A Moment to Revive MGNREGA

  • IASbaba
  • May 22, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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Topic: General Studies 2 &3:

  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources 
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors 

A Moment to Revive MGNREGA

Context: The lockdown has resulted in a massive loss of livelihoods, and the 400-million strong unorganised workforce has been the worst hit.


  • It stands for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005
  • It guarantees 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members (at least 18 years of age) volunteer to do unskilled work.
  • It has unique legal architecture of being demand-driven, and not budget constrained.
  • It is social security and labour law that aims to enforce the ‘right to work’.
  • It has provision for unemployment allowance, when the state cannot provide work
  • Agriculture and allied activities constitute more than 65% of the works taken up under the programme.
  • MGNREGA has helped build rural infrastructure through approximately 10 crore families.

Problems facing MGNREGA

  • Governments capping its financial resources and turning it into supply-based programme
  • Workers had begun to lose interest in working under it because of the inordinate delays in wage payments.
  • With very little autonomy, gram panchayats found its implementation cumbersome
  • As a result, over the last few years, MGNREGA had begun to face an existential crisis.

MGNREGA- a saviour in crisis times

  • Migrants returning to villages in the wake of COVID crisis have a source of livelihood in MGNREGA programme
  • The scheme provides employment to unskilled rural labour especially in the times of rising unemployment
  • It provides social security especially during agricultural lean season
  • Nearly half of the beneficiaries of the scheme are women and SC/STs, hence it acts as social empowering tool


  • As a part of stimulus package government has sanctioned additional Rs 40,000 crore for MGNREGA amounting to nearly Rs 1 lakh crore for FY 2020-21
  • However, the allocation which amounts to 0.47% of the GDP continues to be much lower than the World Bank recommendations of 1.7% for optimal functioning of the programme.

Way ahead with regard to MGNREGA

  1. Proactive State governments 
    • They must ensure that public works are opened in every village
    • Workers turning up at the worksite should be provided work immediately, without any delay or restrictions
  1. Proactive local governments to ease administrative process
    • Local bodies must proactively reach out to returned and quarantined migrant workers and help those in need to get job cards
    • Gram panchayats and elected representatives need to be provided with adequate resources, powers, and responsibilities to sanction works, provide work on demand, and authorise wage payments 
  1. Precautions at work site
    • Adequate facilities such as soap, water, and masks for workers must be provided free of cost at the worksite
    • For reasons of health safety, MGNREGA tools should not be shared between workers
  1. Simplified Payments Procedures
    • Attempts to distribute wages in cash, sans biometric authentication, must be rolled out as there is limited coverage of bank infrastructure in rural areas
  1. Flexibility of the work done
    • Many governments will possibly prioritise individual land-based works to comply with instructions of physical distancing.
    • However, it is important to also ensure community works are taken up so that landless workers are not left out of the programme


With nearly eight crore migrant workers returning to their villages, and with an additional allocation for the year, this could be a moment for the true revival of MGNREGA. A revival led by workers themselves.

Connecting the dots:

  • Rights based governance framework
  • Union Government’s Four Labour Codes 

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