Mainstream, VOL LII, No 45, November 1, 2014
Don’t Dilute or Restrict MGNREGA
Sunday 2 November 2014
There are widespread apprehensions that the rural employment guarantee provisions are likely to be significantly diluted or restricted in the near future. This can take the form of restricting the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to some limited areas of the country. Secondly, the budget provisions can be curtailed further from the existing low levels so that the guarantee aspect of this essentially demand-driven programme is even more difficult to enforce. This can also lead to long delays in making pending payments to some of the poorest families. In addition, the labour wage-materials ratio may be reduced from 60:40 to 51:49, adversely affecting employment opportunities and increasing the scope for corruption.
This legislation was passed unanimously in Parliament with the support of all political parties. Many studies indicate its overall beneficial impact on the poorest rural families as well as overall rural economy. Therefore, any attempt to restrict or dilute this legislation supporting the largest public works programme should be avoided and resisted. Instead the focus should be on improving the implementation of this programme aimed at bringing more benefits to the people. Due to corruption, poor planning and denial of people’s participation, in many places this programme could not create good assets. But the legislation already has provisions for social audits and the people’s involvement which should be used better to improve implementation. In addition, payment of proper wages at the right time should be ensured.
Many villages in India are badly in need of water conservation work, small irrigation works as well as increasing green cover, planting and protecting trees. There is a great need for taking up different works which provide protection from various disasters. The MGNREGA provides good opportunities for taking up this work as well as other highly relevant development work while at the same ensuring 100 days employment to village-based workers for their work. In other words, work relating to sustainable development of the village, improving basics, like water availability and greenery, can be taken up by villagers who also get paid for this. Hence the MGNREGA creates conducive condi-tions in which millions of villagers, instead of being forced to go to distant areas for uncertain work as migrant workers, can contribute to the sustainable development of their own villages. The potential of the MGNREGA is thus great, even though it has not been tapped adequately at the national level.
It is sometimes alleged that the MGNREGA is harmful for agriculture as it increases pressures to enhance wage payments to workers. However, this criticism ignores the fact that improved green cover, water and soil conser-vation, rising water table and small irrigation works—all improve farm productivity in various ways. Landless farm workers are among the poorest villagers and better wages for them should be welcomed, while overall prosperity and capacity of farmers should also increase with broadbased agricultural development.
The efforts to resist any dilution or restriction of the MGNREGA deserve wide support.
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