For states hit with severe drought, the latest decision of the Ministry of Rural Development to continue providing 150 days of employment under MGNREGA may come as a much-needed succour. However, data shows that in 2015-16 of the households that were provided work under the scheme in these regions, merely 1.8 per cent got full 150 days of employment.
The data for 10 drought-hit states show that a total of 1.52 crore people got employment under MGNREGA in the financial year ending March 31, 2015. But of this, just 2.80 lakh i.e. 1.8 per cent were employed for 150 days.
In states such as Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the proportion of such workers is 0.2 per cent or less. The data is specifically that of the 1 lakh gram panchayats in the 10 states categorised as drought affected including in Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
However, central government officials attributed the low off-take as a reflection of the demand as they said MGNREGA was demand-driven.
“There isn’t much gap between work demanded and supplied,” said an official. Going by absolute numbers this is true: of the 1.78 crore households registered as having demanded work, 85 per cent have been provided with some form of work under the scheme. However, the registered official demand is a conservative figure of the actual demand on ground.
Activists have blamed lack of funding for agencies at the state government level for not registering the demand unless they are able to provide work. This is because the Act mandates that once a demand is registered, work has to be provided within 15 days or else the state has to bear the liability of paying each worker an unemployment allowance.
Nikhil Dey of Rajasthan-based Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan said, “In a drought scenario, the government can’t produce fodder or water and, hence, NREGA is the only instrument that can generate work and wages for those affected. Last year, there weren’t even enough funds to provide for 100 days of work let alone 150 days. Unless the finance ministry gives funds required for MGNREGA, neither the Rural Development ministry nor the state agencies can carry out their mandate.”
The Centre has claimed that the Rs 38,500 crore allotted to the scheme in this year’s Budget is the highest ever. But Dey pointed out that even if the scheme were to continue as per allocations in 2010-11 while adjusting for inflation, the current allocation would have to be nothing less than Rs 65,000 crore.
MGNREGA guarantees 100 days of wage employment annually for rural households willing to do unskilled manual work. In September 2015, with the monsoon deficit adversely affecting Kharif crop and, thereby, rural incomes, the Cabinet approved 150 days of employment per household in drought-hit areas. However, there was no corresponding increase in the budget allocation for the scheme.
Last year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had promised an additional Rs 5,000 crore if the scheme requires it. However, it was only after several states sought more funds, the finance ministry released Rs 2,000 crore.