The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which was passed into law by the Parliament in 2006 with unanimous support, faces extensive amendments following the move to make the scheme more productive.
The Union Minister for Rural Development, Nitin Gadkari has ordered “sweeping changes” in the MGNREGA pushing the rural households into deeper trouble. The central government is likely to tweak the wage-to-material ratio from 60:40 to 51:49. The MGNREGA guarantees 100 days of employment in a financial year to any rural household whose adult members are willing to do unskilled manual work. But Gadkari’s latest move reduces the funds for the wages under the scheme. MGNREGA brings relief to crores of jobless rural individuals who are employed as labourers for various construction works. The Rs 33, 000 crore schemes was the brainchild of the former Congress government and had been criticised by the BJP as being ineffective and wasteful. The BJP had also said, then, that after coming to power it would make the scheme more productive by making it more asset-oriented. Experts on the matter, signatories like Prabhat Patnaik, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Jean Dreze and Harsh Mander and over a hundred citizens have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, seeking “immediate assurance” that such “retrograde, anti-poor and anti-labour measures” would be withdrawn.
The Centre is also likely to tweak the scheme to focus it more on the backward areas which in turn interferes with its promise of universal employment. The reduction in the wages would lead to a 40% fall in the jobs and reportedly, affect five crore rural families. A 60:40 labour-material ratio means cost of material for a project cannot exceed 40 per cent of the total cost, while expenses on labour can go up to 60 per cent. So making the ratio 51:49 would only dilute the scheme’s labour-intensive nature. Analysts have also found that even under the current 60:40 ratio, many states have been unable to utilize the components part of the funds.
The BJP before coming to power had pledged creation of employment opportunities. The same party is now trying to block the MGNREGA, the only legal guarantee for creation of jobs for individuals from poor families. Modi should not merely promise the well being of citizens but earnestly make efforts to pull the citizens from below the poverty line. MGNREGA is an important step towards the realization of the right to work. It should therefore be strengthened and the rights of the poor beneficiaries should be protected. A sincere implementation of the Act and an active monitoring should be carried out to ensure justice to thousands of rural households across India.