The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), is Indian legislation enacted on August 25, 2005. The MGNREGA provides a legal guarantee for one hundred days of employment in every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do public work-related unskilled manual work at the statutory minimum wage
Issues with MGNREGA
Over the last few years, MGNREGA had begun to face an existential crisis.
Successive governments capped its financial resources, and turning it into a supply-based programme.
Workers had begun to lose interest in working under it because of the inordinate delays in wage payments.
With very little autonomy, gram panchayats had begun to find implementation
Barring a few exceptions, state governments were only interested in running the programme to the extent funds were made available from the Centre.
Allocating work on demand, and not having enough funds to pay wages on time was bound to cause great distress amongst the workers and eventually for the state too.
As a result, state governments had begun to implement MGNREGA like a supply-driven scheme, instead of running it like a demand-based guarantee backed by law.
Need of the hour
The state governments must ensure that public works are opened in every village.
Workers turning up at the worksite should be provided work immediately, without imposing on them the requirement of demanding work in advance.
The local bodies must proactively reach out to returned and quarantined migrant workers and help those in need to get job cards.
Most importantly, at the worksite, adequate facilities such as soap, water, and masks for workers must be provided free of cost. For reasons of health safety, MGNREGA tools should not be shared between workers.
The government should provide a tool allowance to all workers — some states are already providing such an allowance.
The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of decentralised governance.
§ Gram panchayats and elected representatives need to be provided with adequate resources, powers, and responsibilities to sanction works, provide work on demand, and authorise wage payments to ensure there are no delays in payments.
Finally, there needs to be flexibility in the kinds of work to be undertaken, while ensuring that the community and the workers are the primary beneficiaries.
With nearly eight crore migrant workers returning to their villages, and with an additional allocation for the year, this could be a moment for the true revival of MGNREGA. A revival led by workers themselves.