MGNREGS and migrant crisis

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

“Migrant Laborers”, the words we are listening in every news channels from past three months. Migrant Laborers are the persons who travel from one place to another to pursue work. Usually, they do not have the intention to stay there permanently. They travel only to earn their livelihood. They work in construction sites, transport sector, informal manufacturing, small industries etc. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the government has implemented lockdown in the entire country, which resulted in closure of all kinds of economic activities.

The employers of these migrant laborers fired them from their jobs because employers are also facing recession and loss in their businesses due to lockdown and they have no money to pay their employees. As we know that loss of job, even temporary, leads to starvation. Government facilities like food, water or shelter are not adequate for them. So, there is utmost necessity for them to leave their work place and return to their native place. Many of them travelled hundreds of mile on foot to reach their destination even without adequate food and water.

The duty of the government arises to provide a means of livelihood to these laborers. MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) is the tool of first resort. This Scheme is initiated under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005. It was later renamed as MGNREGA in 2009. The government has to create employment for those laborers who have returned and also for those who are returning to their native place. But the problem is that, this extra employment generation will put pressure on State’s treasures, which is currently running out of money due to expenditure in management of this pandemic.

Salient features of MGNREGA

  • This scheme is backed by National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005.
  • NREGA was enacted on 23rd Aug, 2005 and became operational on 2nd Feb, 2006.
  • This scheme provides legal guarantee for 100 days work to any member of the poor household who are willing to do unskilled work.
  • This is applicable in every villages and every rural household has the right to claim employment under this scheme.
  • The job must be provided within the 5 km jurisdiction of the village and within 15 days after making such claim. If distance is more than 5 km, then extra 10% of minimum wage will be paid to employee.
  • If the government fails to provide jobs, then the job-seeker must be paid unemployment allowances.
  • Both men and women are paid equally and one-third of the beneficiary must be women.
  • All funds are managed by central and state government.
  • Right to Information (RTI) will be available to ensure transparency in the scheme.

Purpose and objective

The purpose of this scheme is to provide employment, eradicate poverty, social inclusion, livelihood security, economic security, creating rural assets, improvement in health status etc.

The objective of this scheme is to empower the rural women, reduction in rural-urban migration, fostering social equality etc.

Significance

As we know that the unemployment in India in very high. Many people do not have adequate food, shelter and clothes. They are either malnourished or suffering from bad health conditions. Government generates employment through this Scheme. Poor people can get easy employment and earn their livelihood, which ultimately improves their standard of living.

Critical analysis

During lockdown there is an increase in number of people who have registered themselves as laborers under MGNREGA. Government has to provide them jobs also for their livelihood. There are about 13.75 crore MGNREGA job card holders in India. Out of them, 7.5 crore are active job card holders. If our government provides jobs to all of them, then it costs nearly 1.5 to 1.75 lakh crore. But, the budget allocation for MGNREGA was only 61,000 crore and an additional budget of 40,000 crore was announced by our Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman as a special COVID-19 package to provide employment boost. The number of migrant laborers is constantly increasing, which further pushes up the MGNREGA cost. The implementation of MGNREGS in past is also poor in some states. We can analyze this in the following chart (https://mnregaweb2.nic.in). The data is average days of employment provided per household.

FY→ States↓2016- 172017-182018-19
Bihar4645.6950.48
Uttar Pradesh37.3736.3642.19
Odisha38.0839.9838.64
West Bengal40.4359.6377.03

From the above chart we can conclude that the average number of days a job-card holder seeks guaranteed employment is less than 50 days except in some states. There are several methods to overcome this situation.

  • Skilled laborers should be employed in MSME industries

MSME stands for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. This includes manufacturing enterprises and services enterprises. MSME industries had saved India’s economy from great recession in 2008 and still contributing like backbone of the economy. Employing skilled laborers in MSME industries reduces their dependency on MGNREGA jobs. It also supports the small industries to compete with foreign industries.

  • Provide Universal Basic Income (UBI) to migrant laborers

UBI is a system in which government provides a minimum sum of money to its citizens irrespective of their status, jobs etc so that they can maintain their basic standard of living. The reason for the introduction UBI is job losses at large scale. Job losses can be due to AI (Artificial Intelligence) and automation and COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose behind this is to create equality, eradicate poverty, increase health status and maximum happiness in the society. UBI is implemented in many countries like Finland, Canada, Uganda, UK, Germany, France etc. Some world famous entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk has promoted this scheme and said it inevitable. Government of India can also initiate such scheme to provide relief to migrant laborers. IN my opinion, this would cost less to the government than overall MGNREGS cost.

Conclusion

During this COVID-19 pandemic, exodus of migrant laborers is on rise. They are returning to their native place in search of livelihood. This is creating huge pressure on the government to provide them jobs so that they can maintain basic standard of living. MNGREGS is the way for it. But, it is impossible to employ such a huge population in MGNREGA jobs or to give them unemployment allowances because it will push MGNREGS budget up. So, the government can seek some alternative for it. Alternatives can be, employing skilled labors in MSME industries or to provide them UBI. In the meantime, they may pursue their hobby or develop their skill and contribute in the economy by working in MSME industries.

Author: Chetan Kumar from School of Law and Governance,Central University of South Bihar, Gaya.

Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.

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