Looking for a new version of MGNREGA
Mains Paper: 2 Social Justice | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population
Prelims level: MGNREGS
Mains level: Merely putting the labour component of other projects in MGNREGA may not lead to any value addition.
- There are several studies and reports that clearly show that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
- It has accomplished its objectives to a large extent.
- Initially, this government derided the programme as some kind of a dole—but it later acknowledged its role in rural development.
- The chief ministers’ council in a Niti Aayog meeting in July demanded labour payments for farm activities, from sowing to harvesting, to be included in MGNREGA.
Addressing the issue
- Can MGNREGS funds be diverted for farming activity in privately held lands, as part of a wage subsidy initiative for cultivators?
- The wage subsidy to cultivators is a viable idea or not can be discussed on some other day.
- But the idea of bringing it under MGNREGS needs urgent attention.
- The recurring work on farms is almost not measurable, so this is like opening the floodgates to leakages.
- This will not create productive assets as is mandatory, according to the Act.
- MGNREGS is meant to be an additional employment opportunity in addition to the opportunity to earn farm wages during the kharif season.
Objectives of MGNREGS’ in the agriculture sector
- Wage and assets have been two sides of the same coin of MGNREGS.
- The permissible works and the type of work being undertaken is an assurance that MGNREGA provided the much-needed basic infrastructure for rain-fed farmers, especially small and marginal farmers.
- A study by the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research for the state of Maharashtra reiterates this premise.
- But, thankfully, wisdom prevailed and now the discussions are about having projects under MGNREGS, which support agriculture but in the pre-sowing and post-harvesting period.
- This is about building productive assets by supplementing it with programmes of other departments.
- The buzz word is convergence.
- Convergence is when two different projects of separate departments can be dovetailed for better outputs.
- Convergence is when a farm pond gets support from the fisheries department and fishing is an additional income; or when the well under MGNREGS gets a motor engine from the agriculture department or tribal department
- The cattle shed under MGNREGS gets additional support from animal husbandry department.
- But, when MGNREGS provides labour costs for sanitation (building toilets) or building houses, then this is a “divergence” of funds.
- These same programmes of rural housing and toilets were earlier part of other programmes of the ministry of rural development, and now are being partially put under MGNREGS.
- While labourers could have got an opportunity to work under these programmes, they are instead getting paid for the same work through MGNREGS.
Problems with convergence
- The work under MGNREGS has to be implemented in coordination with another department.
- Our administrative structures are not tuned to such coordinated implementation mechanisms.
- The architecture for coordination has to be put in place.
- But could this weaken the planning of MGNREGS work by the gram sabhas?
- And how will this “projectivization” of works under MGNREGS affect demand?
- The basic tenets of this programme is that it is demand-based.
- So if a group of villagers put in a demand, but there is no “convergence project” ready to be taken up, then will this lead to more suppressed demand?
What is the purpose of convergence?
- Merely putting the labour component of other projects in MGNREGS may not lead to any value-addition.
- The convergence of MGNREGS projects could be useful, but depends on the type of convergence.
- Another concern is that the ratio for total expenditure on MGNREGS work is 60:40, meaning at least 60% is to be spent on labour wages.
- This was to be maintained at the gram panchayat level, but now it is to be maintained at the district level.
- Gram panchayats could be too small a unit, but a district is the other extreme.
- The danger is that the wage component might be spent by one part of the district and the more politically savvy will corner the material component of the expenditure.
- Hence, a better unit could be a cluster of gram panchayats drawn on lines with their watershed regions.
- It is necessary to discuss how to improve MGNREGS.
- But the basic challenges are still the same, including providing work on demand.
- The challenge is to allocate adequate work when the average work provided to a household hovers between 40 and 50 days.
- The most labourers under MGNREGS are small and marginal farmers, and not just landless ones.
- They are mostly rain-fed farmers, engaged in farming for a single season.
- The way of denying a well-functioning programme is denying the opportunity of development, since the productive assets being made are enhancing their livelihood opportunities.
- By moving away from the demand for sowing, to harvest activities getting included in MGNREGS.
UPSC Prelims Questions:
Q.1) Consider the following statements:
1. Agriculture sector in India has never registered a negative growth rate in past decade.
2. India‟s Services export growth have been accelerating since 1990s.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
UPSC Mains Questions:
Q.1) How the existing MGNREGA scheme can be improved?