|Photo Source: Ministry of Rural Development, GOI|
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is another such historic anti-poverty policy step that India has laid down in the year 2005, which came in force in 2006. It addresses the issue of India’s massive rural unemployment challenge by creating a right-based framework and guaranteeing 100 days of wage-employment to a rural household, whose adult members volunteer for unskilled manual work. It makes government accountable for providing employment to those who ask for it and guarantees right to employment. In the larger context, it aims at enhancing livelihood security, social protection and capital asset creation to develop long term sustainable model for local and rural economy of India.
MGNREGA began its journey with 200 most distressed districts of India, and within this short span of 7 years time till 2013, it has covered all the 644 districts with a massive expansion across 6576 blocks and 778134 villages. The average wage per day per person is Rs 132.6. The All India minimum average daily wage rates in different occupation in both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors also have gone high substantially. But MGNREGA has ensured to give equal wage to both men and women, which so far was unimaginable in rural India. Such increase in wage rates has helped to boost the consumption pattern in rural India. Thus according to NSSO estimates the rural MPCE has gone high from Rs 579.17 in 2004-05 to Rs 953.05 in 2009-10 and then to Rs 1287.17 in 2011-12. The food expenditure share has gone down to 53%, with 10%, 8%, 6% and 8% in cereal, milk & milk products, vegetables and beverages & processed food. While in non-food category, the share is almost equal for major items like clothing (8%), medical (7%) and education (7%). This is an encouraging scenario reflecting better living standard in rural India. The rural poverty ratio in India has also gone down to 25.70% (2166.58 lakhs persons) in 2011-12 from 33.8% (2782.1 lakhs) in 2009-10 and 42% (3258.1 lakhs) in 2004-05. MGNREGA is the first ever act globally which guarantees employment at an unprecedented scale, touching to 732 lakhs rural population by the year 2013-14. It targets the most vulnerable and marginalized sections where women share almost 50% (351 lakhs), SCs share 23% (167 lakhs) and STs share 18% (129 lakhs) of total employment.
With such scale and coverage, MGNREGA certainly has penetrated the challenge of unemployment in rural India. But while critiquing many are of the opinion that MGNREGA has failed utterly in asset creation and has not optimally achieved the objective to strengthen natural resource management through works that address cases of chronic poverty like drought, deforestation, soil erosion, and to have a long term sustainable development frame. The total sanctioned work under MGNREGA in 2012-13 was 70.50 lakhs, of which only 10.21 lakhs (15%) projects are completed; where works like water conservation constitutes 60%, irrigation 12%, rural connection 17%, land development 8% and rural sanitation 0.22%. It is also being argued that as the scheme targets the unskilled workers, who henceforth do not develop any skill for their future workforce participation. Therefore to make it more useful, the workforce can be exposed to certain skill development programme, which later can be used at least for self-employment opportunities. In terms of financial leakages, it is being argued and verified by CAG reports that there is large scale of misappropriation of MGNREGA funds across some states in India. The states therefore need to be highly vigilant and pro-active as the expenditure of the scheme is incremental. For example in 2012-13, the total fund allocation has gone high to Rs 39735.4 crores from Rs 37072.7 crores in 2011-12 (7% rise by an year) with wage expenditure alone sharing around 75%. There are also serious problems of state-level delivery in wage and employment days, and there exists huge inter-state variation in the performance outcome of MGNREGA. Thus household employment in the year 2012-13 was highest in Tamil Nadu with 64.8 lakhs and lowest in Punjab with 1.7 lakhs. The women share in employment in the same year was 94% in Kerala and 19% in Uttar Pradesh with national average of 53%. Thus both social and financial audits need to be more rigorous and regular along with the role of states at implementation level. Finally to attain optimum development outcome from MGNREGA as one of the most successful right-based employment policies in the world, it may need certain revision at structural level by incorporating more voices of rural India.
· Annual Reports, Ministry of Rural Development, GOI
· NSSO reports, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, GOI
· Annual Reports, Ministry of labour, GOI
· Press Notes, Planning Commission, GOI