Rural Distress: 9 Crore Applied For MGNREGS Work Last Year -Subodh Varma
Shrinking farm incomes, frozen wages and lack of jobs is driving people to work in the scheme for a pittance.
Nearly 9 crore Indians applied for work in the rural jobs guarantee scheme (MGNREGS) in 2017-18, according to data put out by the ministry of rural development. That’s a staggering 42% of the rural work force. Of those who applied for work, some 1.4 crore persons (or about 15%) were turned back with 7.6 crore actually getting work.
In the Modi era, which started in 2014, work seekers in MGNREGS has risen dramatically from about 7.3 crore in 2014 to nearly 9 crore in 2017-18 – a jump of nearly 23%.
Work under the rural jobs scheme is poorly paid, irregular, casual labour. It is mostly hard manual work in civil works like making roads, digging ponds and so on. Yet people in rural India are flocking to seek it in ever increasing numbers. Coming as this does in a second successive good monsoon year, and with overall agricultural output at near record levels, the massive surge of work seekers shockingly reveals the dire job crisis facing India’s rural areas.
While the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the govt. have been assuring people that farmers’ incomes will double by 2022, that 1 crore jobs will be created every year and that farmers will get produce prices that are 50% more than their production cost, these work-seekers’ figures starkly show that none of these promises has been fulfilled.
Recently, on 31 March, the ministry ‘revised’ the wage-rates to be effective from 1 April under the scheme in different states. The average daily wage works out to just Rs.182.9. In 2017-18, on an average, people got just 46 days of work in the scheme. This is the slender thread by which 7.6 crore people hung on and survived last year.
Except two, all other states’ wage rates under MGNREGS are less than the statutory minimum wage for agricultural workers in the state. The two states with MGNREGS wages higher than the state’s minimum wage are Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu where the daily minimum wage rate is already very low, at Rs.194 in Maharashtra and Rs.195 in Tamil Nadu.
In at least 10 states, including many of the BJP ruled states like Bihar, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, there is no revision of the MGNREGS wage – it will continue to be the same as last year. Some other BJP ruled states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh wages have been increased by just Rs.2 per day!
According to data put out by the rural development ministry, in 2017-18 just 46 days of work was made available under the scheme, although the Act that governs the scheme says that 100 days of work has to be provided. In previous years too the average was of this order.
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