Over 2.59 lakh new people registered for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in the state this year, taking the total number of workers under the scheme to 1.21 crore. However, the workers in the state are being paid an average minimum wage of Rs 161 per day against the central government’s notified minimum wage of Rs 237 per day.
While the surge in the number of people seeking work under MGNREGA points towards massive unemployment in the state which has further increased due to the two months long lockdown measures for the containment of COVID-19, observers say that lapses in the implementation of the scheme is causing distress to the poorer sections of people.
As per state government data, the number of workers attending MGNREGA work has risen substantially compared to last year. For instance, on May 29, 25.04 lakh workers attended work against 16.97 workers who attended for work on the same day last year. On an average, the workers’ attendance has increased by over nine lakh compared to last year.
Reverse migration of workers from urban areas due to lockdown and job losses in the private sector has resulted in increased MGNREGA registrations, said B Prasad, Agriculture Workers’ Union State President. “This year, students with professional degrees such as B-tech, MBA, MCA etc are also attending for work under the scheme. With no work in urban centres, construction workers, painters, technicians are attending for MGNREGA work seeking meagre wages,” he said.
It has been reported that unpaid private school teachers are also working under the scheme to make their living.
Prasad argued that several lapses by the state government in the implementation of the scheme have resulted in the low minimum wage under the scheme. “In some districts, even wages below Rs 100 are being paid to workers,” he said.
Earlier this year, 7,500 field assistants associated with MGNREGA had gone on strike following imposition of new conditions for renewal of their contracts. Reportedly, the field assistants have offered to call off the strike unconditionally to rejoin work, but the state government is yet to take a decision on the matter.
“With no field assistants, the gram panchayats are finding it difficult for managing tasks like allotment of work, measurement and calculation of wages resulting in low minimum wage,” explained Prasad. He added that the workers are being directed to bring their own equipment tools for attending the work in contrast to the rules under the scheme.
“In agency areas, many tribals are finding it difficult to enroll for MGNREGA work due to lack of bank accounts and Aadhar cards. The tribal people are one of the most affected sections due to the lockdown measures and the government must take up activities to encourage distressed people to find work,” he said.