In what the Jharkhand government says is the first such move by any state, the Rural Development Ministry has started capturing work demand under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) through its social audit unit (SAU), generating nearly 6 lakh demands for work in around a month since the system began in mid-August.
According to officials, this is a big shift in the work demand process—separating demand generating and implementing agencies—and is likely to change the way MGNREGA functions in the state.
Illustrating how much more work demand has been generated, SAU state coordinator Gurjeet Singh said during the corresponding period in the last three financial years, around 2 lakh person days of work was generated—under MGNREGA, a representative from each household is eligible to get 100 days of work each year. “This has jumped to 5.2 lakh person days (this time) due to the pressure of work demand and receipt, which this new system has evolved,” Singh said.
Work demands were earlier generated through ‘Rozgaar Sewaks’—there is one in each panchayat of the state—who would go village to village and raise awareness about the concept of MGNREGA, get demands for work, sanction the schemes, and finally make the payments.
This was a long and tedious process.
The SAU, under the Rural Development Department, created to “promote transparency and accountability in implementation” of various programmes, has now been made responsible for generating demands for work.
Work demand of essence
Under MGNREGA, work gets rolling only when a person demands work for any asset creation. The worker then is liable to be paid unemployment allowance in case the government fails to provide him/her work within 15 days. However, the culture of demanding work and getting a receipt—on the time by which work has to be sanctioned—from the authorities could never be streamlined in Jharkhand, as in other parts of the country, due to conflict of interest, as the same team of people was responsible for work demand generation and sanction.
This, officials say, is easier, because more SAU personnel are out on the field, doing social audit of work already done and those underway, and can get more people to demand work than Rozgar Sewaks were able to, given the multiple roles they had to play.
Aradhana Patnaik, the Jharkhand Rural Development Secretary, said work demands started to decline due to a strike by MGNREGA personnel, including Rozgar Sewaks, for over a month since July-end.
But with many migrant workers returning from other states during the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, there was a lot of demand for work, she pointed out.
“We were getting feedback that workers want to work but were not able to reach out to the system due to the strike, among other reasons,” Patnaik said. “Earlier, the same system was responsible for demand generation as well as providing work – through Rozgaar Sewaks. So we innovated and started a system of getting work demand through SAU.”
Within 15-20 days, she said, nearly 6 lakh people demanded work under MGNREGA. “This is a unique initiative of Jharkhand, the first in the country: We have separated demand generation and the implementing agency, resulting in more accountability,” Patnaik said.
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According to government figures, 17.11 lakh people have worked under MGREGA in Jharkhand until now in the ongoing financial year, generating 419.71 lakh person days of work.
“The team members of SAU started capturing demands and sent them to a dedicated email and WhatsApp number…. Until now, 5,86,000 workers have demanded work in Jharkhand through this process and officials are facing the heat because failing to provide work will mean payment of unemployment allowance,” SAU state coordinator Singh said.
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