Study puts MGNREGS in Punjab under scanner

The employment scheme generated 20.23 average working days in the state against the mandated 100 days, according to a Punjabi University report

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Monday 08 July 2019
Photo: Getty Images

A high incidence of illiteracy, low levels of education, a major lack of awareness and dependence on Panchayat members and sarpanches have led the much-publicised Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) to fail in Punjab. The scheme generated only 20.23 average days' employment a year in the largely agrarian state, against the mandated 100 days, according to a recent study.

Only 1.64 per cent beneficiary households got the mandated 100-day employment; 21.29 per cent got no work, claimed the study Empirical Analysis of Implementation of MGREGS Across Different Social Groups in Punjab by Punjabi University, Patiala. The study has been documented in the Indian Journal of Economics and Development.

“This study, sponsored by University Grants Commission (UGC), is the first broad-based study on MGNREGS, conducted in 65 villages of all 22 districts of Punjab,” said Gian Singh, one of the researchers and an expert in economy. While the field work was carried out in 2012-13, the study is relevant even today because the days of employment are still almost the same, he claimed.

“The implementation machinery is working inefficiently and the Gram Sabhas are held only in papers,” he said.

Despite their being entitled to receive work under the scheme, the poor households always remained at the mercy of Panchayat members, according to the study. “Most of the people seeking work under the scheme were illiterate and did not know much about their rights under the scheme. They were generally exploited by Panchayat members,” read the study.

Politics has a big role to play in decision making in the state. “Sometimes the genuine issues lose their significance in petty politics of Panchayat members and MGNREGS is no exception. In such an atmosphere, the scheme cannot be implemented effectively and vigorously,” highlighted the study.

Rural Punjab, particularly, is facing major unemployment as increasing use of herbicides and machinery in the agricultural sector has decreased absorption of labour force, according to the report. In this situation, public works like MGNREGS can become an important source of livelihood for these people.

‘Illiterates’ accounted for 38.91 per cent of the scheme’s beneficiaries and those educated up to primary, middle, matric and high-secondary levels were 24.2 per cent, 14.63 per cent and 14.95 per cent and 6.08 per cent respectively, according to the study.

The percentage share of illiterate persons was higher among beneficiary households belonging to scheduled castes (39.85 per cent), backward classes (38.01 per cent) and general category (31.60 per cent).

The study revealed that a majority of beneficiary households — 88.92 per cent, 87.84 per cent and 87.50 per cent belonging to SC, BC and general category — were aware of muster rolls but when it came to regularly providing muster rolls at the worksite the figures stood at 44.18 per cent, 56.76 per cent and 70.31 per cent respectively.

Only 48.03 per cent of all beneficiaries said panchayat members brought muster roll regularly to worksites. Meanwhile, only 23.3 per cent SC, 25 per cent BC and 34.38 per cent general category households had regular attendance on muster rolls.

Moreover, just 19.10 per cent of overall beneficiary households got their job cards within the stipulated 15-day period. Pointing at the corruption at the lower levels, it has been alleged that in some cases the beneficiaries had to pay Rs 20 to Rs 60 to get their job cards and in many cases job cards were made in the names of big farmers and land owners.

The researchers also found that in 40.83 per cent cases the panchayat members and secretaries kept the job cards with themselves. Meanwhile, 80.57 per cent overall beneficiaries had reported that their job cards were blank.

The Act guarantees employment within 15 days of submission of application failing which an unemployment allowance is to be paid to the applicant. But, according to the study, only 21.29 per cent applicants got work within 15 days and not a single beneficiary household got an unemployment allowance. However, 88.97 per cent of the employed applicants got work within the stipulated 5-kilo metre radius of their village.

A fourth of the beneficiaries (24.13 per cent) had access to safe drinking water at worksite, and only 0.98 per cent got first aid. Also, 0.14 per cent, 0.68 per cent and 1.56 per cent of SC, BC and general beneficiaries could avail crèche facility at their worksites.

The scheme failed to deliver the desired results in Punjab because of lack of funds. The beneficiaries and panchayats demanded regular and timely payments.

The average number of days of employment generated was 19.68 for SC, 22.30 for BC and 21.45 for general category. The average income all households earned stood at Rs 3,722.78 but the actual wage received without any delay was Rs 1,291.96.

“The beneficiaries complained that either the sarpanch or panchayat members were responsible for causing a delay in wages. In fact, the state government failed to release the required funds to the panchayats in time which led discontent among beneficiaries,” read the study.

Only 14.98 per cent beneficiaries had received their payments within the stipulated 15-day period while 19.69 per cent received them after three months. The researchers attributed lack of staff for the delay.

They have underlined that the MGNREGS has immense relevance for rural Punjab and requires multipronged strategy and participation from all stakeholders besides co-operation of both state and central governments.

“More days of employment can make a visible difference in the lives of rural poor, particularly the Dalit as the possibilities of employment in the agricultural sector are on continuous decline owing to increasing use of machinery and herbicides,” said Singh.

“Under MGNREGS there is no gender discrimination in payment of wages and women labourers work collectively on public projects which not only saves them from sexual harassment and exploitation but also makes them aware of socio-economic and political aspects,” he added.

The researcher opined that the government is going slow on implementation of the scheme because it has adopted the Corporate Economic Model.

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