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Govt has failed drought victims by starving MGNREGA of funds

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:27 IST

The principle

  • MGNREGA can be a saviour in times of drought and agrarian distress
  • Centre raised minimum employment under the scheme to 150 days in drought-hit districts

The crisis

  • This is pointless as barely 5% households have completed 100 days of employment
  • Many states have run out of money. Others are on the brink of it

More in the story

  • How do individual drought-hit states fare?
  • What\'s the situation in the seats held by CMs of drought-hit states?
  • Who is to blame?

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act promises 100 days of employment to any villager who demands it.

For those living in drought-hit regions of the country, where no other employment opportunities exist, the job scheme could mean the difference between life and death. In September, a woman farmer from a Marathwada village committed suicide, which it turned out could have been avoided had MGNREGA work existed in her village.

This time, at least five states are suffering from drought as both the monsoon and post-monsoon rains have failed. In January, the central government raised the minimum employment under the scheme to 150 days in drought-hit districts.

Also read: Invisible tragedy: Bundelkhand is facing a famine. Where's the State?

There were even reports that employment given under MGNREGA has increased this financial year. Has the job scheme saved the day?

Looking at finer details reveals how the system has actually failed those suffering the drought.

Implementation data shows that just a fraction of the households have completed 100 days of work. And they never can. Almost half the households have completed less than 30 days of work, and there are just 70 days left for the financial year to end.

MGNREGA data, available on its website, is updated to the last day (except for Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, whose data is at the most one day late).

The data also makes it clear that the 50 extra days are of no use. At least three-fourths of rural households haven't yet completed 80 days of employment, which means they can never reach 150 days by 31 March.

50 extra days are of no use. 3/4 of rural households haven't even completed 80 days of employment

MGNREGA also appears to be unsuccessful is reducing financial burden for around three-fourth of all households, as they have not been paid wages within the stipulated 15 days of working.

Inadequate work

Some of the major drought-hit states are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha.

Let us take a look at the Bundelkhand region, which falls in 7 districts in UP and 7 from MP. It is by several accounts the worst drought-affected area in the country, especially as it comes on the back of three successive crop failures.

Also read: Bundelkhand is the epicentre of drought & people don't even know it: Yogendra Yadav

But MGNREGA appears to be in an equal state of distress.

  • Just 5% of the households have completed 100 days of work. Only 4% have worked for more than 100 days.

  • And there is no hope of households reaching 100 or 150 days, as 52% have completed less than 30 days of work.
  • A whopping 87% have completed less than 80 days. Given that just about 70 days are left for the financial year to end, these households cannot avail the drought-related 50 days extension.

In drought-hit Bundelkhand, just 5% of the households have completed 100 days of work

This is dismal considering that the need for jobs in the region was felt several months ago.

"The real need for MGNREGA [in Bundelkhand] had begun by the end of July or early August. Actually, it had begun in April when the previous crop had failed," Yogendra Yadav had told Catch News in a conversation last week.

"And for 7-8 months, the government did not do anything... In UP too, it has started selectively and partially," he said.

And yet, UP's labour budget under MGNREGA in 2015-16 was 20% lesser than the previous year. Yet, it is baffling that the state has already finished 70% of its labour budget.

The other drought-affected states fare similarly, if not worse.

In Maharashtra:

  • Only 12% households completed 100 days of work. 49 days of employment were provided on average to each household.

  • Only one-third of the households were paid within 15 days of working. Of the remaining 11% were delayed beyond 60 days.
  • Only 12% of works were completed against the national average of 72%. In fact the rural development ministry wrote to the state government in December, flagging the slow completion rate as a "matter of concern" and requesting that work be completed in campaign mode.

  • In Maharashtra rural development minister Pankaja Munde's own constituency Parli, which is in the drought-affected Marathwada, only 9% of the workers were paid within 15 days.

Also read: MGNREGA: Government to provide 50 days extra work in drought-hit areas

Odisha is nearly as bad as Maharashtra:

  • By 31 December, just 7% work had been completed.

  • Two-thirds households were not paid within 15 days. In Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's constituency, three-quarters of the payments were made beyond the limit.
  • Of the households that worked, just 4% have completed 100 days of work. On an average, 34 days of employment was generated for each household.

In Telangana, just 6% of households have completed 100 days of work.

Even VIP constituencies have fared poorly in providing work under MGNREGA

  • Each household got an average 40 days of work, while only half got paid within 15 days.

  • Barely 2% of the total work has been completed.
  • In chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's constituency Gajwel, more than half the payments were made after 15 days.

In Andhra Pradesh, only 7% households have completed 100 days of work.

  • While the state fares well on payments (only 22% payments delayed against national average of 57%), only 7% of the works have been completed.

  • On average, only 44 days work were provided to each household.
  • Chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu's constituency Kuppam has done better than the rest of the state. Almost 88% of the payments have been made in time, but only half the households have completed 100 days.

Jean Dreze, who has campaigned extensively for MGNREGA to be implemented, said that delayed payments are discouraging workers from seeking work under the scheme. "Many of them cannot afford to wait for weeks on end for their wages, and that applies especially in drought-affected areas," he said.

"In a drought situation, it is extremely important for relief work to be genuinely available on demand, and for wages to be paid promptly. Under NREGA, this would require special provisions, such as pro-active work application camps or mandatory activation of at least one NREGA work in every village at all times," he added.

The other big issue is that states have almost run out of money. Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan said that while UP and Telangana have already overshot their budgeted spending on the scheme, other states are on the brink of it.

There is an urgent need for the central government to release more funds, given that just about two months left for the financial year to end.

"The finance ministry needs to say when it will give the money and how much. And it should do it not soon, but now," Dey said.

Edited by Aditya Menon

Also read: MGNREGA funds dry up as more rural poor require work due to drought

First published: 21 January 2016, 22:55 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.