The government on Friday increased the number of workdays under its flagship rural jobs guarantee scheme for tribal households to 150, but official data show that no more than 11 per cent of Scheduled Tribe households have been able to complete even the promised 100 days of annual employment over the last few fiscal years.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) promises 100 days of work to every rural household annually. The Congress leadership sees both the jobs scheme and the tribal vote as being electorally crucial. The cabinet has cleared the proposal of the rural development ministry when the model code of conduct is expected to be announced any day now.
“Beneficiaries who have been granted land rights/titles under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006”, will now get 150 days of employment under the MGNREGS, provided they have no other private land, and have already completed 100 days of work under the scheme in that financial year.
According to the ministry’s own data, however, only 11.7 per cent of ST households could complete 100 days of employment in 2011-12. The figure for 2012-13 was worse: 11.08 per cent. No data is available for beneficiaries of the scheme covered by the forest rights Act. But according to the cabinet note, it can be “extrapolated that the same proportion of FRA beneficiaries (as STs) would be expected to avail the additional 50 days of work”.
Ministry officials said it was hoped the move would stem the migration of tribal populations. “Increasing it to 150 days will encourage more tribal housholds to work on their own land — allotted to them under the FRA — under the scheme (MGNREGS),” an official said.
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At a press conference after Friday’s cabinet meeting, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said this move would help fight left-wing extremism and improve the green cover.
But the CPM attacked the decision for being “flawed”. “This is a mockery of the working of MGNREGS in tribal areas. In no tribal area has the percentage of households who have completed 100 days been high,” Politburo member Brinda Karat said. “This is a flawed move that is ignoring the real problems… Tribals are reluctant to work under the scheme because of issues like huge delays in payments. These are the problems that need to be addressed…”
In fact, even the overall national average for participation in the scheme isn’t good. Only 10 per cent of households completed 100 days of work in 2012-13. The average days of employment per household has been just 40.2 this year so far. And in the last two financial years, it was 46.2 and 43.2 respectively. Which means that on average, a household has not got work on even half of its entitled days.
In a similar move in 2012, the government had increased the number of work days under MGNREGA to 150 for drought-hit areas. But according to ministry officials, this did not make much of a difference.