Most unmet demand in MGNREGA work has been found in Uttar Pradesh (27%), Madhya Pradesh (22%) and Bihar (20%), finds People's Action for Employment Guarantee
-Press Note by People's Action for Employment Guarantee dated September 10th, 2020
MGNREGA during the pandemic and beyond: Implementation highlights, concerns and questions and demands for parliamentarians
We are confronting an unprecedented crisis in the history of modern India. On the one hand, the increasing number of COVID cases point to a dubious distinction for India on the world stage. On the other hand, the unplanned lockdown has resulted in a massive crisis of livelihood and high levels of food insecurity. Having endured severe hostility and distress, the majority of migrant workers returned home to their villages over the lockdown period and many are yet to return to cities. With limited employment opportunities in rural India, the only viable dignified livelihood option for many of these migrants as well as the rest of the rural poor, is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).
Over the last 6 six years, NREGA has been plagued with several issues. First, the programme has been routinely under-funded, resulting in it becoming a de facto supply driven programme, with massive delays in wage payments, for many who managed to secure work. Second, in several states, the NREGA wages have been below the minimum wages which has discouraged workers from seeking employment in the programme. Third, these critical issues combined with a move away from community asset creation to promotion of material-intensive, individual assets, has adversely impacted the generation of adequate employment for landless workers, and posed challenges for the monitoring and implementation of the programme. Please click here to access the background note on the present status of MGNREGA (April-August, 2020).
Despite treating it like a supply-driven programme instead of a demand-based employment guarantee, it is heartening that for the first time in six years, the Government of India (GoI) has recognised the import of NREGA. In light of the current crisis, Rs 40,000 crores were allocated by the GoI in addition to the original allocation of Rs 60,000 crores made in the Union Budget in February, 2020. So far this year, timely and adequate allocation of funds has implied timely payment of wages. While in absolute terms, this is the highest ever allocation, but the financial year (FY) began with pending wage liabilities of around Rs 16,000 crores. So, fresh allocation for the current fy is actually around Rs 84,000 crores. Even considering Rs 1 lakh crores as the allocation, as a percentage of the GDP (~0.48%), it is still like what it was in 2010-11. Even before the half-way mark in this fy, about Rs 64,000 crores have already been spent. As on September 9, 2020, there is already a deficit of more than Rs 481 crores. Unless the additional promised amount of Rs 40,000 crores is released immediately, delays in wage payments that have already begun will compound the woes of the marginalised.
India was going through a massive agrarian distress with stagnant rural incomes and high levels of unemployment well before the onset of the pandemic. For instance, as per the leaked Consumption Expenditure Survey, the Monthly Per Capita Consumption Expenditure (MPCE) in rural India declined across the entire cross-section of rural society in 2017-18 from 2011-12. This is a first in four decades pointing to substantially low income levels. Similarly, unemployment levels have also been the highest in four decades. It was in this context that numerous academics and activists had demanded a minimal allocation of Rs 1 lakh crores for NREGA well before the onset of the pandemic. The current crisis induced by the lockdown has amplified the misery and distress of the working class. There is, therefore, an urgent need to further underscore the importance of NREGA as a lifeline for millions of poor in the country as one way to resurrect their lives.
The People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) has been closely monitoring and advocating the need for the implementation of NREGA in letter and spirit. PAEG has released 3 trackers over the last two months focussing on the core issues and the performance of NREGA. Through this press conference, we aim to present the current status of NREGA implementation, and seek to strongly convey the immediate need to double the number of days of work, as well as double the allocation for the programme in order to facilitate its continuation as a lifeline for the millions of workers who have been so severely disadvantaged in COVID times.
You can watch the full recording of the press conference on Peoples' Action for Employment Guarantee YouTube page -
Please check below the workers' testimonies played during the press conference.
Workers' Testimonies Part 1 -
Workers' Testimonies Part 2 -
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