MGNREGA (2005) is a flagship Act passed in the year 2005. The Ministry of Rural Development overlooks the implementation and functioning of the Act. Under MGNREGA, 100 days of guaranteed employment is provided to the workers registered. Wages for the work performed is allocated by the Government. This scheme promises 100 days of employment for unskilled labourers thereby ensuring their livelihood security. The Gram Panchayat issue a job card for a single household and that job card bears a unique registration number for a household.
Part 4 of the Constitution, Articles 36-51 consists of the Directive Principles of State Policy(1), which underline the policy measures to be undertaken by the State in order to ensure good governance. Directive Principles are essential to ensure the economic and social justice to the citizens and are a mark of a welfare state. Under Article 41, it ensures the Right to Work for the citizens. MGNREGA is an Act that secures its framework through the Directive Principles. It provides the unskilled labourers, concentrated in the rural areas to earn their livelihood.
IMPORTANCE OF MGNREGA:
By following a simple procedure of registering under the MGNREGA website, the workers can secure a job card. It ensures job security and source of income for the registered workers and compulsory 100 days of work.(2) The work provided under this Act includes projects related to:
-minor irrigation, horticulture and land development
to name a few. Any adult above 18 years of age is eligible to apply for work allocated under the Act. This provides an opportunity for female labor force participation. MGNREGA work is open to both the genders, thereby increasing labor force participation and reaping the country’s demographic dividend. IMF report on Women Empowerment suggests that there will be an increase of 27% in India’s GDP (3) with the inclusion of female workforce participation. This also leads to generation of income for the family by including the women of the households in an earning capacity for the household.
-provide means of livelihood
-ensure social and economic security to rural households
-provide employment opportunity to female labor workforce
-ensure good governance
-realise the ideals and framework of the Directive Principles of State Policy
-create seasonal employment opportunities
-income security to the workforce
-reaping the demographic dividend
-mark of a welfare state
-guaranteed days of employment under the scheme
Therefore, the importance of MGNREGA is manifold, particularly towards the rural population of the country. It ensures social and livelihood security by providing wages for fixed number of days of unskilled labor. It caters exclusively to the informal sector of the demography, thereby leading to eliminating the gap in income and opportunity distribution. It is vital in context of the job crunch prevalent in the society. A level playing field in terms of unskilled labor and the informal sector is provided under the Act.
ROADBLOCKS TO MGREGA:
While the Act caters to the livelihood of the rural population, it is riddled with numerous difficulties and roadblocks. The administrative framework of the Act is riddled with operability and technical issues. The Government enforced the National Mobile Monitoring (5)Scheme from January 1st, 2023. Under NMMS, there is a provision of digital attendance. The attendance of workers present on the field is digitally recorded through the feature of geo-tagging (7). While it is a step towards digitisation, and it is two steps backwards in terms of accessibility and interoperability. The workforce of MGNREGA is primarily unskilled labourers, for which smartphones is a commodity of luxury. Illiteracy is another major impediment in registering attendance under the Act. As attendance is through two-time stamped, geo-tagged photographs, it requires the presence of the workers on the field even after the completion of their portion of labor. It is essential here to understand that workers registered under MGNREGA are not dependent for a stable source of income on only those 100 days. Many workers take up other menial jobs to sustain their livelihoods. Specifically for women, who act as the majority workforce under disguised unemployment in agriculture. NMMS restricts a labor on-site for the purpose of attendance as it also ensures wage payment through attendance. While this is a practice seemingly normal to metropolitan or a small town based corporate, it is a source of restriction for a rural household, which depends on various menial jobs to make ends meet. The requirement of being present on-site after work completion then becomes unnecessary.
MGNREGA is also representation of Centre-State relations and co-operative federalism. Devolution of funds from the Centre to the states is undertaken under the MGNREGA act. However, there have been innumerable complaints in delay of wage payments (4), where wages have been delayed for more than a year in States like West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (6). This is a gross violation of a workers right to get wages under Article 21. The delay in devolution of funds violates the basic reason for setup of the MGNREGA Act. The delay in wages compromises the social security and livelihood of the workers and is a violation of the Right to Work provided under the Directive Principles. There is a provision of compensation at a rate of 0.05% of the unpaid wages per day for the duration of the delay beyond the sixteenth day of the closure of the muster roll.
LEGAL ASPECTS INVOLVED:
Article 38: Promote the welfare of the people by securing a social order through justice: social, economic and political and to minimise inequalities in income, status, facilities and opportunities.
Article 39: Secure citizens:
Right to adequate means of livelihood for all citizens
Equitable distribution of material resources of the community for the common good
Prevention of concentration of wealth and means of production
Equal pay for equal work for men and women
Preservation of the health and strength of workers and children against forcible abuse
Opportunities for the healthy development of children
Article 41: Right to work
Although non-enforceable, Directive Principles ensure a welfare state. These rights cannot be enforced through courts on violation.
However, non-payment of wages of workers under the MGNREGA Act, 2005 violates fundamental rights under Article 21. Denial of wages is a violation of the right to live with human dignity. In cases of failure of providing work and delay in payment of wages, it violates the legal guarantee for wage employment under the Act. During the Covid-19 pandemic, MGNREGA proved to be a boon for the informal sector.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 is the reflection of the Gandhian principles of the Indian Constitution. It upholds the principle of ‘Sarvodaya’: upliftment of all. MGNREGA ensures a level playing field for the informal sector and ensures livelihood for the rural population. The principle of Antyodaya is reflected through the MGNREGA Act, 2005, which ensures the uplifting of the weakest section of the society.
The roadblocks to MGNREGA must be addressed at a war-footing since it unjustly deprives of the weakest sections of the population to rightful wages.
The Constitution of India ensures the rights and directs the state to undertake welfare measures for the citizens. It lays a framework of a welfare state and establishes principles of good governance essential in a democratic framework. The democratic ethos is realised through the implementation of the MGNREGA Act, 2005. The upliftment and protection of the labors and the unskilled labor force is essential for the uniform development of the society.
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Article by Arya Thakur.