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Amid demand surge, 1.4 lakh families have reached annual MGNREGA work limit

Labourers under MGNREGA work at a site on a hot day, on the outskirts of Ajmer.

Labourers under MGNREGA work at a site on a hot day, on the outskirts of Ajmer.   | Photo Credit: PTI

At least 1.4 lakh poor rural households have already completed their quota of 100 days of work under MGNREGA in the first three months of the year, and will not be eligible for further benefits under the rural employment guarantee scheme for the rest of the year. Another seven lakh households have completed 80 days and are on the verge of running out of work as well, according to the scheme’s database.

With COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown resulting in thousands of unemployed migrant workers returning to their villages and now dependent on MGNREGA wages, activists are urging the government to increase the limit to at least 200 days per household.

Also read: Scale up MGNREGA during COVID-19 crisis: Congress

“This is an unprecedented situation where many people are clearly desperate for work and dependent on MGNREGA wages. In many areas, monsoon is the hungry season. If you stop providing work at this time on the grounds that the 100-day limit has been crossed, it will be a huge crisis for these families,” said Nikhil Dey, a Rajasthan-based activist with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan.

The MGNREGA scheme contains a provision for districts affected by drought or other natural disaster to request an expansion of the scheme to allow for 150 days of work per household. Given that COVID-19 was declared a national disaster, activists have demanded that this provision be implemented immediately across the country.

Also read: Coronavirus lockdown | Only 30 lakh found MGNREGA work in April

Overall, 23 lakh households have already completed 60 days of work.

Although these 1.4 lakh families may only be a fraction of the 4.6 crore households who have benefited from the scheme this year, it is the poorest families with no options other than MGNREGA who have already reached their 100 day limit and need an extension.

“These are the most vulnerable families. Remember that most States did not even provide MGNREGA work in April during the lockdown,”said Mr Dey.

Also read: Utilise MGNREGA to the fullest capacity

“So these are families who have actually completed 100 days in just May and June. Those who are now at the 60-day or 80-day point will also complete 100 days in the next month, month and a half. It will peak very fast,” warned Mr. Dey.

The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha argues that the limit should be imposed per adult individual rather than per household, and has demanded an increase to 200 days per individual at a daily wage rate of ₹600. The current wage rate of ₹200 per day does not even match up to minimum wage rates in most States.

With almost 60,000 households which have completed 100 days of work, Chhattisgarh has the highest rate among States according to central scheme data, followed by Andhra Pradesh with almost 24,500 households in this category.

However, the AP government maintains its own database showing that 84,000 households, or 8.6% of all beneficiary households in the State, have already completed 100 days of work. (AP has repeatedly complained that the State’s MGNREGA ground reality is not accurately captured in real time in the central database.)

Also read: 'MGNREGA has evolved a rights-based framework for migrant workers'

“The demand for MGNREGA work almost doubled in June in AP, as there is no other work available for many people. Construction sector, which usually absorbs a large number of workers, has also collapsed. We are seeing a flurry of new job cards being issued,” says Chakradhar Buddha, an AP-based activist and researcher with Libtech India.

“The monsoon seems to be good so far, and for those who can get farm work, that may be an option for the next few months. The worst scenario may be in December when agriculture work is over and the MGNREGA work has also run out. What will people do then?” he said, adding that for women, elderly and disabled, or those in adivasi areas, who cannot get farm work, the situation is even more acute.

“This is a national issue. As a very bare minimum, the Centre should expand the limit to 200 days per household this year,” Mr Buddha said.

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2020 3:25:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/amid-demand-surge-14-lakh-families-have-reached-annual-mgnrega-work-limit/article32006305.ece

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