Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was enacted through legislation on 25 August 2005. The scheme is basically a job oriented and provides a legal job guarantee for one hundred days to the adult members of any rural household in every financial year. The scheme provides a ‘work opportunity; to adult members who are willing to do unskilled manual work at a minimum wage of Rs. 120 per day. It provides a framework for improving the purchasing power of people staying in rural areas who are primarily unskilled and provide them with work so they can earn a decent livelihood. The scheme was known at the outset as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) but was renamed the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) on 2 October, 2009.

The objectives of MGNREGA are

  •  Increasing employment in rural areas.
  •  Encouraging sustainable development by strengthening the management of natural resources by addressing the aspects of drought, deforestation and soil erosion.
  •  Transparency and accountability in governance.
  •  Strengthening the system of democracy.
  •  Providing a crucial role to the Panchayati Raj Institutions in planning, monitoring and implementation.
  •  Strengthening decentralisation in the country to strengthen democracy.

Drawbacks and Challenges
However, while the objectives are laudable, MGNREGA is beset with many drawbacks and challenges, and consequently considerable trenchant criticism. The drawbacks and challenges form a long list and include :

  1.  Registration problems in terms of caste discrimination.
  2.  Uniform distribution of job cards is a time consuming process and leads to dissatisfaction.
  3.  Illegal charges levied on people for application forms.
  4.  Non-issuance of receipts to applicants.
  5.  Unavailability of necessary facilities at the work places.
  6.  Improper maintenance of attendance of the workers.
  7.  Payments of wages delayed.
  8.  Measurement of work done by the workers a major problem.
  9.  Inadequate number of officials for the scheme.
  10.  Delay in appointments of officials in the villages.

Criticism
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act works towards the betterment of rural areas by giving employment to unskilled rural dwellers. But the scheme is by no means free from corruption which seems to have become endemic in the country. The points of criticism form a much longer list than the drawbacks and challenges faced by the scheme and include :

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  •  The Planning Commission has criticised that the majority of the jobs that are created in this scheme are mainly in the areas of water conservation, land development and drought proofing, whereas, the scheme was designed for overall rural development.
  •  Poor implementation has been a major area of concern in this scheme and criticism on issues such as lack of balanced development and proper, timely action is commonplace.
  •  The Planning Commission has also pointed out that payments to the workers are delayed as there is a late measurement of work.
  •  The upcoming changes are likely to create chances where rural jobs schemes would be used as a medium of vote banks for huge expenditures.
  •  It is felt that the scheme, instead of making any improvements in the rural infrastructure, is just a way of redistributing income.
  •  There are not enough administrative and technical officials. The lack of administrative power in running the scheme in a proper decentralised manner to accomplish the building of blocks and capacity is an area of concern.
  •  The main problem with the scheme is that a grievance redressal system does not exist. As a result, workers find it very difficult to finds a solution to their problems.
  •  As the main focus of the scheme is to provide local employment, it may be discouraging rural workers from going to better places where they can improve their skills. This could well delay the process of achieving economic transformation.
  •  There are lots of deficiencies in the making of job cards and even if job cards are made, they are not handed over to the desired person within the stipulated time.
  •  The payment mode is also very contradictory and in some cases it has also been found that payments are made in the name of dead persons.
  •  Fake job cards and ghost beneficiaries continue to be problem areas.
  •  Only those people closely associated with the Sarpanch get the proper stipulated work duration of 100 days, while the others, who are often in the majority, do not enjoy the full benefits.
  •  The role of villagers in theoretical terms is very high but in practical terms the role of villagers is very minimal in the social audit as majority of the villagers are still not fully aware about the scheme.
Though the scheme in general has provided a broader prospective, its drawbacks are resulting in a lot of questions being raised about its actual viability and value. Less than a year ago, a critique in Business Standard pointed out that due to MGNREGA “Farmers have been complaining about their inability to get cheap labour for their farms. Industry, too, has raised the alarm saying that this is squeezing their margins; higher rural wages mean fewer people are willing to work on construction sites, where a slowdown implies lower output increases in steel, cement and even biscuits that are had by the construction workers during their tea break…” Uneven distribution of benefits is another drawback which has been acknowledged even by Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who said that implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is not satisfactory in states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha in May this year, he said that despite poverty and unemployment in the three eastern states, demand for rural job is not so much as in the other well-to-do states. It was also in May that a radically improved version of MNREGA, expanding the schedule of work under the rural job scheme to enhance productivity in 30 areas including watershed related works, agriculture, livestock, fisheries and sanitation came into force on paper. How it will work out at the ground level remains to be seen. It must be underlined that the Rural Development Ministry spends about 40,000 crores rupees each year on the job guarantee scheme.
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