Sunday, 19 March 2023 16:12

Talking Point 5 - Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)

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MNREGA has proved its worth in providing employment in rural India even during the years of economic slowdown as well as pandemic lockdown. It has helped the poorest and most oppressed sections of the rural masses to survive, while at the same time preventing general wages of the agricultural workers and rural labour from declining. The Economic Survey of India 2023-23 also credited MNREGA for having positive impact on the income per household, agricultural productivity and production related expenditure.

But BJP Government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who are committed to implement neoliberal economic policies are not acknowledging these facts. The advocates of neoliberal economic policies are not only principally against MNREGA and but consider schemes like MNREGA an obstacle in the capitalist mode of development of country. Therefore, while praising MNREGA in Economic Survey a day earlier, the Central Government inflicted a huge cut to the budgetary allocation for MNREGA in the union budget for 2023-24. This year allocation for MNREGA is only Rs 60,000 crore, while the revised estimate for 2023 was Rs 89,400 crore, up from the budget estimate of Rs 73,000 crore. Normally more than 20% of the MGNREGA budget goes towards clearing the arrears of the previous years. According to the estimates MGNREGA needs a minimum budget of Rs. 2.72 lakh crore to provide 100 days work.

During the BJP regime the allocation for MNREGA as percentage of total budgetary expenditure is decreasing in the recent years. The percentage for MNREGA of the total budget was higher in 2009 at 3.4% which came down to only 1.3% during current budget. The result of this unscientific allocation is that every year the allocated budget is exhausted in the states by the month of October and November which leads to crises of employment. This limitation is against the basic nature of MNREGA. The demand driven MNREGA is being converted into a simple welfare scheme with targeted beneficiary according to the allocated funds.

This also leads to less number of working days in a year. The mandate of MNREGA is to provide minimum 100 days of work in a calendar year to any house hold applying for work. There is also a provision to increase the working days in situation of drought and other hardships. But the ground reality is very different and there are very few families which are getting 100 days of work. Despite of higher demand for work the average working days generated for the year 2021-2022 was only 49.7 days, which is less than half of the guaranteed 100 days of work under the Act. This year the average working days per house hold is only 42 and the 100 days of work was provided to only 10.488 lakh families which is 0.61 percent of the total job cards and 1 percent of active job cards.

One of the aspects which require immediate attention is MNREGA wages which needs to be increased. The increase in wages of MNREGA for financial year 2022-23 was very meagre. Out of 34 states and Union Territories, the increase in 24 states was less than 5 per cent. In absolute terms, wages have been increased in the range of Rs. 4 to Rs 21 per day. It is clear that the BJP led Modi government is totally apathetic to the plight of rural masses who are finding it difficult to cope with the back breaking hike in the cost of essential commodities.  18 States are yet to receive Rs.4,700 crore in MGNREGS wages from the union government.

There is an effort to artificially reduce the demand of work under MNREGA by discouraging working through various means. Ministry of Rural Development has taken various measures in the recent times which not only discourage the workers but is also against the basic nature of MNREGA. 

Ministry of Rural Development has made it mandatory to mark attendance through National Mobile Monitoring System app from 1st January 2023. In an internal review meeting of Rural Development Ministry questions were raised about various technical problems, such as the malfunctioning of server developed for attendance, incompatibility of phones of mates’ mobiles to the app and internet access etc. But the Government ignored these concerns and went ahead with its decision. However according to the information of Ministry itself, despite making it mandatory, more than 40% of panchayats have not reported online attendance. Only 158390 panchayats have reported online attendance out of total 269637. A total of 383421 mates have been registered on the NMMS but so far only 99,687 registered devices have been used to record the attendance, which is merely 25.9%. We know that work under MNREGA is piece work, where worker has to accomplish a required piece of work. Accordingly, the technical engineer assesses the work and decides the wage. When the work is piece work then what is the relevance to have twice-a-day attendance.

Recently the Government has limited simultaneous work in a gram panchayat to 20 at a given point of time. Earlier no such restriction was there. It would be difficult to assure 100 working days for a family with this limit. Some state governments have opposed this decision. This condition was relaxed for state of Kerala after protest from state Government. Instead of existing cap of 20 simultaneous works per gram panchayat, the state can have up to 50.

Adding one more blow to workers, on 30January 2023, the Ministry of Rural Development decided that an Aadhaar-Based Payment System (ABPS) will be used for all payments to MGNREGA workers from 1 February 2023. In its notification, the Ministry directed all UT/states to make payments to workers using no other payment mode but ABPS. This will create huge problems for workers as presently only 44% of workers are eligible for payment under ABPS. This means 56% of MNREGA workers will be suffering.

The Ministry has asked all states and union territories for the division of wage lists under the MNREGA into different caste categories – Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and others. It resulted in different categories of workers, separate fund transfer orders, and a separate labour budget which can be delayed sectionally at will. These modalities have created new complications in the payment system which resulted in further delays in the payment of wages. Apart from other concerns, it is very important to understand that this decision is basically against the basic principle of MGNREGA. As stated above MNREGA is a universalised and demand driven programme. Linking caste categorisation with allocations undermines the basis of the law which is also leading to segregation of beneficiaries on the caste basis which is against the proper and just operation of law itself. The social impact is already being seen in rural areas, where groups of workers are getting work on the basis of castes leading to MNREGA work sites according to the caste composition. This will break the unity of the working class and adversely affects struggle for proper implementation of MNREGA.

Recently the Minister of Rural development has given a statement that the wages share under MNREGA which are paid by the Central Government should also be shared by the state government in the ratio of 60:40 (Centre: State). This is very dangerous and reflects the future planning of BJP. Principally BJP and its corporates lobby are not in favour of continuing MNREGA. Prime Minister has admitted his perception about MNREGA in the Parliament where he expressed how he wanted to continue MNREGA only as a live monument of UPA’s failure. This also shows the perspective of BJP about the development of rural India.

MNREGA has shown its importance in poverty elevation and has provided work to the deprived sections and women. The participation of workers from Scheduled Castes and Tribes in MNREGA is more than their general percentage of population. Out of total workers women were 54.78% in the year 2019-20, 53.19% in 2020-21, 54.67% in 2021-22 and almost 56% in 2022-23. The regressive measures implemented by BJP led Central Government are weakening the MNREGA. This will adversely affect the lives of rural people who are already reeling under the condition of unemployment.

It is high time to extend MNREGA into urban areas but the BJP-led Central Government which is busy spreading communal hatred on one hand and assisting the corporates in looting the resources of the country has different priorities. After continuous struggle the Tamil Nadu state government has launched an urban employment scheme but without adequate funds. A similar programme has also been started in Rajasthan.

CITU, AIKS and AIAWU representing the workers, peasants and agricultural workers of this country, have been demanding the government to increase the number of work days under MGNREGA to – days, ensure work to all individuals demanding work under the scheme and payment of Rs 600 per day as wage. They have also been demanding the government to formulate an urban job guarantee Act. But the Modi led BJP government, which does not think twice to extend tax reliefs and exemptions worth lakhs of crores of rupees every year to the big corporates is not willing to allot adequate funds to the job guarantee scheme. This clearly proves that this Modi led BJP government works for the benefit of the Super Rich and the corporates, not for the poor.

The Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally on 5th April 2023 in the national capital is to raise our voice against the anti poor neoliberal policies and communal divisive forces that divide people and disrupt their unity.

Come on, let us join en masse!

Read 2271 times Last modified on Tuesday, 21 March 2023 05:02