To cope up with the ongoing economic crisis due to COVID-19, poor households urgently need a chance to earn cash for which India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) offers an obvious alternative at least for rural areas. Let us discuss the challenges underlying the act and prompt measures to be taken for the act to be more effective.
- The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme is the largest social security scheme in the world guaranteeing 100 days of work to any rural household willing to do public work-related unskilled manual work at the statutory minimum wage.
- The Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), is monitoring the entire implementation of this scheme in association with state governments.
- The objective of the Act is to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
Features of the act:
- The act makes it obligatory for the State to give rural households work on demand. In case such employment is not provided within 15 days of registration, the applicant becomes eligible for an unemployment allowance.
- One-third of the stipulated workforce must be women.
- The employment will be provided within a radius of 5 km: if it is above 5 km extra wage will be paid.
- The wages are revised according to the Consumer Price Index-Agricultural Labourers (CPI-AL).
- Work site facilities such as crèche, drinking water, shade have to be provided.
- Social Audit has to be done by the Gram Sabha
- At least 50% of works will be allotted to Gram Panchayats for execution
- Inadequate funding
- Budget allocation to MGNREGA this year though higher than the previous allocations, amounts to 0.47 percent of the GDP and it continues to be much lower than the World Bank recommendations of 1.7 per cent for the optimal functioning of the programme.
- Delay in payment of wages
- Inordinate delays in wage payments and failing to compensate for the delays workers had begun to lose interest in working under it.
- Demand driven to supply based
- Great distress to the states caused due to inadequate funds to pay for wages and to allocate work on demand, made them to implement MGNREGA like a supply-driven scheme, instead of running it like a demand-based guarantee backed by law.
- Little autonomy impairs implementation
- With very little autonomy, gram panchayats find it difficult to implement this act in an effective and efficient manner.
- Issues with Job card
- Earlier workers were allowed to turn up at the worksite and enrol on the spot but now, no-one can be employed unless his or her name has been entered in advance in the e-muster rolls. Most workers have no idea how to go about this.
- e-Muster roll, is an IT-enabled technology, which enables the process of enrolment and attendance in the MGNREGA and ensures that the benefits of the scheme reach the actual beneficiaries.
- Also except workers who are relatively empowered, others find it difficult to initiate the work applications which make them dependent on others.
Measures to be taken:
- Expanding the list of permissible works
- Hiring more gram rozgar sevaks (employment assistants)
- Simplifying the implementation process
- Mobilising para-teachers for work application drives
- Reducing inordinate delays in wage payment
- Cash payment of wages would act as a tremendous incentive for rural workers to demand NREGA work
- Ensuring adequate autonomy to gram panchayat for effective implementation.
These measures which when taken in a prompt manner can better serve the very purpose of the scheme in the current scenario of migrant crisis.