The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has completed 10 years and the NDA government recently claimed that its rule has resulted in a “transformation” in the implementation of the scheme. The veracity of the claim is highly questionable as we observe a wide lacuna in its implementation in several places. Here, we focus on the conditions of its implementation in Mahabubnagar district in Telangana, with particular emphasis on Ghattu mandal (a sub-district unit).
The government of Telangana has declared 231 mandals in seven of its districts as drought-affected. This includes all the 64 mandals in Mahabubnagar. The government has increased the number of days of employment under the MGNREGA from 100 to 150 days a year in these mandals.
Notwithstanding the drought, only 4 per cent of households have completed 100 days of work. Moreover, work hasn’t even started in 273 panchayats in the district. With less than 60 days remaining this financial year, it is unlikely that most households will even reach the quota of 100 days of employment, let alone 150 days. What explains this anomaly? The low worker turnout can broadly be attributed to the lack of village-level staff and the apathy of the existing staff.
A field assistant (FA)/ senior mate (SM), the village-level state representative, is a crucial link connecting the labourers in a village to the mandal office and the success of the MGNREGA depends on the presence of a reliable FA. The absence of an FA results in a lack of registration of demand for work and, consequently, a lack of employment. Additionally, new job cards are not being issued, further exacerbating the unemployment rate in the hinterlands.
Our investigation shows that 29 per cent of the panchayats in the district don’t have any FA/ SM. A large number of labourers are queueing up for work, but we observe a complete apathy displayed by many officials. Despite the fact that only 2 per cent of works have been completed in Telangana this financial year, the labourers are regularly being sent away. Even in cases where labourers submit their demand, they are denied a receipt on the pretext that receipt books are not available. This further denies them the right to unemployment allowance in case of work not being allotted — a gross violation of the MGNREGA. In several cases where the demand has been accepted, the actual work allocation hasn’t happened on the field, but we get to see a “success story” on the government website. Online data suggests that work allotment has happened while no such allotment has actually happened on the ground.
Another cause for concern is the largescale delay in payments. This has led to further disillusionment. Post offices constitute
one of the entities in the basket of payment agencies for wage disbursement. But we found that just in Mahabubnagar, 52,802 people have been affected due to delays exceeding 90 days. This delay in postal payments can again be primarily attributed to the dearth of staff and the lack of monitoring by district officials.
In short, we found that the twin pillars of the MGNREGA — work demand registration and timely wage disbursement — are in complete peril in Mahabubnagar. The ramifications of such slippages are both economic and social — a rise in indebtedness and distress migration, disruptions in children’s education and increased health hazards.
What should the government do? One, fill vacant positions at the earliest. Two, ensure that the shelf of works is displayed prominently. Three, ensure that mandal officials receive the demand forms from the labourers and provide receipts. Four, activate muster-wise registers to fix the accountability of the FAs. Five, we strongly hypothesise that wage disbursement through the core banking system with a banking correspondent in the village would be more robust, sustainable and, hence, less prone to payment delays. This should be backed by monthly review meetings by the district authorities. Last, there must be a neutral body to ensure that the government pays a penalty for the violation of promises as embodied in the act.