Water

Can MGNREGA be the answer to rural distress caused by COVID-19

The rural job scheme can not only provide a great opportunity to jobless workers but also push the water conservation drive

 
By Sushmita Sengupta
Published: Monday 13 April 2020
Photo: Neha Sakhujia

The people of India not only need to fight to save their lives from the deadly coronavirus but also their livelihoods, feels Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The worst-hit amid the spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are no doubt the poor, especially the ones living in rural India.

On the one hand, the poor face the burden of health due to shortage of infrastructural facilities and on the other hand, they will face the heat of poverty due to loss of livelihood.

It is important to note whether the rural job scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has come as a rescue or not.

It is also important to see whether MGNREGA is helping the country to tide over the water crisis through water conservation when COVID-19 talks about washing hands frequently.

Lets first look at what the government has announced for helping poor labourers. The Government of India planned to release all the pending wages under the rural job scheme of MGNREGA by April 10, 2020 according to media reports.

The money is supposed to reach the accounts of the beneficiaries directly, say these reports. However, the MIS states that there are pending wages for the unskilled labour of 10 crore, while Rs 694 crore has been spent on unskilled labour wage till April 13, 2020. The MIS also states that the amount disbursed directly to the skilled and semi-skilled accounts in the present financial year is Rs 627 crore. 

The rural job scheme involves skilled / semi-skilled and unskilled labourers.

What about the main areas of work under MGNREGA in FY 2020-2021?

The top three components where the maximum work has been focussed are: works on individual lands, water conservation and water harvesting and drought proofing. The work demand created till April 13, 2020, is just 15 per cent of what was generated in the month of April in FY 2019-20.

This shows that group labour work, which is the main focus of the rural job scheme, has been demotivated to stop the spread of virus. Thus, in this financial year, the top priority has been given to work on individual land.

The major work of the water conservation drive under the new Jal Shakti Ministry is routed through MGNREGA; but the scare of the virus has reduced such work and the money spent this financial year on water-related work is just 21.6 per cent of all the work.

The low expenditure on water-related work under MGNREGA in FY 2020-2021

S No. State Number of Blocks Number of Water Related works %age of works on water related works against total works Expenditure on water related works [In Lakhs] Expenditure on All works [In Lakhs] %age of expenditure on water related works against total expenditure
Ongoing Completed
1 Andaman and Nicobar 9 122 0 18.02 0 1.12 0
2 Andhra Pradesh 661 82160 455 8.75 131.55 479.4 27.44
3 Arunachal Pradesh 115 414 0 11.14 2.27 2.27 100
4 Assam 239 12138 2 5.63 31.37 45.31 69.23
5 Bihar 534 28269 13 1.69 0.01 30.28 0.03
6 Chhattisgarh 146 34261 202 11.64 244.88 816.41 29.99
7 Dadra and Nagar Haveli 1 2 0 100 0 0 0
8 Daman and Diu 2 0 0 NaN 0 0 0
9 Goa 12 264 0 46.32 0 0 0
10 Gujarat 248 13205 62 7.92 0 0.15 0
11 Haryana 140 1360 0 10.68 2.82 73.06 3.86
12 Himachal Pradesh 80 20568 120 21.23 5.46 7.84 69.64
13 Jammu and Kashmir 323 19752 27 20.37 0.17 1.49 11.41
14 Jharkhand 264 19694 100 4.95 0.26 14.42 1.8
15 Karnataka 177 67857 252 11.2 135.56 738.47 18.36
16 Kerala 152 26830 102 13.43 7.23 67.68 10.68
17 Lakshadweep 10 55 0 31.98 0 0 0
18 Madhya Pradesh 313 86252 207 12.72 55.77 87.89 63.45
19 Maharashtra 354 36904 71 7.43 4.31 112.38 3.84
20 Manipur 70 3330 0 23.71 0 0 0
21 Meghalaya 46 7820 36 20.37 0 2.39 0
22 Mizoram 26 500 0 12.89 0 0 0
23 Nagaland 74 835 0 14.72 0 0 0
24 Odisha 314 23031 62 3.45 15.76 192.92 8.17
25 Puducherry 3 89 0 71.2 0 0 0
26 Punjab 150 6349 5 10.89 0 3.37 0
27 Rajasthan 295 54344 70 8.57 0.52 7.7 6.75
28 Sikkim 32 1510 0 23.36 0 0 0
29 Tamil Nadu 385 54411 196 15.92 226.77 972.3 23.32
30 Telangana 438 123742 0 15.24 0 0 0
31 Tripura 58 4833 107 10.68 0.69 70.4 0.98
32 Uttar pradesh 826 85976 77 9.61 0 35.68 0
33 Uttarakhand 95 13661 113 21.72 1.05 4.15 25.3
34 West Bengal 342 108949 94 6.23 15.87 317.57 5
  Total 6934 939487 2373 8.38 882.32 4084.65 21.6

Source:MGNREGA

It is time India sees how the work demand can be aggravated and also focus on water-related schemes that are the need of the hour. India hit the headlines when thousands of labourers started returning back to their villages after the cities were brought under the lockdown to stop the spread of the virus.

The rural job scheme can provide a great opportunity to these labourers. The government just needs to see how this opportunity can also be used to push the water conservation drive. 

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