Skip to main content

Employer of the last resort? (MNERAGA)


The Centre’s rural employment guarantee scheme can be substantially improved, but it has undeniably helped Dalits, Adivasis and women find work

In an era of growing globalisation and rising inequality, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) stands out as a unique attempt to provide a social safety net via a massive public works programme. The government as an employer of the last resort is an idea that has existed in policy discourse around the world for much of the 20th century, gaining most currency during the Great Depression in the United States. However, MGNREGA takes this policy to a new realm because of its massive reach, universal nature, and its initiation during a period of rapid economic growth.

It is a good time to explore the reach and impact of MGNREGA. India Human Development Surveys of 2004-05 and 2011-12, organised by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the University of Maryland, surveyed about 27,000 rural households in 2004-05, before the Act was passed, and in 2011-12 when the programme was implemented in all districts. Hence, it provides a unique opportunity to examine household well-being before and after the implementation of the Act.
Our scorecard on MGNREGA focusses on three issues: (i) The reach and targeting of the programme; (ii) Experience of the households that participated in MGNREGA; and (iii) Broader changes in the rural labour markets between 2005 and 2012.
The MGNREGA website claims that 500 lakh households — about 36 per cent of rural households — obtained employment from MGNREGA in 2011-12. Our household survey finds only about 25 per cent of the rural households participating in MGNREGA. Another independent household survey, the National Sample Survey of 2009-10, also finds about 25 per cent of households participating in MGNREGA.
Well-targeted scheme
Regardless of the discrepancy between administrative statistics and actual usage, the programme is remarkably well-targeted. This targeting operates at three levels. At the village level, the uptake in villages with low levels of infrastructure is higher (28 per cent) than in villages with better infrastructure (21 per cent). It is more difficult to organise new programmes in more backward areas, so MGNREGA’s success in achieving this goal is quite remarkable.
At the household level, households from the marginalised communities — Dalits and Adivasis — are far more likely to participate in MGNREGA (36 per cent and 30 per cent respectively) than other households (20 per cent). At the individual level, older workers are disproportionately more likely to participate in MGNREGA than in the general labour force. Women, too, have higher participation rates; although only 29 per cent of all non-agricultural wage workers are women, 44 per cent of all MGNREGA workers are women.
However, even for those households doing MGNREGA work, the number of MGNREGA work-days is not very large. About 50 per cent of participating households work 40 or fewer days. MGNREGA administrative data shows that less than 10 per cent of the households complete their full 100 days; the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) data record about 15 per cent of the participating households completing 100 days. In the run-up to the election, the government has raised the limits for Schedule Tribes (ST) households living in forest areas to 150 days, from 100. But 85 per cent of the participating ST households and 95 per cent of all ST households have not exhausted their current limit of 100 days. When asked by IHDS interviewers why they had not completed the full 100 days, 75 per cent of the MGNREGA participants cited “No Work” as the primary reason. It would seem more important to focus on ensuring the full 100 days of work for everyone than to increase entitlement to 150 days.
For those households that participate in MGNREGA, the income from MGNREGA forms about 14 per cent of their total income. While the Act mandates payment in cash for people who are not offered work, we found few respondents knew about this provision and even fewer availed of it.
It is not clear whether MGNREGA is providing alternative sources of work or attracting people who were formerly underemployed or disguisedly employed. The IHDS data document an increase of just five days of work for men over a 12- month period in rural areas and four days for women. This is not a massive increase, suggesting that some of the MGNREGA work may have replaced rather than added to former work.
The IHDS also documents other changes in rural labour markets. Among workers, non-farm work has grown substantially while an exclusive agriculture focus has declined. The proportion of individuals who focus solely on agricultural activities— cultivation, agricultural labour, and animal care— has gone down from 51 per cent of men aged 15-59 to 35 per cent; for women the drop is from 84 per cent to 66 per cent. Much of this drop comes from changes in agricultural wage work and caring for animals; own-account cultivation is unchanged. While we do not know that MGNREGA caused these changes, the alternative non-farm employment is certainly part and parcel of broader changes in rural labour markets.
Increase in daily wage
This declining agricultural employment has accompanied wage growth for daily wage workers, particularly agricultural labour. For male agricultural workers, daily wages in constant terms grew from Rs. 90 a day to Rs. 134; for male non-agricultural workers they grew from Rs.126 a day to Rs. 155. The growth for women agricultural workers was from Rs. 62 to Rs. 91 and for non-agricultural workers from Rs. 77 to Rs. 111.
These wage increases for women are particularly interesting. Historically, the lack of non-agricultural work has constrained women’s wages. If MGNREGA is in any way associated with the growth in women’s wages, this is a positive outcome. But these observations may also point to a real concern for farmers — a possible lack of availability of agricultural workers and high wages during harvest time. Rising agricultural wages for both men and women and simultaneously declining agricultural wage work suggest that it would be a sensible precaution to ensure that MGNREGA work is not timed for the peak agricultural periods.
The above discussion has noted several concerns with MGNREGA, particularly the discrepancy between official data and household reports on usage as well as the potential wage impact. But we have also noted that the programme has been particularly successful in providing employment to Dalits, Adivasis, and women, thereby serving as an attractive employer of the last resort to the most disadvantaged workers.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Cloud seeding

Demonstrating the function of the flare rack that carries silver iodide for cloud-seeding through an aircraft. 
Water is essential for life on the earth. Precipitation from the skies is the only source for it. India and the rest of Asia are dependent on the monsoons for rains. While the South West Monsoon is the main source for India as a whole, Tamil Nadu and coastal areas of South Andhra Pradesh get the benefit of the North East Monsoon, which is just a less dependable beat on the reversal of the South West Monsoon winds.

SC asks Centre to strike a balance on Rohingya issue (.hindu)

Supreme Court orally indicates that the government should not deport Rohingya “now” as the Centre prevails over it to not record any such views in its formal order, citing “international ramifications”.

The Supreme Court on Friday came close to ordering the government not to deport the Rohingya.

It finally settled on merely observing that a balance should be struck between humanitarian concern for the community and the country's national security and economic interests.

The court was hearing a bunch of petitions, one filed by persons within the Rohingya community, against a proposed move to deport over 40,000 Rohingya refugees. A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, began by orally indicating that the government should not deport Rohingya “now”, but the government prevailed on the court to not pass any formal order, citing “international ramifications”. With this, the status quo continues even though the court gave the community liberty to approach it in …

India’s criminal wastage: over 10 million works under MGNREGA incomplete or abandoned (hindu)

In the last three and half years, the rate of work completion under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has drastically declined, leading to wastage of public money and leaving villages more prone to drought. This could also be a reason for people moving out of the programme.

At a time when more than one-third of India’s districts are reeling under a drought-like situation due to deficit rainfall, here comes another bad news. The works started under the MGNREGA—close to 80 per cent related to water conservation, irrigation and land development—are increasingly not being completed or in practice, abandoned.

Going by the data (as on October 12) in the Ministry of Rural Development’s website, which tracks progress of MGNREGA through a comprehensive MIS, 10.4 million works have not been completed since April 2014. In the last three and half years, 39.7 million works were started under the programme. Going by the stipulation under the programme, close to 7…