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Strengthening MGNREGA is important to  alleviate rural distress

The  election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party has been recently  announced and MGNREGA has been completely ignored in the manifesto. While more than 13 crore people across the country are dependent on MGNREGA and it is being the  biggest employment opportunity for the rural sector,  not even a mention of NREGA in the party’s election manifesto shows that  employment is a non priority for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The BJP  in it’s election manifesto has announced that 14 crore farmers will be covered under the PM-Kisan scheme where a section of the farmers  get a cash benefit of Rs 6000 per year. The BJP manifesto further talks about  “crop insurances” and “short term zero interest crop loans”.

While it is now clear that  targeted cash transfer plans have  it’s own set of hassles. From  identification of beneficiaries to benefits  reaching to the beneficiary’s  bank accounts, each and  every process is  greatly troublesome. Further, cash transfer programmes through the current fragile rural banking system is not a good idea at all.  On top of it, targeted cash transfer programmes are more prone to malpractices and leakages as  the local processes of identification and enrolment are not transparent and the administration is highly non accountable.

Crop insurances and agriuclture loans  do not have any value for the small holders and marginal farmers.  Most importantly, the landless and  most vulnerable families do not benefit from this at all, whereas  MGNREGA is the only  scheme which  not only create rural employment opportunities, it has a potential to transform the rural livelihoods  through  conservation and  development of  natural resources and creation of    assets such as wells, cattle sheds and water harvesting tanks which in turn increase the livelihood opportunities and strengthen the economic condition of the  rural families.  In other words a comprehensive development of the area is possible through  solid implementation of MGNREGA.

MGNREGA provides equal opportunities to  all the rural families from each and every social and economic backgrounds as it is an universal programme designed to ensure an inclusive growth. MGNREGA provides equal wages to men and women and creates a gender parity in the rural works.

while targeted schemes can only benefit a certain section of  rural society, strengthening MGNREGA would be a more prudent option to  solve the problems related to poverty and employment in the rural areas. Ignoring MGNREGA  in it’s election manifesto the  BJP has proved that their popular slogan “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas” holds no value in reality.

Here are some of the ways how MGNREGA can be strengthened:

The solutions are embedded in the Act itself but this government never really cared to honour the idea of decentralization to intensify the MGNREGA outcomes. Below are few of the solutions to the core issues:

  • The government should stop utilizing MGNREGA as a supplementary programme to the already existing asset building schemes. The idea of MGNREGA was to ensure additional 100 days of employment for the rural families so that the creation of jobs increases.
  • MGNREGA wages should be calculated in accordance with the state’s minimum wages and should never be less than the minimum wages. This will in turn increase the local wages for other rural works.
  • Gram panchayats should be empowered as administrative sanctioning authorities so that schemes of local priorities can be taken up and the accountability structure between gram sabhas and the gram panchayats can be established.
  • The implementation of MGNREGA should be de-linked from MIS; however, the website should continue to show the work that is done on the ground. A post-implementation offline entry system should be put in place; more importantly gram panchayats should be having all details and papers regarding the schemes, it should maintain the related registers and then the records can be uploaded on MIS so that the true reflection of work can is shown on MIS and one can also verify them with the locally kept records and registers. It is important that such an MIS arrangement comes with a complete decentralization of planning, sanctioning, implementation and payments.
  • The electronic payments system can continue but it should be done in a decentralized manner wherein the gram panchayats receive funds into their accounts so that local issues have a local solution, and accountability mechanisms remain intact.
  • MGNREGA has been stagnant since it’s inception with absolutely no value addition; to add more value to the programme, more power and entitlements should be provided to the people. The person workdays should be increased to at least 200 days.
  • Mandatory imposition of Aadhaar should be revoked. MGNREGA being a rural job scheme, technically section 7 of the aadhaar Act does not seem to apply on MGNREGA, wherein workers get paid against their work and do not receive a subsidy or benefit. Aadhaar impositions have only created hassles and added nothing to the payments system, nor could it control any corruption.
  • The government must establish social audit unit in each state as an independent autonomous organization and carry out annual social audit processes at each and every block.

It will be a wise move to strengthen MGNREGA and run it with the true spirit of employment guarantee to ensure employment and prosperity in villages, and this will also result in solid rural assets and infrastructures which will further strengthen the livelihoods of the locals.
There are currently about 13 crore job card holding rural households, yet many are left out as they haven’t yet got registered. It will be meaningful if  MGNREGA can be   rejuvenated  in the interest of the rural poor through decentralized mechanisms and solid leakage free implementation.

From  agriculture to healthcare , the BJP government has only talked about insurance schemes which are benefiting only the private companies. Thus a pertinent question arises that, who is the BJP government endearing and whose development does it want?

This is the updated version of an article previously published on Counterview.net ( https://www.counterview.net/2019/04/overcentralization-reason-why-mgnrega.html)

Debmalya Nandy is a social Worker


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