Mumbai: Shovel-ready projects under the national rural jobs scheme continue to rot on the shelf in Maharashtra’s parched Marathwada even as the region’s desperate residents migrate to faraway towns in search of water and work.
Data compiled by the state relief and rehabilitation department show that in eight districts of Marathwada, only 6,744 works under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) are underway, while more than 110,000 works are “on the shelf”, or works which could be implemented but are not.
“MGNREGS works on shelf are those which are available but are not implemented for want of funds or lack of demand for work from labourers,” explained a relief and rehabilitation official, who requested anonymity. The official, however, noted that in conditions such as a drought, the government should not resort to the usual argument that the rural employment scheme is a demand-driven programme.
“The large quantity of shelf works proves that the government has the capacity to provide for these works. There is definitely demand for work since drought has affected farm yields, which in turn, have reduced daily wage opportunities for farm labourers,” the official said.
A 21 April status report compiled by the relief and rehabilitation department shows that only 6,744 works are being carried out in Marathwada as against the shelf works totaling 1,10,634. Mint has a copy of this report. In eight Marathwada districts of Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Hingoli, Beed, Nanded, Osmanabad and Latur, ongoing MGNREGS works have provided jobs to a little more than 100,000 people.
However, the MGNREGS works put on shelf, if implemented, can provide jobs and wages to more than 3 crore people in the region.
“This does not mean that 3 crore people have demanded work under MGNREGS. It only means that the works put on shelf have the capacity to provide job to these many people. The data prove that MGNREGS is not being aggressively pushed in districts worst affected by drought, when it could provide substantial relief to farmers and farm labourers, who are migrating for work.
The demand in Marathwada cannot be as low as to provide work to only 1 lakh people,” the official said.
The implementation of MGNREGS is not much better across the rest of the state either.
As of 16 April, 34 districts in Maharashtra had only 30,447 MGNREGS works underway, employing 395,000 people. The shelf works, meanwhile, are more than 414,000 which can generate employment capacity for more than 120 million people.
“Such a large amount of works being put on shelf itself proves that the government has the capacity to generate employment. But on the ground, the government is not rolling out those works on the pretext that there is no demand. This is absolutely false since we are aware of specific works demanded under MGNREGS but refused by the government machinery,” says agronomy expert Ashwini Kulkarni, who runs a rural development NGO called Pragati Abhiyan in Nashik district.
If more works had been rolled out, large scale migration from Marathwada and Vidarbha could have been prevented, she said.
“People are migrating for water and work. If MGNREGS is implemented with the spirit and intent it has been established for, people who have no employment due to drought could have been employed.” Workers could have used MGNREGS wages to purchase water, Kulkarni said.
Asked about the low performance of MGNREGS in the state and particularly in Marathwada, Prabhakar Deshmukh, secretary, MGNREGS and water conservation, said that basically the scheme was a demand-driven programme. “Also, in Marathwada, there were quite a few local traditional festivals during which labourers are off-work. The attendance had risen two weeks before, but it dropped again due to festivals and lack of demand. It will pick up now and my estimate is that the number of people employed will go up to 5.5 lakh or even 6 lakh in a couple of weeks,” Deshmukh said.
No government data is available on the extent of migration, but various media reports have estimated that at least a million people have migrated out of Marathwada.
Madhukar Dhas of Dilasa Sanstha, a non-governmental organization, which works with farmers and farm labourers across 16 districts of Maharashtra, says the lower level government machinery for MGNREGS has “little scope for corruption now” which works as a disincentive.
“There is a huge demand for work in all 16 districts that we work in. But since the scheme is implemented much more transparently now, there is less scope for corruption,” Dhas said.
Maharashtra’s status report on MGNREGS implementation confirms what the Union government told the Supreme Court on 19 April during the hearing on a public interest litigation filed by non-profit Swaraj Abhiyan. The centre told the Supreme Court that the MGNREGS had failed to provide short-term relief in drought-affected states.
For 2016-17, the Union budget allocated Rs.38,500 crore to MGNREGS, which if spent entirely, will be the highest amount utilized for the scheme since it was introduced in 2005.