COVID-19 lockdown meant no MGNREGA work for 39% job card holders

Over 2,000 households surveyed across four states; Massive expansion of work scheme needed to meet demand, finds study  

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Monday 17 October 2022
Eight blocks in Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were surveyed from November-December 2021
Eight blocks in Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were surveyed from November-December 2021 Eight blocks in Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were surveyed from November-December 2021

About 39 per cent of all job card holders seeking work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), 2005 did not get a single day of work during the national lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021.

The findings were revealed by a study conducted by Azim Premji University in partnership with the National Consortium of Civil Society Organisations on NREGA and Collaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD). The consortium is a group of 72 civil society organisations and CORD is an independent research group.

Surveys of over 2000 households across four states revealed several shortcomings, including the lack of wages, jobs and illegal practices at the local level.

Read more: COVID-19 rural crisis: Why MGNREGA needs a harder push

The researchers covered households in eight blocks in Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra from November-December 2021.

Wardha and Surgana of Maharashtra, Devadurga and Bidar in Karnataka, Phulparas and Chhatapur in Bihar and Ghatigaon and Khalwa in Madhya Pradesh were surveyed.

During 2020-2021, Rs 152.68 crore was spent on labour in the surveyed blocks, the report quoted MGNREGA Management Information System. However, the workers demanded work worth the labour budget of Rs 474.27 crores, about three times more than the amount spent on wages, the experts estimated.

Only 36 per cent of households that worked during the lockdown received wages within 15 days, the research found. As per the law, the workers who do not receive wages within the stipulated time are eligible for compensation.

The remaining population — around 63 per cent of households who could not get work despite raising the demand — named lack of adequate work or projects sanctioned as the reason.

However, the scheme made a “remarkable” difference in protecting the vulnerable population, preventing migration and cushioning the losses of up to 80 per cent for the workers, the study said.

About two-thirds of households in Surgana and 97 per cent of households in Khalwa were reported not to have migrated for work during the peak pandemic years.

The programme compensated for the income shock only slightly in several blocks. The pre-covid incomes levels were considerably low among all the blocks in blocks where the compensation exceeded 50 per cent, the surveys showed.

The report said:

If household income was Rs 50,000 per year, which fell to Rs 25,000 during Covid. Even if MGNREGA earnings compensated for up to 75 per cent of the loss (which happened rarely), the resulting income is still only around Rs 45,000 per year, which is very low.

Read more: Can MGNREGA cushion the COVID-19 lockdown blow for Moradabad’s returning villagers

The need for more work demanded by the households in rural areas demonstrating the value and utility of MGNREGA was also pointed out by the study.

“More than 8 out of 10 households recommended that MGNREGA should provide 100 days of employment per person per year,” said Rajendran Narayanan, co-author of the study and faculty member at Azim Premji University. “We also find a massive extent of underfunding.”

“A conservative estimate yields that the allocations in the surveyed blocks should have been three times the amount that was actually allocated in the year after lockdown to fulfil the true extent of work demand,” Narayanan said.

Large-scale expansion of the programme to meet the high work demand, thereby fulfilling one of its objectives, was recommended by the study. Other suggestions included streamlining the computerised system, registering workers and sanctioning more projects.

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