THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 25 May 2020 (The need for a million worksites now(The Hindu))



The need for a million worksites now(The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy
Prelims level: National Rural Employment Guarantee Act
Mains level: Steps towards National Rural Employment Guarantee Act reforms

Context:

  • The plightof migrant workers in recent weeks has invaded television screens and stirrednation’s conscience. Alas, this is just the tip of the wave of hardships that is sweepingthrough the country.
  • The situation looks increasingly alarming in the light of a series of surveys conducted by Azim Premji University (APU) and other institutions.
  • The APU survey, for instance, found that 74% of the respondents were “consuming less food” today than before the lockdown.
  • Another survey was conducted by Farzana Afridi and her colleagues in low-income neighbourhoods of Delhi.
  • It found that 80% of the respondents had not earned any income during the lockdown, 90% reported “financial stress”, and about half were too anxious to sleep at night.

Some support from PDS:

  • The Public Distribution System is preventing the worst. The same surveys show that an overwhelmingmajority of poor households are currently receiving food rations.
  • The doubling of food rations for three ..............................

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Cash Transfer:

  • To cope with the crisis, poor households urgently need a chance to earn cash beyond small mercies.
  • Unconditional cash transfers are not easy to use for this purpose, because there is no simple way of identifying those in need.
  • Universal basic income is a nice idea, but when you do the maths, anything practical tends to reduce the “basic income” to a pittance.
  • India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) offers an obvious alternative, at least for rural areas: employment on demand at basic wages.

Unprecedented Demand:

  • The demand for NREGA work is stronger than ever. This is not surprising: most people would prefer to do some work and earn a little than to sit idle with empty pockets.
  • This huge demand contrasts with the resilientindifference of rural workers towards NREGA in recent years, due to low wages and erraticpayments.
  • Wages are still low, and payments are still far from timely and reliable; what has changed is that for most workers today, there is nothing better on the cards.

Jharkhand example:

  • We had a telling experience of this renewed demand for NREGA work in a number of deprived villages of Latehar districtin the last few days.
  • In this area, the idea of work on demand is still alien to most rural workers, so few of them take the initiative of applying for NREGA work.
  • But whenever we helped people to prepare work applications, men and women from almost every household in the village flocked to the spot with their job cards to fill the forms.

Filling work applications:

  • Without assistance, however, most workers would find it difficult to submit work applications.
  • The sad truth is that except in areas where rural workers are relatively empowered, work applications are not generally initiated by the workers themselves.
  • Instead, they are initiated on their behalf by .................................

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Large-scale opening of NREGA Works:

  • This is one reason why the scale of NREGA works remains very low in many States in spite of a huge demand for employment.
  • This situation calls for large-scale opening of NREGA works on a proactive basis.
  • Every village needs at least one major worksite, where a good number of people can work at short notice.
  • Ideally, workers should be allowed to enrol at the worksite. Further, large-scale employment generation should continue throughout the monsoon, the hardest period of the year for poor people in large parts of rural India.
  • Avertinga humanitarian disaster in the next few months calls for a veritable explosion of NREGA work.

Much can be done to facilitate this:

  • To expanding the list of permissible works, hiring more gram rozgarsevaks, simplifying the implementation process, mobilising para-teachers for work application drives, and so on.
  • And of course, top-down orders to expand the scale of works could work wonders. NREGA is not supposed to be top-down, but it does have a long history of top-down orders, and after all, this is an emergency.

Switch to payment?

  • It is also worth considering a return to cash payment of NREGA wages, at least as an option for the duration of the crisis.
  • This would not only help to ensure timely and reliable payment of wages, but also spare workers the ordealof extracting their wages from overcrowded banks or business correspondents.
  • Further, cash payment of wages would act as a tremendous incentive for rural workers to demand NREGA work, whatever it takes.
  • The idea of a return to cash payment of w...................................

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The NREGA budget:

  • Funds are not an immediate concern since the NREGA budget for 2020-21 has been raised to ₹1-lakh crore or so. But more is likely to be required to meet the tremendous demand for NREGA work.
  • It is important to ensure that funds never dry up: this happened every year in the last few years, leading to huge wage arrears.
  • NREGA is supposed to be a demand-driven programme with an open-ended budget; nothing in the Act authorises the government to impose a budget cap.

Conclusion:

Prelims Questions:

Q1. With reference to the 3rd Tranche of measures under Atmanirbhar Bharat, consider the following statements:
1. The Government will launch the Pradhan Mantri MatsyaSampada Yojana (PMMSY) with an outlay of Rs 20,000 crore for marine and inland fisheries.
2. “Operation Greens” run by Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MOFPI) will be extended from Tomatoes, onion and potatoes (TOP) crops to ALL fruit and vegetables.

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

Answer:.................................

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Mains Questions:
Q1.  Averting a humanitarian disaster in .................................................


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