Dysfunctional Livelihood Security

Some years ago the Parliament enacted National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. It was extended to our State also. Various reasons contributed to the passing of the Act. Migration of rural labourers to towns and cities in search of livelihood was among important reasons. Migration of millions brought unprecedented pressure on civic amenities in towns which were very difficult to meet. Entire social order was threatened. Therefore, labour migration had to be stopped to maximum level if not fully. That could not be done in vacuum; it needed some planning and planning means funds.
The scheme that was evolved is called Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The scheme was extended to our State and funds for its proper implementation were also promised. What is the scheme about? MGNREGA is an Indian labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’. It aims to ensure livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. Employment is to be provided within 5 km of an applicant’s residence, and minimum wages are to be paid. If work is not provided within 15 days of applying, applicants are entitled to an unemployment allowance. Thus, employment under MGNREGA is a legal entitlement.
Theoretically speaking, it sounds very good and one would like to appreciate a Government that devised the method of minimising the inflow of migratory labourers to the towns. It is quite natural that when a skilled or unskilled labourer is able to find employment in or around his village or locality, he will be less attracted to move out and seek a livelihood in a town where he is almost a stranger. But as the things are, many of our national schemes become dysfunctional for a variety of reasons. And when that happens, remedying measures are either not forthcoming or are delayed inordinately and to the extent that the scheme becomes counterproductive. This has precisely happened with the scheme called MGNREGA in our State. Statistics are disappointing so much so that liabilities have piled up to more than Rs 200 crores on account of initiated works and also denial of minimum wage employment to lakhs of rural households across the State. Statistics show that against the proposed 288.1 lakh Persondays for the year 2014-15, only 58.76 lakh Persondays have been generated till date while only 28 days are left in completion of this financial year. The total Persondays generated so far is only 20.39 percent of desired target for the year. These figures are far below the figures of previous years. True the September floods and the Assembly elections might have caused some loss of Persondays but it was possible to make up the deficiency provided somebody was there to take the matters seriously.  Engagement of wage labour could have been accelerated in the months following the floods and election but has not been done. It is reported that the centre has imposed squeeze on funds which has caused sudden dysfunction of the scheme. This is not the only scheme where the reason of dysfunction has been attributed to squeeze put on funding by Central authorities. If that is the case, then the onus comes to the doorsteps of the Union Government. If workdays could not be provided to the unskilled labourers within fifteen days, they are entitled to receive financial support from the Government. That is what the Act says. Against the proposed budget and the works initiated this year, the Government of India released only 400 crores of rupees for clearance of expenditures with the result that the State has created liabilities of around Rs 223 crores under MGNREGA till date. If it is a fact that initiation of new works and providing livelihood to the unskilled or skilled labourers could not be made possible, we would exhort the Central Government to fulfil its commitment and  provide funds to the State to help it clear the liabilities. About 21 lakh workers across the State have been issued job cards and it becomes the duty of the Government to provide them with work or compensation in case work is not available. The Centre should try to understand the difficulties faced by the State Government and come to its rescue.

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