How The Modi Government is Killing Off MGNREGS -Subodh Varma
Funding is not keeping pace with demand, and delays or vanished dues are discouraging job seekers in these times of extreme rural distress.
Here is a little known but chilling fact about the rural job guarantee scheme, MGNREGS: between April and mid-December this year, about 1.28 crore people who demanded jobs were turned back. This refusal to give work has been happening every year but it has increased after the Modi government came to power in 2014, and it has already hit a record high with over three months still left in this financial year.
Meanwhile, from different states, there are reports of protests by labourers over delayed wages, blocked accounts, missing money, and no work. There is a deepening sense that the job guarantee scheme – a lifeline for off-season work for lakhs of very poor agricultural labourers and small farmers – is in shambles.
Rural areas are already suffering from immense distress because of a raging agrarian crisis, reflected in diminishing farming incomes, stagnant agricultural wages and rising unemployment with such consequences as increasing indebtedness, suicides and out-migration. On top of that, this strangling of the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) has deepened the distress among the poorer sections in rural areas.
What is happening to MGNREGS? Why is there a crisis? Answers to these questions are being demanded across the country.
MGNREGS is being put to a tortured death by the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government through a relentless funds squeeze, delays in payments, technological glitches and lack of any avenue for grievance redressal. Analysis of official data and ground reports from across the country shows that an increasing number of people are being refused work every year, the paucity of funds is causing spending to overshoot every year, payment of hundreds of crore rupees are delayed beyond the stipulated time limit of 15 days, delay compensation is not paid despite a clear law regarding this, and aggrieved people have no method of correcting the growing number of technical glitches arising from the electronic fund transfer systems. All this is topped by increasingly novel ways in which corruption is creeping into the system, snatching away hard-earned and precious wages from the people. Let us put some of these features under the microscope to understand the reasons.
Rising Demand, Sinking Availability of Work
The demand for work in the MGNREGS has been rising continuously (see chart below). Driven by increasing joblessness and farming crisis, millions of people including landless labourers and small or marginal farmers seek some meagre income from the scheme. However, the number of persons actually given work is much less than the demand. Last year, 8.4 crore persons sought work, as per records, but only 7.2 crore were given work.
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