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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 70 per cent of these works are related to water conservation, irrigation and land development.

Completion rate is the most robust indicator of whether the programme is performing, as it is related to employment demand and other benefits envisioned by the programme. These works are also crucial assets for villages to fight drought and water scarcity, thus, having an impact on agriculture.

Since April 2014, the completion rate has been declining at rapid pace. In 2014-15, the work completion rate (defined as works started and finished) was 97 per cent. It came down to 71.24 per cent in 2015-16. In 2016-17, it further declined to 41 per cent. This financial year, till October 12, the completion rate is an alarming 8 per cent.

Going by an analysis of Down To Earth, majority of the incomplete works are in the states that have witnessed drought in the last three years or are currently reporting drought-like situation in many districts. For example, Maharashtra has been in news for severe drought and consequent farmers’ suicides in last few years (including this year). In the last three and half years, the state started more than 1.3 million works, 80 per cent of which are related to water conservation and irrigation. But 40 per cent of the works are not completed. A total of 235 districts in the country are currently facing drought-like situation due to rain deficit in the range of 20-60 per cent. They account for more than 90 per cent of the works not completed in the last three and half years.

In 2007, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) was the first to point out this trend of starting more and more works but not completing them. A nationwide survey conducted by CSE pointed out that due to lack of completion of works, people didn’t find the programme beneficial beyond the daily wage. Under the programme, creation of village assets is a key objective to regenerate local ecology and thus, ensuring long-term benefits. For example, a water conservation structure created under the programme ensures irrigation to at least four hectares of land. This focus is an incentive for people to participate in the programme. Besides, under the programme, communities belonging to BPL, SC and ST categories can take up works in their private lands. This is the reason why the programme always had greater participation from these sections of population.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has been inconsistent with programme. Immediately after coming to power in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discarded the programme as an unproductive wastage of public money. But within two years, there was a perceivable change in heart and MGNREGA, at least, was not abandoned. But it is eminently visible that it doesn’t enjoy the political support it got in the earlier government that brought in this legislation.

But the fact is MGNREGA is the only public wage programme that takes care of people’s income during lean period. The declining rate of work completion is both a sign and warning of where the programme is heading to. First, due to droughts in the last three years, governments have opened up works under this programme to mount drought relief. This shows that the programme still remains the most important instrument of survival for people in distress. Second, if these works are not completed, its long-term objective of drought-proofing is defeated. Government would anyway open up works to meet the demands of distressed rural people to ensure basic minimum earning through wage. But delay in wage payment and without the benefit of creating productive assets that ensure irrigation and insurance against fluctuating monsoon, people might not find the programme lucrative. Wage in urban areas is always higher than the rate under MGNREGA. Does this mean the drastic fall in completed work is an indicator of people already abandoning the programme? The jury is out.

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