More money for rural jobs

More money for rural jobs

It is a well-known fact that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) often fails to fulfil its mandate of providing 100 days of employment to all those who ask for it.

Now, a parliamentary panel, the parliamentary standing committee on rural development, has argued in a report that, on an average, only 51 days of work could be provided by utilizing the funds available for the scheme in 2009-10. In 2008-09, an average of 48 days of employment could be generated for those who participated in the scheme.

One obvious recommendation in this situation could be to increase the allocation for the programme in the years to come. That way sufficient money will be available to generate more man-days and fulfil the mission of MGNREGS. As it stands now, if there is demand for jobs, the government has to find the money to fund the programme.

One problem is that if the money allocated to MGNREGS is increased, a strong temptation—at the political level— would be to increase the number of participants in the scheme and not ensure more work for those already on its rolls. At the moment, the 100 days for everyone and increasing the number of participants in the programme often contradict each other. More money for the scheme may or may not help overcome this problem.

At the same time, the question that why more employment is not generated under the present conditions of MGNREGS must be answered. By its nature, it has to be a complex answer as MGNREGS operates across the country in very diverse conditions. Because it is a labour-intensive programme, the emphasis is on expenditure of labour in projects and not turning projects into assets that can fetch returns in the future. For creating durable assets, some level of skilled labour (such as a modicum of engineering inputs) is required. This is, usually, frowned upon. Though, of late, some noises have been made about skill upgradation of MGNREGS workers.

It is important that the latter issue be taken more seriously. This is because there is an upper limit to what unskilled labour can yield in small project areas such as villages (as most MGNREGS sites are). Bigger projects, such as state highways and other economically viable assets, are, at the moment, simply beyond the pale of MGNREGS.

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