The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA), launched in 2006, aims to provide 100 days of wage employment to every rural household whose adult members are willing to work. The scheme has been described as the world’s largest rights based employment guarantee programme. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been as successful as envisaged. Here are 6 major problems that have contributed to its incompetence.
1. Not everyone gets the employment they were guaranteed
The MGNREGA scheme was envisaged to be an all-inclusive programme that provided job opportunities even to the marginalised sections of society. However, this does not seem to be the ground reality. Gender discrimination has led to fewer women benefiting from NREGA. A similar stigma attached to differently abled individuals has caused them to be ignored under this scheme. Casteism also plays a big role in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and is often used as a filter for allocating jobs. The scheme treats joint families as one entity rather than dividing it into many nuclear families. Since only one member of a family can be employed under this scheme and most rural families adhere to a joint family system, not everyone gets the benefits they deserve.
2. Poor planning does more harm than good
This scheme was formulated to create valuable assets for rural India while simultaneously providing productive employment opportunities to the unskilled population. Unfortunately, many believe that no actual assets seem to have come out of this due to inadequate planning. Skilled individuals such as engineers or architects are required to formulate constructive NREGA projects. In most cases this skilled staff is absent or not employed. Supervisors are generally too overburdened with other tasks to take on this additional role. Meanwhile, farmers are slowly giving up agriculture and taking up unskilled labour under this scheme, since selling agricultural land can be more profitable than cultivating it. This hurts both the agrarian nature of the rural society and the country’s economy, which largely depends on farming.
3. The execution of this scheme is questionable
Execution of MGNREGA is perhaps the area where the scheme is most lacking. Although it seems great on paper, the government has failed to spread adequate knowledge and awareness about the scheme. Therefore, NREGA workers are often exploited and denied their rights, only because they don’t know any better. For example, workers are entitled to an unemployment allowance in the event that they are not provided with a job within 15 days. However, since most workers don’t know to ask for this allowance, it goes unpaid.The scheme makes it necessary for the NREGA work sites to include basic facilities such as drinking water, shade and adequate provisions for children. Unfortunately, most sites do not include these facilities, making women hesitant to apply. The scheme does not provide for a uniform wage rate throughout the country. Hence, some states offer higher wages while others offer less than the minimum wage, making the wage distribution system extremely unfair. Additionally, due to bureaucratic inefficiency, many times workers are not given their wages on time or sometimes not paid at all because receipts that act as proof of work haven’t been issued. Due to the prevalence of casteism and preference of farming over unskilled labour, states differ in terms consistency of implementation. While West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh have good success rates whereas states such as Bihar and Madhya Pradesh show lower success rates.
4. The scheme is riddled with corruption
Like various other welfare schemes in the country, MGNREGA is being crippled by corruption. The workers are asked to pay a fee for an application form, which is a violation of the provisions of the scheme since an application can be submitted even on a plain paper without a fee. Local authorities issue more job cards than the number of workers employed to acquire a larger amount of funding from the government. These local officers then pocket the excess money. There have also been instances of local people issuing fake job cards or paying bribes to the authorities to acquire a job card to receive NREGA wages.
5. Projects are repeatedly disrupted
The projects under MGNREGA are subject to constant disruptions and with a significant part of the rural population depending on wages from the scheme, this can be quite problematic. Natural disasters and insurgencies in the North East often shut down MGNREGA work. Elections have been seen to be a major source of disruption as even a local election or by polls lead to projects being abandoned temporarily. This means that for the major part of the year, there is no work that’s done. Protests by activists on issues such as working conditions and payment of dues have repeatedly disrupted the projects and hence brought down the success rates of the projects.
MGNREGA is one of the most talked about schemes of the country. Under the current government, the scheme has received its largest fund allocation and this has resulted in the scheme faring slightly better. However, the challenges faced by it are still pretty evident and if these challenges are properly dealt with, the scheme has the scope of being a game changer, putting the country on the right track towards inclusive development.