MGNREGA: Is job guarantee programme against poor states?

As the Indian government's mega rural jobs scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) completes 10 years, is it discriminatory against poorer states? Or, is it, that richer states of the country are putting across their claims for funds so aggressively as to get allocations disproportionate to their populations, and the extent of poverty?

A data analysis of this year's central releases and expenditure under the scheme (as per the web site in select four southern states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu) and four northern states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) shows the former have been receiving and spending more under the prime rural scheme, that is fully funded by the Central Government, except for small amounts contributed by the state governments.

Is job guarantee scheme against states?

The four southern states, despite their smaller populations, have also provided employment to a much larger number of households, generated more person-days of work and took up a greater number of works.

During the first 10 months of 2015-16, till 29 January, 2016, the four southern states received MGNREGA central releases totaling Rs.10,397.10 crore, which is 31.01 percent of the total all-India central releases of Rs.33,528.09 crore, and their total expenditure was Rs.9,723.94 crore, which was 27.77 percent of the all-India expenditure of Rs.35,011.06 crore.

Similarly, the four southern states provided employment to 11,017,358 households (29.10 per cent of the all India total of 37,849,382 households); generated 48.61 crore person-days; and took up works totaling 2,967,803.

The four northern states, during the same period of 2015-16, received central releases totaling Rs.7,918.34 crore (23.61 of the all-India central releases) and their total expenditure was Rs.8,683.09 crore (24.80 percent of the all-India total). These four states provided employment to 10134581 households (26.77 percent of the all-India total); generated 37.99 crore person-days; and took up works totaling 2,750,923.

Funding under MGNREGA is important not only because it brings relief to regions affected by natural calamities but also due to its role in reducing rural poverty. MGNREGA is however not restricted to those below poverty line (BPL) rural population, and is accessible to all who want work in rural areas. There is a mandatory quota of 33 per cent MGNREGA jobs for women. Launched in 200 districts in 2006, MGNREGA was extended to all 644 districts of the country in 2008, guaranteeing 100 days' unskilled manual work to every household in rural areas on demand.

Sixty percent of the works undertaken under the scheme have to relate to agriculture and enhancing agricultural productivity. The works relate to rural connectivity, flood control, water conservation and harvesting, minor irrigation, drought-proofing, renovation of traditional water bodies, fisheries and rural sanitation, among others. The budget 2015-16 has provided an allocation Rs.34,699 crores for MGNREGA with a promise of an additional Rs.5,000 crore if there is tax buoyancy. Since the inception of the scheme, the central government has released Rs.314,552.61 crores to the states.

India's total population, as per Census 2011, was 121.08 crore. Of this, population of Andhra Pradesh was 8.45 crore (6.98 per cent of India's total); of Karnataka 6.10 crore (5.04 percent); of Kerala 3.34 crore (2.75 percent); and of Tamil Nadu 7.21 crore (5.95 percent). The total population of the four States was 25.12 (20.74 percent of India's total).

Compared to this, the population figures for the northern states were: Bihar 10.40 crore (8.95 percent); Madhya Pradesh 7.26 crore (5.99 percent); Rajasthan 6.85 crore (5.66 percent) and of Uttar Pradesh 19.98 crore (16.50 percent). The total population for the four States comes to 44.50 crore (36.75 percent of India's total).

The rural poverty percentages for the four southern states for 2011-12 (as per erstwhile Planning Commission data in Economic Survey 2014-15 Vol II) are: Andhra Pradesh 11; Karnataka 24.5; Kerala 9.1; and Tamil Nadu 15.8. The same percentages for the four northern States are: Bihar 34.1; Madhya Pradesh 35.7; Rajasthan 16.1 and Uttar Pradesh 30.4.

The data shows that the four southern States, which are economically better off than the four northern states, with a share of 20.74 percent in India's total population received 31.01 percent of the total MGNREGA money from April 1, 2015 to January 29, 2016. During the same period, the northern states, with a share of 36.75 percent in the total population received 23.61 percent of the total MGNREGA money released during the period.

The conclusion is obvious. The four poorer states have received more than 13 percent lesser allocation compared to their population share, which is an important criterion followed by the government in disbursing funds among the states. The richer southern states have received more than 10 percent higher allocation compared to their population share.

The northern states also had higher rural poverty ratios than the southern states. As per the Economic Survey 2014-2015 (Vol II), three of the northern States - Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh had in 2011-12 poverty ratios above 30 percent and the fourth state of Rajasthan had 16.1 percent. The southern states, on the other hand, had much lower rural poverty ratios - and Karnataka with 24.5 percent, was the only state with a rural poverty ratio of above 20.

The data analysis is worrisome as the population of the northern States continues to rise at a high rate. The significance of schemes like MGNREGA in rural India is understood if one looks at the data released by the recent Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) for rural India.

Of the country's total 24.39 crore households, 17.91 crore are rural households. Of these, just 5.39 crore (30.10 percent) depend on cultivation for income and as many as 9.16 crore (51.14 percent) depend on manual casual labour, similar to the jobs offered by the MGNREGA. Surveys have shown that many small and marginal farmers are preferring to do MGNREGA labour for a living than cultivating their unviable land holdings.


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