As the construction and other infrastructure related works have slowed down across the country due to cash crunch post demonetization, the rural populace, farmers, and labourers had pinned their hopes on the jobs available to them under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
However, their hopes have diminished as the scheme has been failing to meet requirements, which have ostensibly gone up as the jobs in real estate and infrastructure sector have declined in the last two months.
The scheme has been able to provide only 35 days of average employment in the country this financial year so far.
Poll-bound Goa, Manipur, Punjab, and UP have fared worse than the national average by giving an average of 14, 19, 25, and 28 days of jobs respectively, which paints a grim picture.
These and many other states are below a quarter of the target even as less than three months are left to end the financial year. Notably, the Centre’s ambitious scheme rolled out in 2006 guarantees 100 days of an unskilled job to every Indian rural household annually.
Maharashtra has provided an average of 44 days of employment up to the first week of January. This appears better when compared with northern states. However, in some districts the figures have been much below the national average. Besides, it is grossly inadequate considering the alarmingly high number of farmer suicides in the state.
“It is unlikely that the country or any particular state would meet the target of 100 days by March end. In fact, the target of 100 days was never met even in the previous years due to scarcity of funds,” admitted an official associated with the Rural Development Ministry. The scheme offered an average of 48.8 days of employment in 2015-16, say statistics. As per an estimate, the country needs at least 75 per cent more allocation in the wages budget to offer 100 days of job to every aspirant.
Scarcity of work in the poll-bound states may cost the incumbent government dearly, say observers. “The perception among villagers is that the MGNREGS is no more a priority of the government which seeks to focus on creating wealth sans generation of jobs,” says Vivek Pandit, former legislator and social worker.
Over two-thirds of the MGNREGS work is linked to agriculture and sustainable livelihood in villages. The daily wage of MGNREGS ranges from Rs 150 – Rs 190 a day. The wages differ from state to state and are revised time to time as per the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour.
Over 12.69 crore households are registered under the scheme, though the active households are approximately 7.22 crore. Of them, over 10 lakh households (1.4%) got 100 days of wage employment so far, say government figures which explains the scarcity of the work and livelihood opportunities in the country.
The total availability of funds for the entire country is Rs 42,050 crore as of now, which is Rs 1,300 crore less than the previous year.
Experts and activists express concern over the skewed availability of work for the rural folk. “Despite poor implementation and delayed payments, the scheme has been helpful in income generation for rural households.
Skewed jobs will fuel more hunger, malnutrition, and farmer suicides than we are currently dealing with,” says Mahesh Raut, a tribal activist.
Meanwhile, the Palghar district of Maharashtra, known for malnutrition deaths has been the worst in the state in offering MGNREGS jobs to poor rural folks. The district has provided an average of 26 days of jobs to the potential labourers till the first week of January. Thane (30 days) and Kolhapur (27 days) are just behind Palghar.