The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) — launched seven years ago to provide livelihood security — has furthered the churning the rural society and economy have been witnessing for over a decade.
Between 2005 and 2010 -- the years coinciding with the NREGA’s implementation -- over 14 million people moved out of farming jobs.
Contrastingly, the five years preceding 2005 saw the number of farm-based jobs go up by 21.25 million.
The shift in the National Sample Surveys cannot be attributed to the scheme directly nor entirely. But experts concede the unforeseen empowerment it has offered.
The legal entitlement of work on demand and wage within a week has provided a hitherto absent bargaining power to the farm labour, making them mobile in terms of jobs.
Besides the young, educated people moving out of agriculture field, many farmhands are not anymore in the fields.
Villagers in Girwai of Gwalior — who were farm labours — are now working at construction sites and factories for Rs.150-250 a day.
During NREGA works, which earn them Rs.132 a day, they remain within the village.
“Small and marginal farmers cultivate whatever they can now,” says Manjeet Dhakad whose father owns a three-acre farm.
A survey in 2011 by the FICCI says the NREGA has put an additional pressure on the industrial wages.
Affluent farmers also disapprove of it, stating the scheme has made farming unviable. In Godavari delta of Andhra, a day’s farm labour costs up to Rs.400 in peak season. The same was Rs.100 six years ago.
“The scheme coincides with opening up of opportunities, letting the landless labour become mobile. Not entirely, but NREGA represents a certain change in rural areas,” says Professor Abhijit Sen, economist and member, Planning Commission.
The NREGA brought about some social empowerment too. “In costal Andhra, farmers from dominant castes fret how the lower caste farm labours have become so demanding,” says Shankar Rao Chirala, a JNU scholar on agricultural economics.