The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has a significant influence on agricultural operations and cultivation costs. If its present focus on community works can be reoriented to proactively promote improvements on the landholdings of small and marginal farmers through the creation of durable assets, it will be beneficial for agricultural productivity and incomes.
Critics say that the MGNREGS draws labour away from agricultural operations and hikes up costs through increased wages. They hold that leakages and corruption have vitiated rural work culture and the assets generated do not justify the huge expenditure (budget outlay of Rs 33,000 crore in 2013-14). Supporters see a model of inclusive development, creating durable assets. The scheme is credited for mitigating distress migration, improving household food security, enhancing the bargaining power of rural labour, generating “green employment” and fostering climate-resilient agriculture.
The linkage of the MGNREGS with agriculture is in-built in the legislation. Permissible works include land development and soil conservation, water harvesting, irrigation provisioning, drought proofing, horticulture, tree-plantation and afforestation. Works under the MGNREGS can be taken up on both community and private lands. Small and marginal farmers, SC/ST and Indira Awaas Yojana beneficiaries are eligible for taking up works on their own lands.
Some people think durable assets mean only brick and mortar structures. But a different school of thought recognises that a rejuvenated and replenished natural resource base — land, water, biodiversity — is an even more valuable asset. For the lives and livelihoods of millions of small holder farmers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, herders and fisher folk depend upon the productive capacity of these natural resources.
The thrust of the MGNREGS in the past eight years has been to open up works on community lands. The proportion, last year, of works taken up on private lands was a mere 11 per cent. This needs to be raised to at least 50 per cent. The impetus to agriculture will be triggered when there is greater asset creation on individual farms. Such a shift in emphasis would incentivise small holders to take up works leading to restoration and revitalisation of their own farmland, higher productivity and consequently more agricultural employment. Landless unskilled labour could benefit from the additional employment generated from small farms and also continue to supplement their income from the MGNREGS, albeit on a lesser scale.
The productive value of small landholdings could be enhanced further with material and technical inputs from effective convergence with other ongoing agricultural development programmes such as the National Food Security Mission, the horticulture mission, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, the National Rural Livelihoods Mission and the National Agroforestry Policy. A study on the creation of assets on the lands of small and marginal farmers, SC/ST and Indira Awaas Yojana beneficiaries in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, continued…