MGNREGA: Drought-hit India abandoned 18 lakh water works in just one year

India's villages miss a golden chance to become drought-proof as more MGNREGA projects grind to a halt 

By Richard Mahapatra, Raju Sajwan
Published: Wednesday 24 April 2019

Almost half of India is currently under drought; for many districts this is the second-consecutive drought. Given this, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) should have been the key scheme to not only mitigate impacts of drought but also employ people in distress for earning.

But an analysis of the performance of MGNREGA for 2018-19 shows that it has failed to be of any help to drought-stricken districts. Significant work related to water conservation and irrigation has been left incomplete or suspended, making them useless for farmers; a bulk of job cards, on the other hand, have been deleted, debarring those households from accessing employment.

More than 1.8 million water-related projects were abandoned or left incomplete in 2018-19. Governments spent close to Rs 16,615 crore — close to a quarter of the total MGNREGA expense — on structures that are of no use.

The same year, job cards of 1.61 million households were deleted. A job card is the base document necessary for demanding and availing employment under MGNREGA. At an individual level, more than 6.5 million people lost job cards. The deletions could be for valid reasons, but their scale was unusual.

Some 58.76 million households sought employment in 2018-19, but only 52.6 million households received work. It means six million households couldn’t secure employment when they needed.

Under MGNREGA, one member of each rural household is eligible for availing employment for 100 days a year.  Members of a household can swap employment, but not overshoot the number of guaranteed days.

At an individual level, while 91 million people demanded jobs, only 77 million could be provided.

A bigger concern than employment demand not being met was the large-scale suspension agriculture- and water-related projects that could have helped farmers during the time of drought.

Completion of projects has been unsatisfactory since the inception of MGNREGA in 2005. Apart from being cited as a failure of the programme, this has also been considered a loss of productive assets for villages.

Only 26.07 per cent of the 8.26 million MGREGA projects started in 2018-19 could be completed. That’s the least in the five years, down from 65 per cent in 2017-18 and 96 per cent in 2016-17. The completion rate is worse in states currently under drought:

  • Bihar -  6 per cent (20 per cent in ’17-18; 78 per cent in ’16-17).
  • Maharashtra - 21 per cent
  • Andhra Pradesh - 36 per cent

Among drought-related work, a priority under MGNREGA, only 32,478 projects were completed, spending nearly Rs 64 crore. But 7,96,793 projects were either not completed or suspended. This is 24 times of the works completed. The government spent nearly Rs 67.52 crore on such suspended / incomplete works.

Among micro-irrigation projects, which cater to direct water needs of farmers, some 1,28,250 projects were completed, spending Rs 67,52 crore. But 2,34,054 were suspended or not completed, on which nearly Rs. 2,451.16 crore was spent. Close to four times the money spent on completed projects was spent on those not completed.

For renovation of traditional water bodies, 78,904 projects were completed (for Rs 725.25 crore) but 1,24,982 were not (after spending Rs 2,263.75 crore).

Under water conservation and harvesting, 2,89,493 projects could be completed while 6,31,911 couldn’t be.

Clearly, while drought-hit states opened up a large number of work opportunities; their completion was the lowest. With this, India’s villages lost another opportunity to drought-proof themselves.

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