One-third of the way through the financial year, government data shows that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme has used up almost half its allocated funds, spending more than ₹48,500 crore out of the expanded ₹1 lakh crore allocation announced following the COVID-19 outbreak .
A new survey of 13 States, published by the Azim Premji Foundation (APF) shows what that statistic means on the ground — a number of gram panchayats in vulnerable areas have already exhausted their funds for the scheme; lower employment rates as the monsoon stops work in several States, and fewer livelihood options for more than four lakh families across the country which have completed their allotted 100 days of work.
The APF has recommended that the Centre allocate another ₹1 lakh crore to the scheme, and double the permitted work limit to 200 days per household.
“The Gram Panchayats’ shelf of projects will likely end by August 2020. Therefore, a quick process of creating further sets of projects is urgently needed. In several Gram Panchayats, the approved projects have already been exhausted,” said the APF study, based on ground reports from partner organisations.
However, it commended the Odisha government for investing the pradhans of its Gram Panchayats with magisterial authorities for efficient decision-making concerning the implementation and making payments under MGNREGA.
“The entire process cycle of implementation needs to be eased at this time of distress to respond to the current needs for work and payments,” it said.
“Despite kharif operations, the demand for work is still very high; but workers in several States have been given the impression that MGNREGA work is suspended during the monsoon season,” said the report.
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It named Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat as States where the monsoon has reduced available work, despite high demand. The Jharkhand government, on the other hand, has taken up 20,000 acres of land for fruit plantation work under MGNREGA, which is work that can continue to benefit workers through the monsoon as well.
“Ground observations suggest the payments are more or less in time where banking correspondents are in place,” said the report. It added that payments through banks continue to be inefficient as “rural branches of banks have limited capacity and infrastructure, and are often overwhelmed by the overcrowding of workers leading to congestion, confusion and lack of desirable services.”
The study noted that wages in the scheme are 25-30% lower than the minimum wages for agricultural workers in most States.