drought Relief and Eradication Committee) formed in 1971.

    Access to water resources

    Vidarbha is commonly associated with an ongoing agricultural crisis, marked by factors such as poor crop yields, escalating farmer indebtedness, and an unfortunately high incidence of farmer suicides. Additionally, this region grapples with deep-water tables, frequently leading to the depletion of reservoirs. In the village under examination, respondents often voiced concerns about water accessibility, including the absence of water connections to their residences and inadequate drinking facilities. Most farmers in this rainfed region confront suboptimal crop yields and multifaceted agricultural challenges.

    Work in villages shows that these projects, when effectively harnessed, enhance access to water resources for cultivators leading to increased agricultural yield, improved livelihoods for fisherfolk and an increase in water availability for cattle, all the while generating employment in the village.

    The significance of MGNREGA and watershed initiatives becomes particularly pronounced in this context.

    No words will be enough to underscore the necessity for enhancing the accountability and decentralized execution of MGNREGA. It is evident that the current implementation of the Act falls short of its intended objectives, primarily due to the operation within a system that does not prioritize the welfare of its weaker section.

    This study also argues that to realise the full potential of MGNREGS, it is crucial to envision it beyond just a poverty alleviating, job creating scheme. It should be envisioned as a platform to grant labourers the agency to determine where, how and on what projects they wish to engage, while also ensuring they reap equitable benefits from the assets they create while simultaneously addressing the pressing issue of climate change through natural resource restoration component.

    We must draw inspiration from the successful implementations and emphasize enhanced accountability mechanisms, reduction of elite capture and mitigation of information asymmetry as integral steps towards optimizing the impact of the program.

    In totality, these measures have the potential to address the unmet demand for employment opportunities and mitigate agrarian distress prevalent in the rural economy.

    Ali Siddiqi is a final-year MA Economics student at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. This piece has been extracted from his research report following his stint as an Abhijit Sen Research Intern with the National Foundation for India.

    - Advertisement -

    LEAVE A REPLY

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Latest news

    Floods Batter Pakistan; Over 50 Dead

    Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority is planning for the distribution of relief, but the logistics of reaching relief is...

    China to Import Buffalo Embryos from Pakistan

    The import of buffalo embryos by China can significantly shorten the cycle of improving dairy buffalo breeds from 12...

    Above Normal Rainfall During Southwest Monsoon Season Likely: Ministry of Earth Sciences

    The forecast is based on both dynamical and statistical models, and it suggests above normal rainfall is likely over...

    In Bangladesh, Nipah Virus Keeps the Health System on its Toes

    There’s no cure and no vaccine for the Nipah Virus – and so far this year, both confirmed cases...
    - Advertisement -

    Debt Swaps Could Release $100 Billion for Climate Action

    If a country and its creditors agree to a swap, a portion of that nation’s debt can be written...

    Sri Lanka: Unlawful Use of Weapons in Policing of Protests, Says Amnesty

    During 2022 and 2023, Sri Lankans called for accountability for the prolonged economic crisis, corruption and human rights violations,...

    Must read

    Floods Batter Pakistan; Over 50 Dead

    Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority is planning for the...

    China to Import Buffalo Embryos from Pakistan

    The import of buffalo embryos by China can significantly...
    - Advertisement -

    More from the sectionRELATED
    Recommended to you