Home/ News / India/  The benefits and shortcomings of rural jobs scheme

Following the lockdown, India witnessed an exodus of jobless migrant workers from cities to rural areas. The workers turned to MGNREGS to earn their livelihood. The key question is whether the programme is adequate in providing the required support. Mint finds out.

What role does MGNREGS play?

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is meant to enhance the livelihood of the rural populace by guaranteeing at least 100 days of employment within 15 days of raising a demand, to every household wherein the adult members perform unskilled manual labour. The covid-induced lockdown resulted in loss of livelihoods for millions of workers in cities and forced them to return home in rural areas. With an allocation of 40,000 crore, as a part of the stimulus package to MGNREGS, the government hopes to increase employment generation in rural areas.

Lockdown impact
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Lockdown impact

Can MGNREGS cover millions in rural areas?

The scheme is often viewed as a means for employment in rural areas during the lean period of agricultural activity. Therefore, demand for work generally peaks in May-June, before it declines during the main kharif cropping season. Currently, the demand is even higher, since it is not just the landless agricultural labourers, but also migrants seeking work. In order to gainfully employ the home-bound workers, the scheme would have to expand its scope in terms of projects and offer jobs beyond the 100-day mark because even if the workers wish to go back to cities, those jobs will not be available anytime soon.

Is there demand for work under MGNREGS?

The demand for MGNREGS work jumped by 55% from 21.2 million workers in May 2019 to 32.9 million in May 2020. Since April, 3.5 million new workers have registered under the scheme reflecting the job losses in cities. The 116 districts, with the highest number of returnees, have witnessed 86% increase in demand under MGNREGS in May from a year ago.

What are the concerns regarding the scheme?

Most states have implemented the scheme, till the time the funds were granted to them by Centre. Over time, this led to MGNREGS running in a supply-driven way instead of a demand-based model. However, the restricted supply of funds is one of the major pitfalls of the scheme. Besides, often the promise of 100-day employment phases out within 50-55 days, wages remain uncleared even after 15 days, and many get denied work. MGNREGS wage of 202 per day is also 30-40% lower than average wage offered to unskilled workers.

How is the govt’s GKRA Yojana any different?

The Centre launched the scheme to boost opportunities for migrants returning to villages. Its seeks to provide 125 days of guaranteed employment and focuses on 116 districts across six states, which received the highest number of returnees. Unlike MGNREGS, it is a one-time scheme and is not available pan-India. The move was criticized because MGNERGS has suffered budget cuts and has often lagged. There also seems to be lack of clarity around scheme coverage.

Jhoomar Mehta is a Delhi-based development finance consultant

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Updated: 01 Jul 2020, 09:20 PM IST
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